US Marine Corps Cpl. Nickolas Rodriguez with Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, puts on camouflage paint during a helicopter raid exercise at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, on Dec. 12, 2022. Japanese and US leaders on Jan. 11, 2023, announced major changes for US troops on the island. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. William N. Wallace.
Responding to increasingly aggressive moves by China, Russia, and North Korea, US and Japanese officials have greenlighted the Marine Corps to revamp a regiment on the island of Okinawa.
In the wake of a Wednesday, Jan. 11, announcement by the US and Government of Japan Security Consultative Committee — called the “2+2” —the 3rd Marine Division’s headquarters and the 12th Marine Regiment will remain on Okinawa, but the combat unit will become a slimmer 12th Marine Littoral Regiment in less than two years.
“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,” said Marine Commandant Gen. David H. Berger in a prepared statement emailed to Coffee or Die Magazine. “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.”
US Marines from Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, await pickup during a helicopter raid training exercise at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 13, 2022. US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. William N. Wallace.
The Pentagon expects the 12th MLR to stand as a strong bulwark against a possible Chinese incursion into what’s called the first island chain, a string of atolls, reefs, and rocks running from the Kamchatka Peninsula south through Taiwan, Japan’s Ryukyu Island, and the Philippines to Malaysia
The Corps said the new 2+2 agreement won’t halt the relocation of roughly 9,000 Marines and their families that's slated to begin next year, with Guam destined to become the logistical hub for the 12th Littoral Regiment and similar combat teams.
Many of those units will be “strategically dispersed throughout the Indo-Pacific Theater,” to avoid being blasted to bits by increasingly precise Chinese ballistic missiles, according to Wednesday’s announcement.
Marine Littoral Regiments are being tailored for combat in the Indo-Pacific region, with beefed up anti-aircraft capabilities, a powerful anti-ship missile battery, and the ability to nimbly scoot across island chains like water bugs, thanks to new Light Amphibious Warships.
US Marines with 3d Battalion, 4th Marines provide security during Stand-in Force Exercise on Okinawa, Japan, Dec 10, 2022. SiF-EX is a division-level exercise involving all elements of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force across a distributed maritime environment. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Davin Tenbusch.
Although they’re still being stitched together, littoral regiments will likely field up to 2,000 Marines and sailors, about the size of a Marine Expeditionary Unit, but smaller than many regimental combat teams.
For example, Hawaii-based 3rd Marines is morphing into a littoral regiment.
It’s transforming from a formation featuring three infantry battalions, a combat assault company, and regimental headquarters — roughly 3,400 troops — into a unit with far fewer grunts.
But the trade-off means the Marines who are left can down more enemy aircraft and sink a few warships before the invaders reach them.
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Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
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