US Marine Littoral Regiment Formed in Okinawa to Work Alongside Japan SDF with China in Mind

The Yomiuri Shimbun

NAHA — The U.S. Marine Corps redesignated its 12th Marine Regiment stationed in Okinawa Prefecture as the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment on Wednesday.

The MLR is equipped to deal swiftly with contingencies around Japan’s remote islands.

The reorganization aims to usher in a shift from a strategy focusing on large-scale ground battles to one dealing with island warfare.

Japan’s Self-Defense Forces plan to strengthen its defense capabilities around the Nansei Islands that span southern Kagoshima and Okinawa Prefecture by working closely with the new U.S. regiment.

These moves are being made with China in mind as Beijing continues to engage in hegemonic activities in the region.

The MLR is the second such unit established by the U.S. military. The first has been in Hawaii since March 2022.

This second MLR unit was officially designated at Camp Hansen on Wednesday with the attendance of about 200 people, including senior SDF officials. The U.S. Marine Corps camp straddles several municipalities in Okinawa Prefecture, including the town of Kin.

Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Col. Peter Eltringham, commanding officer of the 12th MLR, said the newly established unit would cooperate with the SDF and conduct various missions.

The MLR has about 2,000 personnel, the same as the original regiment. The new unit will have fewer conventional heavy armaments such as surface-to-surface missiles and Howitzers. Instead, it will be equipped with the Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS), which is a new teleoperated surface-to-ship missile system, and an air defense system will be stationed in Okinawa. The unit is scheduled to have the mobile deployment capability necessary to fully operate as an MLR by 2025.

The entire area surrounding Taiwan and the Nansei Islands are within range of the Chinese military’s missiles. In the event of a contingency, deploying additional U.S. military units near the region could be difficult. Before such a situation occurs, the MLR can deploy teams to remote islands on the front line and establish bases from which to launch attacks on enemy aircraft and vessels. These personnel also would support U.S. Navy and Air Force operations.

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force will upgrade its 15th brigade stationed in Naha into a division and bolster its units. In addition, a surface-to-air missile unit is scheduled to be deployed at Camp Yonaguni in the town of the same name in the prefecture. These forces will cooperate with the MLR and conduct joint combat training exercises to prepare for contingencies on remote islands.

“This will lead to a significant enhancement of the Japan-U.S. alliance’s deterrent and capability to respond,” a senior Japanese Defense Ministry official said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Col. Peter Eltringham delivers remarks during a ceremony at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Hansen in Okinawa Prefecture on Wednesday.