A strategic initiative aims to strengthen the nation’s air defense capabilities.
In a move aimed at bolstering its air defense capabilities, the United States Marine Corps (USMC) has recently unveiled plans to acquire three batteries of medium-range intercept capability (MRIC) systems. The procurement, which remains cost undisclosed, is set to include an impressive array of resources: 44 launchers, 1,840 Tamir missiles, and an additional 80 missiles for the initial prototype deployment.
Raytheon has been chosen as the sole-source contractor for this endeavor, partnering with Israel’s Rafael to introduce the MRIC system to the US military landscape. Drawing inspiration from Israel’s renowned Iron Dome system, which was developed collaboratively by Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries, the MRIC system demonstrates the fruits of international cooperation and technological innovation.
Advancing from Successful Live-Fire Tests to Development
The MRIC program’s foundation finds its roots in a series of successful live-fire tests carried out last year. These tests culminated in the Marine Corp’s approval for the next developmental phase of a mobile air defense capability, in part modeled after the Iron Dome system. This milestone was confirmed by Barbara Hamby, a spokesperson for the USMC Program Executive Officer (PEO) Land Systems.
Fiscal year 2023 is a pivotal year for MRIC, as a sequence of activities will transpire, leading to a quick reaction assessment for the MRIC prototype under the Middle Tier Acquisition Rapid Prototyping framework. This assessment will serve to inform the Milestone Decision Authority of the potential for the prototype’s fielding. This initiative is driven by the growing concerns within the US military about emerging cruise missile threats and the need for rapid, effective air defense solutions.
Adapting the Iron Dome Launcher for Enhanced Mobility
Integral to this progress is the transformation of the MRIC prototype. The Marine Corps has ingeniously modified the Rafael-made Iron Dome launcher, transitioning it from a fixed position to a trailer-mounted platform capable of firing Tamir missiles. This mobile configuration has been integrated into the broader service capabilities, enhancing its adaptability and effectiveness.
Strategic Deployment Timeline: Fielding MRIC Batteries
Don Kelley, the program manager for ground-based air defense within the Land Systems PEO, has outlined the roadmap for MRIC system deployment. The first battery is anticipated to be operational by early fiscal 2025, with ambitions to equip three Marine Air Wings with an MRIC battery each by the conclusion of 2028. Despite the recent acquisition decision in December 2022, support for the MRIC program had been strong within the USMC leadership, as underscored by General Eric Smith’s endorsement prior to the series of successful live-fire tests.
“We held [off] on funding for [MRIC] for almost two years, until you can prove it,” said Smith, cited by Breaking Defense in a report earlier this year.
Enhanced Capabilities: The Components of the MRIC System
The MRIC system itself, aside from its trailer-mounted Iron Dome launcher and Tamir interceptors, incorporates various other components to enhance its capabilities. The system employs the Common Aviation Command-and-Control System (CAC2S) and a mini battle management control system for the Tamir missile alongside the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR).
BQM-177 aerial targets supporting the USMC Medium Range Intercept Capability system testing. The quad launched Live Fire 2 test event demonstrated the #MRIC s Cruise Missile Defense capability. MRIC is the Corps’ first medium range missile capability since it retired the HAWK. pic.twitter.com/M7rqeTisS5
— AirPower 2.0 (MIL_STD) (@AirPowerNEW1) August 1, 2023
Though cybersecurity concerns arise from integrating these diverse capabilities, officials have maintained that there are no insurmountable issues. However, it’s worth noting that the US Army, while developing its own air defense architecture, has chosen an alternative system, the “Enduring Shield” launcher, paired with Raytheon’s ground-launched AIM-9X Sidewinder missile.
Features and Capabilities of the MRIC System
The MRIC system, encapsulating a trailer-mounted design, serves as a versatile tool for detecting, assessing, and intercepting a wide array of threats, including cruise missiles, rockets, artillery, mortars, and drones. Equipped with electro-optical sensors, data links for targeting updates, and fragmentation blast warheads with proximity fuses, the system’s Tamir interceptors offer a range spanning four to 70 kilometers (2.48-43 miles).
“The MRIC system will leverage available surveillance radar and communication assets within the AO (area of operations) to enhance detection and identification of threats and improve situational awareness,” the service said in its procurement notice of intent.
Below is a video explaining How Israel’s Iron Dome Works. Now imagine that it’s mobile instead of fixed.
Addressing Air Defense Gaps in the Indo-Pacific Theater
The absence of a medium-range surface-to-air capability within the USMC following the divestment of the HAWK system in the late 1990s has led to heightened anticipation for the MRIC deployment. Designed to defend fixed and semi-fixed sites, the MRIC system is poised to bridge a crucial capability gap in the contested Indo-Pacific theater. The Marine Corps aims to leverage the system’s capabilities to enhance threat detection, identification, and situational awareness, contributing to a robust defense-in-depth strategy against aerial threats.
Embracing Innovation: MRIC as a Symbol of Adaptability
Amid a global landscape marked by escalating tensions and the increasing significance of maritime supremacy, the Marine Corps’ pursuit of the MRIC system stands as a testament to its adaptability and proactive response to evolving challenges. As the USMC moves forward with its vision for Force Design 2030, the successful development and eventual fielding of the MRIC system mark significant milestones in this transformative journey.
Beyond the acquisition of advanced equipment, the MRIC initiative exemplifies the potency of innovation, agility, and strategic partnerships on the modern battlefield. It signifies not only a solution to tactical challenges but also a rebirth of the Corps’ air defense capabilities, well-suited for the complexities of 21st-century warfare.