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Marines in Hawaii are drastically restructuring to deter China

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The radical restructuring of the Marine Corps in Hawaii to better deter China in the western Pacific includes the planned removal of all 16 tanklike amphibious vehicles and elimination of all cannon artillery.

Approximately 500 of 650 artillery Marines with the 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment will be moved elsewhere, with the remainder to be part of a medium-range missile battery outfitted with Naval Strike Missiles intended to inflict damage to ships at sea, the Marine Corps said.

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Emory Warrick, a radio operator with 1st Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company (ANGLICO), I Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF), looks through binoculars to find the impact area during the battery phase of Exercise Spartan Fury 21.1 at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, March 6, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Andrew Cortez)

It would be the first such ground-based missile-­firing unit in Hawaii. The Marines will be attached to a new fast-­moving unit at Kaneohe Bay called a Marine Littoral Regiment that also will be the first in the Marine Corps.

The announcement of the latest force shake-up comes after the Corps said it will remove all of its conventional helicopters at the Marine Corps base—more than three dozen in all—and replace them with a squadron of 12 to 15 fixed-wing KC-130 refueling and cargo aircraft.

Two squadrons of MV-22 tilt-rotor Ospreys will remain and are key to the new plan for long-range transport.

Also on tap is a plan to trade smaller RQ-21A Blackjack drones for six big MQ-9A Reaper un-crewed aerial systems that have a wingspan of 66 feet or more and can carry missiles and bombs.

The amphibious assault vehicles, or AAVs, that will be departing had an environmental side job for decades : As part of annual “mud ops, ” the 26-ton tracked vehicles were driven through the Nuupia Ponds by the base to rid the area of pickleweed and facilitate nesting for the endangered Hawaiian stilt.

The personnel carriers are designed to “swim ” ashore from a launch ramp on big amphibious assault ships. An official said Hawaii’s Marine Littoral Regiment will not get a replacement vehicle known as an amphibious combat vehicle, which also floats but has eight tires instead of tank tracks.

About 60 Marines with Combat Assault Company, the unit that operates the AAVs, will transfer to the new Marine Littoral Regiment as an engineer platoon.

Via what it calls Force Design 2030, the Marine Corps is taking drastic steps to reshape itself for “peer ” competition with China—which invested heavily in advanced, long-range missiles while the United States was preoccupied with low-tech guerrilla warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, told the online publication War on the Rocks last month that a series of war games concluded that if the Navy and Marine Corps team goes to war with current formations, methods and capabilities, “then it’s a really hard fight and it doesn’t turn out well ” for the United States.

“They (the Chinese ) have capabilities, and we have to pace off the fastest runner, ” is how Lt. Gen. Eric Smith, head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, put it during a recent media briefing. “So that ability to stay up with a peer or near-peer competitor requires adjustments—or we will not be able to ensure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

A sign of changing warfare is noted in an 18-month Marine Corps update on the progress of Force Design 2030. The report pointed out that in the Second Nagorno-­Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia last fall, Azerbaijan imposed its will primarily through the use of unmanned systems, including kamikaze drones.

The Marine Corps said it is pursuing a “deliberate but aggressive ” path toward unmanned systems with 60 % of its aviation element expected to be unmanned.

Berger seeks to reduce the size of the Corps by 12, 000 Marines, get rid of all tanks, reduce cannon artillery, aircraft and infantry units and make other cuts to be more relevant in the 21st century. Some $12 billion in savings would be reinvested elsewhere, including increasing rocket batteries to 21 from seven.

The new Hawaii Marine Littoral Regiment to be activated in fiscal 2022 will be made up of 1, 800 to 2, 000 Marines drawn in part from the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment at Kaneohe Bay.

The 2nd and 3rd infantry battalions at Kaneohe will be deactivated, with many of those Marines also expected to become part of the Marine Littoral Regiment. That formation in turn will include fast-moving sub-units that can operate as an island-hopping and disruptive “inside force ” within range of enemy missiles.

Detachments of 50 to 80 Marines would set up rapidly, fire missiles from trucks and move to avoid being targeted. The 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment also will be deactivated, with one battery transforming into the Naval Strike Missile unit with the new Marine Littoral Regiment.

The detachments have to be able to deploy rapidly “on those KC-130s, on those ships that come out of Pearl Harbor, or on those Ospreys because, as you know, those Ospreys are capable of (flying ) all the way to the Philippines, all the way to Australia, all the way to Japan, ” Smith said.

Part of the redesign also calls for a new class of vessel in Hawaii called the Light Amphibious Warship, which can carry at least 75 Marines and pull up on beaches. The Marine Corps wants the Navy to operate at least 35 of the smaller ships.

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