If you’re part of the U.S. Marine Corps and you need to design a new, tough to track boat, you might be tempted to turn to heavy-hitting scientists and engineers to develop the vessels you need to move weapons in contested waters. Or, you could take inspiration from the people who are already building those hard-to-find boats: drug runners.
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Wednesday saw Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl share some key information at the Defense News Conference in Arlington, VA. The Marines have been trying to find a way to move weapons through contested waters. When it comes to resupplying allies with things like food or spare parts, the Marines can just leave those things in pre-determined locations that the allies can pick up later.
But moving weaponry is a whole different story. You don’t just want to leave some munitions out at sea for the enemy to find, but you also don’t want to have your enemies discover your men in a manned ship full of missiles. The answer is a prototype called the Autonomous Low-Profile Vessel, which has taken inspiration from low-profile drug running boats.
“We just copied the drug lords down in [Joint Interagency Task Force] South running drugs. They’re hard for us to find, so now we figured, yeah, it works,” Heckl said.
The prototype the Marines hav e today can carry two Naval Strike Missiles into about 4 feet of water, where Marines would then pull the missiles onto the beach and to the nearest missile battery in need of resupply, Heckl explained. The Naval Strike Missile is the anti-ship missile used in the NMESIS weapon, or Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System.
Heckl, who is the Marine Corps’ requirements officer, told reporters after his on-stage remarks that he wasn’t sure how many of these Autonomous Low-Profile Vessels the service may buy. But because of their low cost, he said, “they’re almost expendable” — something that will be important in contested waters where, if spotted, they’d likely be the targets of enemy weapons.
Drug running vessels, also called narco boats, narco submarines, or Go Fast Vessels, are kind of engineering marvels. They’re designed to be both fast and stealthy, which helps them evade capture by the U.S. Coast Guard. While plenty of these vehicles have been captured, plenty more have evaded the best efforts of the law — which has made them a point of interest for the Marines. It only makes sense to use those vessels as inspiration for future military technology.