Okinawa-Based Marine Regiment Set to Rebrand as Littoral Unit Next Month After Deal with Japan

U.S. Marines  participate in an M240B machine gun range on Camp Hansen
U.S. Marines with Headquarters Battery, 12th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, participate in an M240B machine gun range on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 20, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Josue Marquez)

The Marine Corps announced that it will redesignate an Okinawa-based regiment into a Marine littoral regiment on Nov. 15, a move that comes as the service establishes a shore-ready presence in the Indo-Pacific in the face of China's persistent influence there.

The 12th Marine Regiment, an artillery unit, will convert into what the Marine Corps has deemed a "stand-in force" that can defend its allies in the region and respond to threats quickly. After November, the unit will be called the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment, complete with a new mission and organization.

Earlier this year, Japan said it would agree to the unit remaining in Okinawa, a critical position in the country's southern island chain that is key to deterring Chinese influence in the region -- an influence that the Marines hope to respond to should tensions boil further.

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The unit appears ahead of schedule in its effort, according to a Marine Corps press release Tuesday announcing the redesignation date, which said that the establishment of the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment was meant to be completed by 2025.

The redesignation is part of a greater push to have three Marine littoral regiments operating in the Indo-Pacific by 2030. The 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, which was the first effort to redesignate, is based in Hawaii. The 4th Marine Regiment is set to be converted as well, according to USNI News.

The Marine littoral regiment, or MLR, is meant to have a small footprint and be an easy-to-maintain unit that can quickly react to threats -- particularly Chinese military ones -- against U.S. forces and allies. It is divided into three subordinate elements: a littoral combat team, a littoral anti-air battalion, and a combat logistics battalion to sustain and maintain the greater unit.

The littoral combat team, or LCT, is based around the infantry battalion and is designed to deploy multiple "platoon-reinforced-size" elements for intelligence, surveillance and early warning, among other missions. Those units are then protected by air defense support.

In total, the MLR wil have roughly 2,000 Marines and sailors in what is intended to be a small and quick force. It is slightly smaller than the Marine expeditionary unit, of which the Corps has seven.

One major difference between the two is that while MEUs are meant to forward deploy to anywhere around the world, the MLRs are already based in the Indo-Pacific, where tensions with China are high.

The low profile was part of the agreement between Japan and the U.S., which was hammered out earlier this year. The Associated Press reported that any potential increase in troops stationed on the island would be a highly sensitive political issue for the Japanese government amid the negotiations; many on Okinawa have long pushed for a reduced U.S. military presence there.

In May, thousands of protesters near Kadena Air Base in Okinawa gathered to challenge the U.S. presence, which has remained since World War II and now includes nearly three-quarters of U.S. military facilities in the country, according to Axios.

"No new units will be added to Okinawa under the agreement," the Marine Corps said in the press release. "This is strictly a redesignation of an existing unit on Okinawa, in accordance with Marine Corps modernization efforts."

The 12th Marine Regiment is currently training in Japan through the end of the month, according to the press release. It plans to test out the MLR organization and deploy between Japan's southwest islands and Hokkaido to the north of the mainland.

During the exercise, the unit will "provide sensing capabilities in a simulated battlespace, and integrate joint-force firepower with our Japanese ally's capabilities," the press release said.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at Follow him on X @df_lawrence.

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