The US Marines and particularly their presence on Okinawa often have seemed the bellwether of the Japan-USA defense relationship. And it’s usually been problematic. But recently there was good news involving the US Marines.
It appears the Marine Littoral Regiment will deploy throughout the Nansei Shoto. Also known as the Ryukyus, this is the chain of islands extending from Kyushu – Japan’s southernmost main island – almost to Taiwan.
The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) has positioned intelligence, missile, and anti-aircraft units along the chainof islands in recent years. And it plans to add more.
The Marines add additional surveillance resources and firepower – as well as troops to help deal with possible enemy raiders. So Chinese ships and aircraft coming within range of both US and Japanese missile batteries along the Nansei Shoto will need to tread carefully.
Both in peacetime and wartime. Think of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) putting something like a Marine Littoral Regiment on a series of islands. Say, like they’ve done on man-made islands in the South China Sea.
The US Navy and Air Force either could avoid the area – or else will have to eliminate the threat. From Yonaguni, the westernmost Nansei Shoto island, it is only 60 miles to Taiwan. Marine (and Japanese) missiles can reach over to northern Taiwan and nearby waters.
This threatens the northern flank of a Chinese invasion force. Indeed, a well-defended Nansei Shoto barrier severely restricts PLA broader movements by the northern wing of an assault force.
However, the Marine Littoral Regiment existing and soon to be acquired missiles are relatively short-ranged. 100+ miles. Longer-ranged weapons would increase MLR (and GSDF) effectiveness.
Also, keep in mind that the Nansei Shoto barrier – and any Marine Littoral Regiment unit – can be outflanked or leapfrogged, or penetrated by brute force. They are just one part of a more complex defense problem.
Having the Marines training and operating throughout the Nansei Shoto is a first. Until now, the Marines have mostly been confined to the main island of Okinawa. Training areas there are limited and there are severe limits on the kinds of training that can be done.
The more the Americans and Japanese are a single battle force, the more effective they’ll be in a fight and the more they will deter China. Beijing hates it when its self-declared adversaries link up to resist.
There’s also a national-level political angle to the Japanese government granting approval for the revamped 12th Marines to stay on Okinawa and operate more widely.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2023.