The LRUSV program has also been linked to programs within the Pentagon and the Department of the Navy, of which the Marine Corps is a part, that are aimed at giving those unmanned boats the ability to launch swarms of small drones, as well as providing surface swarming capabilities themselves.
The inclusion of the LRUSV, among the other planned future launch platforms for its Hero-120 variants, also makes clear that the Marine Corps sees loitering munitions as a valuable tool for ground and maritime operations, as well as those that span both domains.
The Marine Corps, as a whole, is reforming its entire force structure around new concepts of expeditionary and distributed operations in littoral environments where units, even small ones, might be called upon to engage both naval and ground-based targets in order to help control a particular portion of the battlespace. The service is already exploring how it might employ Javelin anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) in novel ways in these environments, including firing them from small inflatable boats, as you can read more about in this War Zone feature.
Loitering munitions would also be extremely applicable in the same general scenarios. It’s particularly important to note that, while munitions, such as the Hero-120, may not be capable of outright destroying a warship of any appreciable size, they could still potentially affect a mission kill by destroying or otherwise disabling radars, communications antennas, or other key systems. Depending on the complexity of the systems in question, this could render a ship combat ineffective for a protracted period of time until repairs could be made. Beyond that, as with ATGMs, suicide drones present another option for engaging smaller maritime targets, ranging from landing craft to potentially explosive-laden unmanned boats. UVision and Mistral are not the only companies that are marking suicide drones for use in the naval arena.
The Marines are not the only ones within the U.S. military that are interested in the capabilities that loitering munitions have to offer, either. The U.S. Army, in particular, is working to develop various loitering munitions, primarily for air-launched applications, but which could also be employed using ground-based launchers. The service revealed after one recent test that at least one of these systems was a joint effort, indicating interest in that still-classified design from other branches. In March, Northrop Grumman also announced that it had partnered with UVision and that they were developing a hybrid of the Hero-120 and Hero-400 loitering munition designs to meet the Army requirements.
In its press release about the Marine Corps’ OPF-M program, Mistral also mentioned in passing the development of another version of the Hero-120, known as the Hero-120SF, for U.S. special operations forces. UVision first disclosed it was working on that version, which also differs in unclear ways from the standard variant, last year in response to unspecified U.S. military requirements.
Loitering munitions, as well as missiles with man-in-the-loop control systems, are already seen increasing use in combat around the world. Suicide drones, especially the Israeli-made Harop, were particularly notable components of the brief war between Azerbaijan and Armenia last year. Their use prompted major discussions within military and national security circles, including the U.S. military itself, about the growing significance of these weapons, as well as other unmanned platforms, in current and future conflicts.
All told, the Marine Corps’ planned adoption of a version of the Hero-120, as well as a modular launch system, is just one part of larger and still growing push to field loitering munitions across the U.S. military.
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