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The US Marine Corps is sending a clear message that its force is ready to fight on ocean and island areas alongside allied Japanese forces in the event of any Chinese attack, according to a recently released service video.
The video explains that a recently completed six-month long deployment of US and Japanese Marines was not a “training” exercise but rather a decided effort to “replicate,” and “rehearse” actual combat scenarios the forces would likely encounter in island areas near Japan and Taiwan.
Prepared to Fight
While the video was clear not to suggest any impending “offensive” operations or attacks per say, the emphasis was clear that current operations with US and Japanese Marines are ready to “fight now.” The Unit Deployment Program was specifically described as “not” being training but rather actual “rehearsals” of what maritime warfare would involve in the multi-domain area of Japan’s southern islands.
Given its proximity to Taiwan, it seems clear that this area would be essential to any kind of US-Japanese defense against a Chinese amphibious invasion to annex Taiwan.
According to Global Firepower, Japan can assemble as many as 1 million soldiers and Marines if needed for an immediate fight, and part of Japan’s southern island chains are roughly 500 miles or so from Taiwan depending upon the point of take-off.
This means that a lethal US-Japanese amphibious force could prove highly impactful in any kind of maritime warfare engagement near Taiwan.
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This would be especially true if amphibious Naval assets such as F-35-armed amphibs or carriers were close enough to strike. Even some fixed-wing aircraft could take off from Japan or its Southern islands to attack approaching Chinese amphibious forces, especially if supported by aerial refuelers.
Light Amphibious Warfare (LAW)
Could this force get there fast enough without being pre-positioned on the island of Taiwan, given that Taiwan is merely 100 miles from the Chinese coast? This would seem likely as any kind of large scale amphibious attack would need some measure of staging, preparation or set-up which could be noticed, learned of or detected by US-Japanese defenses. Should air superiority be established with F-35s, a scenario which seems quite likely if enough US and Japanese 5th-Gen assets were in range, then cargo planes could quickly get soldiers, Marines and weapons to Taiwan.
This dynamic might be why the Corps continues to fast track its new Light Amphibious Warfare (LAW) vessel configured to support “island-hopping” kinds of amphibious warfare scenarios in the Pacific. The new ship could not only help access coastal island areas but deliver large weapons, equipment and Marines in otherwise difficult to reach areas such as the South China Sea or Japanese islands.
These high-risk areas would likely be more difficult for deeper draft ships such as amphibs to closely approach, yet there would clearly be a need to establish and reinforce dangerous combat operations there. This is where a LAW would come in to support ship-to-shore landing craft dispatched from a “mothership” amphib from greater stand-off ranges, deliver essential land weapons such as mobile artillery or even some armored vehicles.
Speed of response, enabled by proximity and multi-domain connectivity in regions near Taiwan and the South China Sea, would likely prove decisive in any confrontation with aggressive Chinese forces.
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US and Japanese Marines are conducting intense combat rehearsals and preparing for amphibious warfare in the island areas of Japan to ensure a combined allied force is ready in the event of Chinese aggression.
The six month deployment was not necessarily identified as “training,” according to a Corp video of the operation but rather clearly explained as a warfare “rehearsal” with live fire combat drills, amphibious attack and defense operations and joint US and Japanese assault maneuvers.
The 3d Marine Division of the US Marine Corps just completed a six month deployment program under 4th Marines in Okinawa Japan in what service reports describe as a “Unit Deployment Program.”
“Forward-deployed within the first island chain, 2/3 (Marine Unit 2nd Batallion, 3d Marine Division) conducted a series of combat rehearsals, preparing to fight and win alongside their allies and partners, and to deter and defeat any threat to regional security,” a Marine Corps news service video explained.
The Corp video describes the combined US-Japanese maritime warfare unit as a “stand-in-force” ready to engage in high-intensity maritime warfare at any time.
“Every action we execute is to go after the enemy and deter the enemy and prepare for that fight. When the day comes that the threat tries to seize maritime terrain, we are going to be there,” Lt. Col. Brandon Turner, US Marine Corps, 2nd Battalion, 3d Marine Division, said in a video produced by the Corps. “The training we did coming up to this is over. From here on out, every day is a combat rehearsal.”
The Corps report did not incorporate many tactical or weapons-related specifics, yet it was clear that the war preparation aligns with a new generation of maritime warfare tactics, procedures, technologies and concepts. Stating that “this is not your granddad’s UDT,” the video made reference to increased small-unit autonomy.
“Now small unit leaders can drive the fight themselves because they know their Marines,” the Corps video said.
This comment about smaller, more autonomous units likely pertains to the large extent to which vastly improved communications, computing and networking technologies have changed tactics for Corps units.
Joint maneuvers, a new generation of computing and communications technology and longer-range weapons and sensors are completely reshaping the paradigms for maritime warfare.
Small units can now operate with much faster information sharing ability and real-time connectivity to transmit threat information, adjust to incoming intelligence and coordinate multi-domain attacks.
So-called “sensor-to-shooter” time, that window within which a new target can be found, identified and destroyed, is increasing at an alarming rate as new hardened networking technologies arrive. This enables more dispersed or distributed operations wherein long-range precision targeting and weapons can generate a consolidated or area attack warfare effect while spread apart a large operational envelope. Combine Arms effects can be achieved at a faster pace and from disaggregated formations.
“The Marine Corps will do what it has always done. We are designed to fight and kill,” the video said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven -the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.