Are the U.S. Marines Getting Ready for a War in the South China Sea?

Are the U.S. Marines Getting Ready for a War in the South China Sea?

This was the latest exercise is just the latest in the Marine Corps’ mission to become leaner and faster.


Here’s What You Need to Remember: As a part of Exercise Noble Fury, Sailors and Marines with the 3rd Marine Division practiced island assault techniques that could be used in a future fight in the Pacific. During the exercise, Marines flew on Marine V-22 Ospreys and onto Ie Shima, a small island just west of Okinawa.

With airborne help from AH-1Z attack helicopters, over one hundred Marines simulated taking an enemy airfield and secured the island. After repelling a simulated enemy counterattack, the Marines conducted a rapid nighttime HIMARS infiltration.


“In the cover of darkness, a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launcher with 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment flew into the recently secured airfield on an Air Force MC-130J that night,” a Marine Corps courtesy story detailed.

“Upon landing, Marines swiftly positioned the HIMARS launcher to simulate a long-range, precision firing mission with targeting information received and coordinated while aboard the aircraft in flight. Minutes later, the HIMARS was back aboard the aircraft to exfiltrate and move to its next firing point at a different location.”

After the successful HIMARS exfiltration, CH-53E Super Stallions picked up the Marines and left the island.

Long-Range Precision Fire

Though in this case, the USMC utilized the HIMARS mobile artillery system, it is possible that in an actual near-peer fight in the Pacific a different missile system could be used. One option that could prove of high value is the Corps’ new Naval Strike Missile (NSM). Though primarily in use with the U.S. Navy as an anti-ship munition, the Marines have a plan for using it on land.

Modifications to the joint Army-Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) would see a pair of NSM missiles mated to the truck’s frame. These modified JLTVs—without a cab area and remotely driven — would have the ability to rapidly off-load from the air, fire at a sea-based target, and scoot back onboard. Alternatively, they could be dropped off for longer periods of time and, by taking advantage of the JLTV’s off-road capabilities, and remain hidden on remote Pacific islands for longer periods of time.


This latest exercise is just the latest in the Marine Corps’ mission to become leaner and faster. In addition to modified missile-toting JLTVs, the Corps has also moved to divest all of their tank battalions, as well as a large amount of their artillery. They’ve also finally started fielding the long-awaited Assault Amphibious Vehicle replacement.

After the exercise the assistant division commander of 3rd Marine Division, Colonel Jason Perry explained the USMC’s intent, stating that by “leveraging our partnerships and interoperability with joint and allied forces, we can deter and defeat any adversary that threatens peace and security in the region.” Near-peers beware.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer for the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: Reuters