U.S. Marines To Reconfigure Okinawa Regiment To Counter China

U.S. Marines To Reconfigure Okinawa Regiment To Counter China

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The U.S. Marine Corps is reconfiguring one of its Okinawa, Japan-based regiments into a new force design that could prove useful in a potential future war with China for control of the Indo-Pacific region.

On Wednesday, the Marine Corps announced its plans to convert the existing 12th Marine Regiment in Okinawa into the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment. The service announced the reconfiguration on the same way the U.S. announced renewed security cooperation efforts with Japan.

A Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) is a new unit structure that the service is beginning to field as part of its Force Design 2030. The new regimental structure is meant to optimize the service’s capabilities to hop from island to island and fight in contested archipelago environments, like the kind that could be expected in a near-peer fight in the Indo-Pacific region.

In their MLR concept, the Marine Corps envisions a self-deployable, multi-domain force that can carry out maritime maneuvers. Each MLR will consist of three components; a littoral combat team made up of an infantry battalion and anti-ship missile battery; an anti-air battalion; and a logistics battalion.


U.S. Marines with 3d Battalion, 3d Marines conduct experimentation in littoral defense operations during Castaway 21.1 around Okinawa, Japan, March 18, 2021. (U.S Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Joshua Brittenham)

The Marine Corps wants these MLRs to be able to handle a range of missions, including establishing and supporting expeditionary bases in austere and temporary locations within contested environments. From these temporary expeditionary bases, Marine forces can conduct sea denial operations against nearby enemy forces as well as gather intelligence and provide targeting and counter-targeting capabilities.

The MLRs are also intended to conduct strikes, coordinate air and missile defense actions, and support surface warfare operations with the Navy.

The 12th Marine Regiment is currently configured as an artillery regiment. The Marine Corps hopes to turn the regiment into the 12th MLR by fiscal year 2025.


U.S. Marines with 12th Marines, 3d Marine Division, participate in a change of command ceremony on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, May 26, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alyssa Chuluda)

Last year, the Marine Corps converted the 3rd Marine Regiment, which is stationed in Hawaii, into the 3rd MLR.

The Marine Corps said the plan to convert the 12th Marine Regiment into the 12th MLR is not specifically tied to Force Design 2030, but does complement the broader effort to reorganize the Marines into a lighter amphibious raiding force.

“The Marine Corps will continue to maintain a persistent presence to bolster deterrence and improve and expand our network of allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said of the 12th Marine Regiment’s reconfiguration. “Our enduring and undivided relationship with the Government of Japan is key to the development of new operational concepts that will ensure we are fully prepared to deter aggression in the region.”

The 12th Marine Regiment is currently based out of Camp Smedley Butler in Okinawa.

The island of Okinawa sits about 400 miles to the east of Taiwan; which represents a major political and strategic goal over which the People’s Republic of China may attempt to assert its control.

It remains a hypothetical matter, at the moment, whether the U.S. and Japan would intervene on Taiwan’s behalf against Chinese efforts to take over the island nation.

In its Wednesday statement, the Marine Corps said the future 12th MLR “will add to a ready and capable stand-in force in the first island chain.”

The first island chain refers to the Taiwan, the Philippines and the islands controlled by Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia. This island chain represents the islands nearest to China and could be a major theater of combat if the U.S. and its allies were to go to war with China in the Indo-Pacific region.