Explainer: Why the U.S. is overhauling its marines on Japan’s Okinawa
TOKYO, Jan 11 (Reuters) – The United States plans to shake up its naval force in Japan’s Okinawa islands as Tokyo undertakes its biggest military build-up since World War Two that will double defense spending. over five years to deter China from attacking Taiwan or nearby. Japanese islands.
Japan and the United States want to shore up the islands that separate the East China Sea from the Western Pacific because they are close to Taiwan and are part of what military planners call the “First Island Chain” that stretches to Indonesia, stretching to China. the forces.
Tokyo fears that losing Taiwan to mainland China would threaten shipping lanes that supply its oil and undermine US influence in the region.
The US military presence in Okinawa, which began during World War II, includes most of the 18,000 US Marines stationed in Japan. US bases cover about 8% of the main island of Okinawa, fueling resentment among locals who want other parts of Japan to host the troops.
COASTAL MARINE REGIMENTS
The U.S. Marine Corps is creating “Marine Coastal Regiments” of about 2,000 troops as part of a restructuring plan proposed by Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger in 2020.
Armed with missiles and drones, these units are meant to operate as reconnaissance and strike forces in contested maritime theaters.
Under Berger’s plan, a weaker Marine Corps would drop most of its artillery and heavy armor, including all of its battle tanks.
Dispersing naval units across Okinawa, even temporarily, could see US troops return to islands along the chain for the first time since Washington returned Okinawa to Japanese control in 1972.
Yonaguni at the western end of the chain is only about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Taiwan.
JAPAN’S OKINAWA PIVOT
To bolster Okinawa, Japan is building new anti-ship and air defense missile bases and radar stations, including one at Yonaguni, it hopes will deter Chinese forces from attack.
Japan is also developing new, longer-range missiles and plans to buy US Tomahawk cruise missiles that can hit targets in China.
Those weapons, along with anti-ship missiles deployed in Okinawa by new coastal regiments, could help close a growing missile gap with China, experts say.
The temporary deployment of US Marines to the new Japanese bases could also prompt closer defense coordination between Tokyo and Washington, as a militarily stronger Japan seeks a bigger role in its decades-long alliance with Washington.
“Defense must be a combined affair, with Japanese and American capabilities and resources tied seamlessly together,” said Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and scholar at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, who served as a liaison officer with the SDF. .
“This improves training opportunities and also allows you to move and operate in the area where you are most likely to have to fight,” he added.
Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill
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