In a move that could significantly increase the number of missiles the Royal Marines will have to launch, the Navy has been considering the idea of using cruise missiles to hit enemy targets in the same way as cruise missiles were used in the Vietnam war.

The move follows the Royal Marine’s decision to deploy cruise missiles as part of its long-term strategic thinking, and is likely to be seen as a bid to counter the threat posed by Chinese ballistic missiles.

The Royal Navy has previously said it is considering the introduction of cruise missiles for “counter-air defence”, but the move would be unprecedented in military history.

In a press conference this week, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said he expected the Royal Air Force would use cruise missiles in the event of a conflict.

However, the Royal British Legion (RBL) has warned that such a move could be counterproductive and could see British troops fighting overseas in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

“A move that would allow the Royal Army to carry out cruise missile attacks without the protection of its own defence capability would be disastrous for British soldiers and civilians,” said RBL general secretary Stephen Wright.

“We are convinced that if this plan is allowed to go ahead it would see British military personnel risking their lives overseas to engage in armed conflict.”

A range of weapons were previously considered to be suitable for use in such attacks, including cruise missiles, anti-ship missiles and unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

However, this new move will allow the use of cruise missile weapons in any situation.

Fallon said the Royal Fleet “will have a range of options to choose from when considering which types of missiles are best for use” in the scenario.

“As the deployment of cruise ballistic missiles is becoming more common, we have been in discussions with other nations and countries around the world, including with our partners in NATO, as to how best to ensure that our armed forces are ready to take action against an evolving threat,” he said.

“Cruise missiles can be used in a variety of scenarios, from launching to destroying, and as the Royal fleet has demonstrated, they can also be used for counter-air operations.”

He said the use by the US Navy of cruise drones was a key step towards becoming the world’s “go-to” for countering threats.

“It is an area where we can learn lessons from our history with cruise missiles,” Fallon said. 

“I want to stress that this is not a decision that has been taken lightly, and it is not the first time the Royal Royal Navy and the Royal Aircraft Force have considered the use and potential of cruise weapons.” 

The Royal Navy said it was considering a range to include the MQ-9 Reaper drone, the Mq-9 Tracker, the Arrow RQ-1 and the B-1B Lancer.

“These will provide the Royal Naval forces with the capability to strike any target on the battlefield from land to air, and also to strike strategic targets on the sea and air,” a spokesperson said.

A Royal Navy spokesman said the RBL would continue to “express concern at any further move towards the introduction” of cruise weaponisation.

“The RBL remains committed to the safe and responsible use of all armed forces and is committed to working closely with the Ministry of Defence and the relevant agencies to develop a range, which includes the M18 Sea King and the M16A4 Apache, to protect our troops and their equipment,” he added.

The spokesperson added: “We will continue to engage with all interested parties and organisations to ensure this debate does not lead to a move towards further expansion of the Royal Family’s capability and use of ballistic missiles.” 

This article first appeared on TalkSport and has been reproduced with permission