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The US Marine Corps Are Preparing To Fight China

October 8, 2021

The USMC introduced a new road mobile weapon system during its Large Scale Exercise 2021 in the Hawaiian islands held from August 3 to 16. The NMESIS is an Oshkosh JLTV repurposed to transport tandem launchers for the Naval Strike Missiles manufactured by Raytheon that are powerful enough for sinking any class of warship. (See photo above.) Each NMESIS brings together a command or “leader” vehicle and the transporter-launcher. The USMC made it clear the NMESIS is able to reach its mission by air and sea–whether loaded aboard a C-130 Hercules or delivered to a beach by a hovercraft.

The details of Large Scale Exercise 2021 involved entire marine units deploying on islands to learn a new warfighting doctrine. Apparently, with China and its navy as nemesis, marines are tasked with securing islands near strategic sea lanes where enemy warships will likely appear. This explains the live fire test of the NMESIS that destroyed a target ship–a decommissioned frigate–with its missiles. The NMESIS’ munitions aren’t short-range since they traveled almost 200 kilometers before reaching the stationary Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate.

It helps to recall how a public document released by the USMC’s leadership in 2020 listed weapon systems such as the NMESIS as an essential of sorts for future operations. As part of Force Design 2030 the entire corps are pivoting to the Indo-Pacific in a complete departure from the three decades they’ve spent embroiled in the Middle East. But this shift comes with new equipment and as explained in Force Design 2030 the NMESIS fills the requirement for “long-range precision fires.” As of this writing it’s unknown if the NMESIS is soon complemented by another missile launcher so that the USMC’s expeditionary units can better control littoral areas and sea lanes in a future conflict.

The USMC are justified in their restructuring to anticipate a new adversary the branch has never faced before. The likelihood of open warfare between China and the US is no longer far-fetched as seen in the clear movements the rival militaries are taking around the Pacific Ocean. Although the USMC’s own public relations surrounding Large Scale Exercise 2021 emphasized their goals under Force Design 2030 the quiet part amid all the hype was the corps expectation that blocking and controlling sea lanes is their strategy for defeating their rivals. This makes sense when looking at Asia as a landmass with adjacent “island chains.” If it’s understood the “first island chain” comprise US allies–Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines–then protecting them if war breaks out means holding the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the Philippine Sea, and perhaps the Celebes Sea against the PLAN’s fleets and an extremely powerful air force.

Whether because of its own shortsightedness or questionable leadership, the US Navy in particular failed to anticipate the PLAN’s rapid growth, and is now at a historic disadvantage. Simply put, while the US Navy has more tonnage and assets the PLAN is much larger when it comes to fleet size–350 battle force ships versus the US Navy’s 293. The difference is more glaring when the entire PLAN is concentrated in the Pacific Ocean while the US Navy maintains its global presence. This also puts the USMC at high risk since the branch isn’t equipped for naval combat and won’t survive theater-wide operations if carrier-based aviation and even submarines can’t protect the movements of its sea transports.

Aside from road mobile missiles there are three more capabilities the USMC needs to counter China’s naval power. These are credible air defenses, including a new generation of deck-based fighters that can tangle with Chinese stealth fighters and drones, and then more unmanned surveillance systems for ground and near-shore operations and finally cyberwarfare/information warfare resources that tilt the battlespace in the marines’ favor. Integrating all of these within a decade won’t be easy but the threat posed by China is dangerous enough for compelling radical change. The US military won’t accept losing against its number one pacing threat.

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