The (potential) coming war with China begs the question of whether the US is ready to confront the Chinese military in the Pacific Theater. If you’ve been reading this blog, there has been an ongoing theme and it’s US readiness to fight the NEXT war.
Since the coming war with China must needs be a Navy war in the Pacific, the Navy and Marine Corps are trying to re-structure to be prepared. It means a revitalized alligator Navy and Marine Corps. A new US Marine Corps Littoral Regiment is being formed in Hawaii — the first of its kind in the Marine Corps — and that represents a major shift for the service.
The US sees the need to prepare for a high-tech missile war in the Western Pacific (WESTPAC).
Instead of training for low-tech counterinsurgency missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, which defined the Corps for nearly two decades, Marines will become specialists in ship-to-shore capabilities in austere conditions to, among other things, sink ships at sea using missiles fired from unmanned vehicles that look like bulked-up Humvees. The unmanned vehicles will operate inside the range of extremely capable enemy missiles fired back at them while trying to move about quickly to avoid being targeted.
Additional Marine Littoral Regiments may be based in Japan and Guam, but the first Hawaii-based unit is expected to have 1,800 to 2,000 Marines carved out mainly from units already here, including one of three infantry battalions at Kaneohe Bay.
The new Hawaii unit is part of sweeping changes the Marine Corps wants to make over the next decade as it reorganizes its forces to deter war with China, but win if it comes to that.
The naval expeditionary force wants to shrink its numbers by 12,000 (186,000 are in the Corps now); get rid of its tanks, leaving that capability to the Army; and specialize in littoral warfare.
Divestiture of traditional capabilities would result in a potential savings of $12 billion — to be reallocated toward emerging threats posed foremost by China.
General Berger, USMC Commandant, has said that the redesign of the Marine Corps is driven by China’s pivot towards the sea, and that primary front which they have opened up has renewed great power competition. “Advances by China’s missile forces means that presumptive sea control is no longer something that the United States can rely on. We will compete for it.”
The expeditionary advanced base operations, or EABO, a concept being pursued to distribute a re-designed, highly mobile Marine Corps across Pacific islands and arm them with advanced missiles that can aid the Navy by sinking ships in contested choke points.
“Here’s what this means,” General Berger said. “Our peer adversaries need to perceive a bunch of small, mobile Marine units in their backfield with low signatures, bad attitudes and toolkits full of disruptive capabilities.”
The three-year setup plan for the Hawaii Marine Littoral Regiment foresees the use of the Navy Marine expeditionary ship interdiction system, or NMESIS, with Naval Strike Missiles that have a range greater than 115 miles launched from joint light tactical vehicles, including unmanned vehicles.
The Marine Littoral Regiment will utilize multiple small, long-range landing craft supported by Amphibious Assault Ships as its primary method of tactical and theater-wide mobility.”
After the establishment of the new regiment, it will immediately begin training and experimenting with leased naval craft such as the stern landing vessel and offshore support vessel while a more permanent fleet of similarly capable small landing craft are procured.
The Navy has not settled on a final design for this new class of ships, but the concept seems to be sound and is generally agreed on.
Japan, an American ally in the Pacific, is following a similar course (very quietly) to be able to defend Japan from a Chinese invasion while also having the capacity of forward power projection toward China and North Korea.