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U.S., Japan Look To Restructure Marine Force To Respond Swiftly If China Attacks Taiwan

The coastal area of Henoko in Okinawa Prefecture is the planned relocation site for a U.S. military base in Ginowan area in the prefecture. | KYODO

The U.S. and Japan eye restructuring the U.S. Marine force stationed in Okinawa, Japan, to give them more firepower and the ability to quickly respond if China attacks Taiwan, according to media reports.

A new strategy will arm the roughly 18,000 Marines deployed to Okinawa with missiles that can reach the Chinese mainland and increase their maneuverability if they are called upon to defend Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, The Washington Post reported, citing two officials familiar with the matter. Japan and the U.S. agreed to the restructuring as China readies for a potential offensive, officials said.

“It’s not just about the bodies; it’s about the capabilities,” one U.S. official told the Post. “They’ll move quicker. With more firepower.”

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The U.S. is looking to diversify the number of ways its forces can target China, mixing and matching how ground, air and sea-based weapons attack the adversary’s ground, air and sea assets, the official told the Post. To fulfill that goal, the U.S. military will equip Marines with ground-launched anti-ship missiles.

They’ll also erect training stations and possibly field defense equipment in remote islands southwest of Okinawa over the next few years, allowing them to deploy at a moment’s notice to bases already prepared to support defensive operations, officials explained to the Post. One group of islands under consideration, the Ryukyus, is about 100 miles from Taiwan, the same distance that separates the island from China, the outlet reported.

An overhauled regiment of 2,000 Marines will also focus on advanced intelligence-gathering and transportation, Reuters reported, citing officials.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is set to formally announce the changes at a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart, Hamada Yasukaza, as well as the foreign ministers of both countries, on Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.

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“The British, the Australians, are very, very important to us, but none of them provide the capabilities to us that Japan offers. None of them host the forces that they host,” an official told the Post.

Discussions on beefing up the Marines’ capabilities in the Pacific among senior U.S. officials have been underway for years, the Post reported.

Tokyo unveiled a plan in December to give its military the largest boost since World War II as defense leaders fear a rising, militant China as Japan’s most significant security threat.

The strategy also called for enhanced defense cooperation with the U.S., which is treaty-bound to come to Japan’s defense if the island is attacked.

Washington hailed the new initiative, saying it would “strengthen and modernize” the longstanding U.S.-Japan military alliance.

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