Japan signs off on Marines plan for new littoral ‘stand-in’ group in Okinawa

Japan signs off on Marines plan for new littoral ‘stand-in’ group in Okinawa
CAAT Extracts From Okinawa

A U.S. Marine with 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, monitors a smoke grenade during an extraction in Kin Blue, Okinawa, Aug. 21, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Danny Gonzalez)

WASHINGTON — A revamped US Marine Corps quick-reaction force outfitted with offensive and defensive weapons will be stood up on Okinawa by 2025, Japanese and American officials announced today during a high-profile engagement in Washington, the latest in a string of diplomatic moves by Tokyo apparently aimed at checking Chinese influence in the region.

The US Marine Corps last year previewed plans to reorganize what’s now the 12th Marine Regiment in Okinawa to what will be called the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment. The redesignations are part of a Marine Corps initiative aimed at standing up more agile and immediately deployable forces. The first of its kind, the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, was designated in Hawaii last spring.

The service is still working on the formation’s design, but each one will likely include between 1,800 – 2,000 Marines and sailors and a host of offensive and defense capabilities including anti-ship missiles.

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“We will equip this new formation with advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as anti-ship and transportation capabilities that are relevant to the current and future threat environments,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at today’s event, flanked by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and their respective Japanese counterparts.

The Marine Corps did not immediately respond to questions about today’s announcement or specifics about the future 12th MLR, but said in a release that the force “will add to a ready and capable stand-in force in the first island chain, prepared to support the U.S.-Japanese alliance, bolstering our ability to support deterrence efforts and respond to contingencies…” The move was agreed upon by what’s called the United States and Government of Japan Security Consultative Committee, or 2 + 2.

Beyond the Marines’ move, Austin more broadly reassured Tokyo of America’s commitment to Japan, including support for Tokyo’s claim to the contested, uninhabited Senkaku Islands, also called the Diaoyu Islands, located in the South China Sea near Taiwan. The US Army has previously proposed rotating soldiers and weapons to Senkaku — so far to no avail.

“Japan and the United States remain united in our concern over China’s destabilizing actions, and I want to reaffirm the United States ironclad commitment to defend Japan with the full-range of capabilities, including nuclear, and underscore that Article 5 of the Mutual Security Treaty applies to the Senkaku Islands,” Austin said.

Meanwhile, Blinken said the US and Japan are expected later this week to sign an agreement “a decade in the making” extending the countries’ bilateral security treaty to include attacks in space.

The US-Japanese announcements came just hours after Japan and the United Kingdom signed their own landmark defense deal that allows British forces to deploy to the island nation. That deal comes in the wake of the two nations’ joint work on fighter aircraft and advanced computing technology. “All three agreements,” the British government said, “reinforce the UK’s unwavering commitment to ensuring the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific, and exemplify the depth of friendship between the UK and Japan.”

Just before the new year, Tokyo unveiled plans to increase defense spending, along with a new national security strategy that includes acquiring long-range “counterstrike” capabilities that can reach mainland China.

Japan’s twin international announcements come at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears the one-year mark and world leaders are continually monitoring any Chinese attempt to take control of Taiwan, in what wargamers say would be a bloody, bloody engagement.