US Marines are rushing to deploy two air defense systems amid global threats

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The U.S. Marine Corps is pushing two air defense systems closer to its scope this year as emerging threats in Europe and the Middle East underscore the need to keep Marine units safe from incoming missiles and drones.

The medium-range interceptor capability, which quickly integrated several existing systems to create a new cruise missile defense capability, is undergoing training and integration this year ahead of an operational assessment in September. The Corps plans to deliver the first system to the 1st Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion in Hawaii in June 2025.

The service also announced this month that it successfully tested the Marine Integrated Air Defense System, or MADIS, in December during a live-fire event that saw the system shoot down several drones at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona.

Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the deputy commander for combat deployment and completion, told Defense News in a Jan. 12 interview that integrated air and missile defense is becoming increasingly important to the agency’s future operational plans and its modernization initiative Force Design.

“When you look at how we’ve approached [integrated air and missile defense] from a Force Design point of view, it must be a multi-layered defense, and thus the MRIC [Medium-Range Intercept Capability] it complements and overlaps our MADIS and [Light] MADIS,” he said.

Heckl added that a critical concern former Commanding General David Berger and current Commanding General Eric Smith had about Force Planning is the ability to defend small units at the forward edge — or inside the enemy’s weapons engagement zone.

“MRIC will be a critical piece of that,” Heckl said.

Pointing to ongoing missile and drone attacks in the Red Sea as well as on land in the Middle East, Heckl said the integrated air and missile defense model is already in play among the joint force: US and allied naval ships are taking down what they can sea, but ground units in Iraq, for example, are still under attack from incoming air threats. MRIC and MADIS will provide additional layers of defense for these units once deployed, he said, complementing the broader protection that Navy forces can provide in the region.

What matters “is how this sea power … is nested within the larger joint power. So I think we’re seeing a live, real-world projection of what’s going on in the Middle East, and I think it’s working very well.”

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A new anti-missile system

The MRIC system will go from concept to field in about five years, due to the use of existing systems: the AN/TPS-80 task-oriented surface-to-air radar; the joint aviation command and control system; the Tamir interceptor missile and an associated combat management system used in the Iron Dome defense system in Israel. and a rebuilt High Mobility Artillery Missile System Resupply Trailer.

Lt. Col. Matthew Beck, the product manager for MRIC, told Defense News that the system had performed well in several live fire events, but noted that staff from equipment manufacturers and the program office had taken over. The next step, he said, is to train a low-altitude air defense battalion to use the equipment and conduct its own operations without outside help.

While the Corps has not specified which unit will participate in this year’s training and operational evaluation in September, it said it will include members of a low-altitude air defense battalion who will manage the intercept with the help of a Marine aircraft control team to operate the radar. G/ATOR. Those units, once identified, will undergo “significant training events” before the September test, he added.

From there, the 1st Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion will prepare to receive the new equipment, scheduled for June 2025. Beck said the Corps hopes to roll out the capability to the rest of the fleet as quickly as possible after that.

Heckl agreed that he would like to see the MRIC up and running quickly, but noted that his main concern was “getting beyond the capability of the industrial base” to build the interceptor missile. He didn’t want units with empty launchers, he said.

To that end, manufacturer Tamir Rafael Advanced Defense Systems partnered with RTX – formerly known as Raytheon Technologies – to build the interceptors in Camden, Arkansas.

RTX spokeswoman Briana Gabrys told Defense News that plans to design and build a new production facility are in the works and that test equipment has already been ordered at the plant. The facility is expected to open in 2025.

He declined to say how many interceptors this new production line will build, but said it will produce enough missiles to support the US Marine Corps, Israel and other international customers.

The US-made interceptors will be called SkyHunter, but will be identical to the Tamir missiles, which can shoot down cruise missiles, manned aircraft, drones, rockets, artillery and mortars.

Global threats

The MRIC is intended to protect fixed and semi-fixed locations, but users can move it with the help of an average tactical replacement vehicle. MADIS, on the other hand, is mounted on a pair of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and can provide close protection to forward-facing forces. One part of the system detects incoming drones and small aircraft. the other fires Stinger missiles and a 30mm cannon.

The December test in Arizona subjected the system to “real-world battlefield scenarios,” according to a Marine Corps news release.

The system will go through additional live-fire testing, new equipment training, system verification testing and initial operational testing and evaluation between now and September.

If successful, the 3rd Coastal Anti-Aircraft Battalion will receive MADIS. This battalion provides air defense to the 3rd Marine Corps Regiment, which is at the heart of Marine Corps strength in the Pacific.

Both air defense systems are important to the effort to modernize Marine Force Planning. The agency plans to send small units to scattered locations throughout the Pacific region as a deterrent to China.

Critics of Force Design and its chief architect, former Commandant Berger, have long argued that the agency is developing a force that can only be applied to a Pacific-based fight. However, Heckl said ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Europe justify decisions made under Force Design.

“We have an axis of evil – Russia and Russia [Chinese Communist Party] they are openly aligned and now we have Iran, North Korea, North Korea supplying Russia, Iran supplying the Houthis,” he said. “It’s becoming less and less a question of separating the CCP from anyone else,” because technology is shared between those countries and the warring groups.

As a result, all the threats that Marines were preparing for in the Pacific could be – and in some cases already are – being used in other theaters.

“What we see unfolding in the Middle East right now conceptually supports the direction [of Force Design],” Heckl said, citing stray munitions, swarms of drones and unmanned surface vessels. “So all of these concerns are clearly a physical manifestation now of what we believed” The Marines had to prepare for the Pacific and elsewhere.

Megan Eckstein is the naval war reporter at Defense News. Covers military news since 2009, focusing on US Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest reporting stories from a ship. Megan is a graduate of the University of Maryland.

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