It’s no secret that the U.S. Marine Corps is changing in order to better prepare for major warfare with China and Russia. Gen. David Berger, the Marine commandant, is overseeing several studies that could result in the Corps cutting some units and adding others and, in the process, radically changing how and why it functions.
Instead of storming enemy beaches from specialized vessels and fighting infantry battles ashore, the Corps would deploy from collections of cheaper support ships in order to establish airfield for F-35 stealth fighters and fire bases for anti-ship rocket batteries.
This new Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept could require fewer than the 38 U.S. Navy amphibious ships than the Pentagon currently plans on building.
But there’s another, arguably more controversial force that the Marines should consider cutting, Walker Mills argued at the Center for International Maritime Security. The Corps’ 24 infantry battalions with their 22,000 riflemen. “There is not a clear role for the infantry in [Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations],” Mills wrote.
One unit in particular should be on the chopping block, Mills recommended. “Currently the Marine Corps deploys infantry battalions to Okinawa, Japan on a rotational basis as part of the Unit Deployment Program.”
While in Japan, the battalions fall under 4th Marine Regiment, which has a permanent headquarters in Okinawa. The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, while not part of the Unit Deployment Program, contributes another infantry battalion to Okinawa for several months per year.
While deployed to Okinawa these battalions train much like they would back at their home stations in the United States, albeit with fewer resources and less support. They do have expanded opportunities for training with local Japanese Defense Force units and other regional partners.
These forces do not provide a significant deterrent to regional adversaries because the infantry battalions do not have relevant capabilities to most conflict scenarios. The infantry battalions do not have dedicated aviation assets for mobility or amphibious shipping like a Marine Expeditionary Unit would.