U.S. Marine Corps Photo)

Marine Corps Gen. David Berger.

SURFACE NAVY ASSOCIATION: The Marine Corps are inching closer to buying a ground-based version of a new naval missile recently deployed to sea for the first time, giving the Corps the power to cover ships at sea with precise warheads from over 100 miles away.

The Naval Strike Missile was recently deployed to the Pacific aboard the Littoral Combat Ship USS Gabrielle Giffords, and the Navy’s top acquisition official says he met with the Marines this week to talk about getting it in their hands.

On Tuesday, “we had the team in that has the Naval Strike Missile on LCS working hand-in-hand with the Marine Corps,” Geurts told reporters here on Wednesday. “The Marine Corps does ground launchers, we do command and control…We’ll make that immediately available to the Marine Corps.”

In May, Raytheon was awarded $48 million to integrate the NSM into the Marine Corps’ force structure, following a year-long study the Corps conducted, where it also considered Lockheed Martin’s new Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile and Boeing’s Harpoon.

The plan, which was spelled out in Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger’s explosive guidance paper released in July, is to give Marines the ability to protect the fleet at sea from the ground. Berger wants his Marines to hold enemy ships at bay, buying American ships time and space to maneuver.

The Marines, the thinking goes, could deploy with these ship-killer missiles to small, austere bases for short periods of time to keep a potential foe off balance. Part of the plan would also put Marine-owned F-35Bs on widely dispersed and small ad hoc airfields, making US forces less predictable, and giving them more punch.

The Marines have been testing unmanned platforms to quickly refuel and rearm those forward-deployed F-35s, as war planners recognize that large American bases in the Pacific like Guam and Okinawa are likely to take heavy losses in the first wave of any war in the Pacific against a Chinese foe armed with precise long- and medium-range missiles.

Berger’s guidance questioned everything from the service’s long reliance on amphibious ships to demanding that the Corps become more integrated with the Navy, an idea the Navy has embraced.

“The thing that has driven us to where we are right now is the paradigm shift by China moving to sea,” Berger said here Wednesday. “We can no longer afford for the Navy and Marine Corps not to be integrated,” he said. “It’s a must-do. Our naval force is unbalanced.”

Berger said he wants his Marines to be able to live and fight within Chinese missile ranges, and to do that, they need to be mobile and fast. Those forces have to be ready to go and not wait around for resupply or help. “We will not be given the chance to swap out that force for another force. A great power competitor will not allow us to do that,” he said.

Berger and Navy chief Adm. Mike Gilday are working on a new force structure plan to begin to provide that kind of depth “all the way forward and all the way back.” If American warships are unable to move across thousands of miles of Pacific waterway due to the Chinese threat, they won’t be able to fight, he said, and that space will immediately be ceded to Beijing. “The farther you back away from China, they will move toward you,” the commandant observed.