China is undertaking the fastest, biggest military build-up since World War II. And the People’s Liberation Army, or PLA, is shaping up as a very serious competitor for US forces in the Indo-Pacific.
The US military is now facing up to this challenge, with each service re-gearing in their own way. The US Navy is by far the farthest along.
But now the US Marines, widely seen as the most ferocious and expeditionary force in the Pentagon’s portfolio are following suit.
So what does the Marine Commandant have in mind? Use geography to America’s advantage, fight from the strategic defensive and become lighter and more agile.
Details of the transformation, including the specific adjustments the Marine Corps will make to carry out the Indo-Pacific strategy, were outlined in its Force Design 2030 publication.
The highlights include cutting several infantry battalions, eliminating all tanks not agile enough for coastal fighting, and replacing about three-fourths of regular artillery with long-range missile and rocket batteries.
Fighter aircraft, helicopters and amphibious assault vehicles will be reduced. There will be more and improved long-range UAVs for both surveillance and attack.
The idea is to conform to the geography. The Indo-Pacific has many islands and archipelagoes with narrow confined seas.
Small units of Marines occupying or seizing key terrain and using their own anti-ship missiles, long-range rockets and air defense weapons can easily turn nearby seas, and skies, into no-go zones, eventually stretching out hundreds of miles as improved weapons come on-line.
The Marines can defend positions along the so-called first island chain that stretches from Japan to Taiwan and the Philippines and on to Indonesia and hems in the Chinese mainland.
The net effect is a deadly “web” that will make for a long afternoon for PLA Navy ships and aircraft trying to break out into the Pacific Ocean. The web will also provide cover for the US Navy as it maneuvers.
These kind of smaller, mobile Marine units armed with long-range precision weapons throughout the region are also more survivable than big battalions. Consider the challenges from the PLA’s perspective.
Hitting huge American bases on Guam or Okinawa is one thing. Locating and destroying Marine anti-ship missile launcher units on East Asian coastlines, perhaps hidden in easily moved shipping containers, of which there are millions, is another.
In short, the PLA can’t locate the Marines and their weapons, but the small Marine forces, with their long-range weapons, can find Chinese targets and hit them accurately from afar.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2020.