By Jon Dougherty
During World War II, divisions of U.S. Marines stormed Pacific islands held by tens of thousands of Japanese troops as grunts “island-hopped” towards the mainland in preparation for an invasion that never came.
While weapons of war have advanced dramatically since then, the Marine Corps still envisions scenarios when invading Pacific islands once again becomes necessary.
In what was viewed as a “clear signal” to China, Marines recently held an exercise involving the mock invasion of the island of Ie Shima, an island in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan.
The drill involved troops from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit joined by the 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, the U.S. Air Force’s 353rd Special Operations Group and the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, according to Military Times.
The exercise involved a 600-mile invasion path to seize an airfield and establish a forward base of operations — just the sort of operation that would be required to take one island and prepare for a subsequent island invasion.
“We are ready to rapidly seize ground and project lethal combat power,” 31st MEU commanding officer Col. Robert Brodie said in a Marine Corps statement. “The Indo-Pacific region is incredibly dynamic, so we prepare and train daily for real-world crises.”
Paul Buchanan, a defense and security analyst, told American Military News that these are precisely the kind of tactics that would be needed in a war against China.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Marines are engaging in these sorts of exercises because that’s exactly the combat environment that they’re most likely to find themselves in, at least in the near future,” Buchanan said.
Over the past few years, China has built a number of islands in the South China Sea that the People’s Liberation Army has since fortified with surface-to-air missiles, radar, barracks, and runways. Several analysts say the islands are the first step in China’s attempt to control the entire body of water, which Beijing claims already.
“You just want to make the Chinese think twice about asserting their claims,” said Buchanan. “That’s a clear signal to the Chinese that they’re not kidding around.”
He noted further that the PLA is “not a battle-tested military, and that’s one advantage the United States has. The Chinese would be wading into a big problem if they confront U.S. troops in the field.
“The U.S. has the most experience combat records of any developed nation,” Buchanan added.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10
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