U.S. to form island-response regiment on Okinawa

The Yomiuri Shimbun

To deal swiftly with contingencies around Japan’s remote islands, the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Okinawa Prefecture will form a marine littoral regiment, according to sources connected to the Japanese and U.S. governments.

The MLR is apparently aimed at enhancing deterrence and response capabilities against China.

Washington has informed Tokyo of the plan, which is set to be realized by fiscal 2025, as part of the reorganization of Marine Corps units in Okinawa.

The two governments will be coordinating on the plan during Wednesday’s Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee meeting in Washington of foreign and defense chiefs, also known as the 2-plus-2 security talks.

Since the 2000s when the war on terrorism, including the Afghanistan war, began in earnest, the U.S. Marine Corps has strengthened its units with heavy weapons, such as tanks and artillery, in preparation for large-scale ground battles.

In recent years, however, in response to Beijing intensifying its military activities in the East and South China Seas, the Marine Corps has been speeding up the establishment of a system to deal with island warfare.

MLR units play a core role in that system and are equipped with long-range anti-ship missiles and provide air defense.

The Marine Corps plans to create at least three MLRs, with the first having been established in Hawaii in March 2022. During the 2-plus-2 security talks, it is likely that the U.S. government will make clear its intention to create another regiment based in Okinawa, with the Japanese government expected to support the plan. A third MLR is highly likely to be stationed in Guam.

In case of a contingency, the MLR is expected to maintain positions on frontline islands within the enemy’s sphere of influence and engage the enemy. The regiment is organized into small teams that are deployed to each remote island, aiming to sustain sea control by deterring the advances of the enemy’s warships and military aircraft, while fending off attacks.

The entire area surrounding Taiwan and Japan’s Nansei Islands, which span Kyushu and Okinawa Prefecture, are within range of Chinese military missiles.

If a battle begins, it is believed that China will highly likely have the upper hand in the sea and air. The key will be for the frontline units to be able to contain attacks until reinforcements arrive. The MLR is expected to play a central role in such an operation.

The Marine Corps likely will equip existing units stationed in Okinawa with anti-ship missiles and other equipment to reorganize them into an MLR. The scale of the regiment will be about that of Hawaii’s, at around 2,000 personnel.

There likely will be no change to the U.S. military’s reorganization plan to reduce the number of marines stationed in Okinawa to 10,000 personnel.

The Self-Defense Forces has decided to upgrade the Ground SDF’s 2,200-personnel 15th brigade stationed in Naha into a division of around 3,000 personnel. This is among the SDF’s measures to swiftly strengthen its defense capabilities around the Nansei Islands.

The creation of the MLR in Okinawa will make it possible for Japan and the United States to strengthen their cooperation further through such activities as joint military drills.