The Marine Corps wants to deploy mobile units to Okinawa armed with anti-ship and air-defense missiles that could help Japan defend against island incursions by China, the commandant of the Marine Corps said on Thursday.
“You want to deter, to prevent any potential adversary from taking the next move,” Gen. David Berger said in comments published by Reuters. “If you are looking out from China, that’s what you should see, a rock-solid alliance.”
Berger said the United States is in talks with Japan about the possible deployment, which is being spurred on by the U.S. shift in national strategy away from counterinsurgency concerns and toward so-called “great power competition” with China and, to a lesser degree, Russia.
The mobile Marine units under discussion would not increase the number of troops hosted by Japan, Berger said. He intends to travel to Japan after the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, he said.
Berger wants to make Pacific-based Marines more mobile, with fewer aircraft, artillery and heavy armor in the service, putting in place instead Marine littoral regiments tailored to deny adversaries control through the use of missiles and drones against invading vessels.
The U.S. has been under pressure by Okinawans for decades to reduce the number of Marines on the small island, which hosts a sizable portion of the American forces stationed in Japan. An effort to relocate Marines to Guam and Hawaii is in the works, and Berger’s vision of a more disseminated force dovetails well with the relocation.
Since taking command of the Marine Corps a year ago, Berger has focused on integrating the operations of the Marine Corps and Navy in the Pacific and championed the concept of Expeditionary Advance Base Operations, which intends to place Marines in smaller units in more places throughout the Pacific.
About 22,000 Marines and sailors under Marine Corps Forces Pacific are deployed west of the International Date Line at any given time.
The Marine Corps will have an operational littoral regiment in Okinawa by 2027, Berger told Reuters, with additional littoral regiments in Guam and Hawaii.
The littoral regiment in Hawaii is expected to have roughly 2,000 Marines, mostly coming from units already existing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, a Marine Corps spokesman told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in May.