Sunday, April 29, 2012

Spreading Out

Before 9/11, we kept a two-regiment Marine Marine Expeditionary Force (a division with a supporting air wing) in Okinawa. Now we are spreading the force out, after coming to an agreement with Japan on financing and basing:

The United States plans to locate Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTF) in Okinawa, Guam, and Hawaii and intends to establish a rotational presence in Australia in order to establish a geographically distributed force posture while sustaining the forward presence of U.S. Marine Corps forces in the region. This revised posture will ensure a more capable U.S. Marine Corps presence in these locations, strengthening deterrence and enabling flexible and rapid responses to various contingencies. The Ministers confirmed that these steps would contribute to Japan’s defense and to peace and stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

The Ministers confirmed that a total of approximately 9,000 U.S. Marines, along with their associated dependents, are to be relocated from Okinawa to locations outside of Japan. U.S. Marine Corps forces remaining in Okinawa are to consist of the III MEF Headquarters; the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing Headquarters; the 3rd Marine Logistics Group Headquarters; the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit; and base sustainment elements of Marine Corps Installations Pacific, along with essential aviation, ground and support units. The Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to achieve an end-state for the U.S. Marine Corps presence in Okinawa consistent with the levels envisioned in the Realignment Roadmap. Consistent with the usual practice of Alliance consultations, the U.S. Government is to notify the Government of Japan of changes to the organizational structure of the U.S. Marine Corps units in Okinawa.

The United States is working to establish an operational U.S. Marine Corps presence in Guam consisting of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade Headquarters; the 4th Marine Regiment; and elements of aviation, ground and support units from III MEF. A base sustainment unit is also to be established there. The authorized strength of U.S. Marine Corps forces in Guam is to be approximately 5,000 personnel.

In conjunction with these adjustments, the U.S. Government also informed the Government of Japan that it is establishing a U.S. Marine Corps rotational presence in Australia, with other U.S. Marines moving to Hawaii to enhance operational capability there. In executing these moves, the U.S. government reaffirmed its commitment to sustain its current military presence and enhance military capability in the Western Pacific.

There is no replacement for the Futenma air base identified, although both pledge to keep working on it. So we'll remain at the base.

So we'll have III MEF and air wing headquarters on Okinawa plus a single Marine Expeditionary Unit (a MEU: reinforced battalion task force) and assorted units. The total will be 10,000 according to a background briefing.

We'll have a Marine regiment on Guam and elements of the air wing plus a brigade headquarters to command the regiment and supporting units.

We'll eventually rotate a MEU through Australia.

And we'll have the rest in Hawaii, which would be two Marine battalions, I assume, and supporting units. Which should be the balance of a second Marine regiment. Since we discussed the Australia deployment, I assume the Okinawa-based MEU will participate in the rotation through Australia, at least in part if not as a unit. The background briefing did say the Hawaii piece was more in flux.

I don't know if the Guam-based units will support the Australia rotation. I'd guess that since it has a brigade headquarters that the idea is to have MEUs in Okinawa and Australia (mainly supported from units in Hawaii) available for smaller missions in the South China Sea region from Japan to Singapore while the MEB is the immediate heavy land hammer should a major assault force be needed on short notice.

Spreading out in the face of greater Chinese ability to hit Okinawa enhances survivability of Marine Corps combat elements while also reducing the incentive China has to hit them early in a crisis to try to neutralize them.