U.S. To Build Mobile A2/AD in Okinawa Using Battlefield Missiles

Spectacular launch of an ATacMS (Photo: U.S. Army)

The U.S. Army will confirm the capability of its battlefield surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) to sink warships of the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) when it conducts its first-ever missile tests of these weapons in Asia on Okinawa.

The United States Forces Japan (USFJ), which is responsible for all United States Armed Forces units in Japan, has informed the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF)  of plans to conduct missile tests in the waters around Okinawa later this year as a deterrent against the PLAN, according to Japanese media.

Japan's Ministry of Defense said this will be the first missile test in or around Okinawa, which is a Japanese Prefecture.

It is unknown when and exactly where on Okinawa the tests will take place. The U.S. military, however, occupies some 40% of all the land in Okinawa. There are more than 30,000 U.S. troops on Okinawa.

What is known is that the U.S. Army will test two of its battle-proven tactical missiles on Okinawas: the MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATacMS) and the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

Originally designed as land-attack missiles, both ATacMS and HIMARS are being developed into anti-ship missiles (ASMs) capable of attacking and sinking PLAN warships. The new role for these mobile missiles is in keeping with the Army's new concept of creating its own anti-access/anti-denial (A2/AD) zones along the coasts of allied nations such as Japan and the Philippines using ATacMS and HIMARS, which are both long-range missiles with a maximum range of 300 km.

Previous tests beginning 2016 sought to confirm if both SSMs could become effective ASMs. To this end, ATacMS has been upgraded to attack moving targets on land and at sea.

Deploying ATacMS as an ASM will do away with the huge cost and long wait times that often come with a new weapons system. The newest version of ATacMS -- MGM-168 ATacMS-Block IVA -- can hurl its 230 kg unitary warhead towards a target 300 km away while flying at Mach 3 (3,700 km/h). This version will be converted into an ASM capable of attacking warships.

Analysts said the Army will have to integrate an existing seeker capable of detecting and tracking moving targets onto ATacMS. The seeker will have to be effective against warships, tanks, and other mobile land targets.

With this capability, what before was an Army surface-to-surface missile system will soon prevent enemy warships such as those from the PLAN from venturing inside the ATacMS kill zone.

"My goal is to develop and demonstrate an ATacMS that's capable of hitting moving targets at land and sea," said SCO Director Will Roper in 2016.

Roper said the U.S. will very likely to succeed in this because it's got the technologies on hand.

The HIMARS mobile launcher will be shipped to Okinawa by cargo aircraft and operated by soldiers from the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division headquartered at Fort Riley, Kansas.

HIMARS can carry either one ATacMS missile or six HIMARS rockets. It gained notoriety by being one of the weapons that slaughtered more than 300 Russian mercenaries on Feb. 7, 2018, near the town of Khasham (or Al Tabiyeh) in the Deir ez-Zor governorate in Syria.

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