The same innovative rocket artillery unit that fired HIMARS from a ship is once again mixing things up, but this time they’re doing it with aircraft.
The tactic is called HI-RAIN, which is short for HIMARS Rapid Infiltration, where the Corps takes its precision-guided rocket artillery system, stuffs it in a KC-130 and flies it to a location to destroy a target.
Once on the ground, the HIMARS crew offloads the system and strikes a target and then rapidly exfils from the target site.
The Corps says HI-RAIN is the progression of an aerial artillery raid capability they already have, which can be done with sling loaded M777 howitzers hauled by the Corps’ heavy lift helicopters like the CH-53. The MV-22 Osprey is also capable of lifting the M777.
Aerial artillery raids provide battlefield commanders flexibility by inserting a long-range fire capability beyond a captured beachhead or behind enemy lines to quickly destroy a target.
But the HIMARS will greatly extend the Corps’ range of that existing raid capability, which should prove useful should the Corps find itself stretched thinly across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean in a fight with a sophisticated adversary like China.
A Marine HIMARS unit known as 5th Battalion, 11th Marines, recently executed a HI-RAIN mission on Dec. 7 as part of an annual exercise with the 1st Marine Division dubbed Steel Knight.
For the exercise, Marines with 5/11 loaded two HIMARS systems onto two KC-130 aircraft at Marine Corps Air Station, Camp Pendleton, California, and flew to Dugway Proving Grounds, Utah.
Once on the ground, the a HIMARS unit fired one M31A1 GMLRS – Unitary precision rocket, striking a target approximately 15 km away. The GMLRS round is short for Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System.
HIMARS are capable of striking targets several hundred kilometers out, the short range was due to range limitations, Marine officials said.
The Corps says 5/11 began aerial embarkation testing with KC-130s in 2014, and since then have carried out many HI-RAIN missions across the U.S. from Alaska to Arizona, all during training exercises.
Other Marine HIMARS units are honing the same skill.
The Corps is also capable of carrying out artillery raids inserting howitzers via helicopter.
In August, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marines, carried out the first lift in an austere environment in Australia of an M777 howitzer using an MV-22 Osprey.
The Marines of 5/11 are known for their innovative experimentation firing HIMARS from the deck of the amphibious transport dock Anchorage in fall 2017.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.