The Navy and Marine Corps are moving forward with plans to position a three-ship amphibious ready group in the Pacific -- with some 2,500 Marines and sailors aboard -- as soon as 2019.
In a discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Wednesday, Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commander of Marine Corps Forces Command, said the services had committed to moving one of its hotly-demanded ARG/Marine expeditionary units from the West Coast into the region to conduct patrols around the Asia Pacific. The plans, Wissler said, illustrated the services' commitment to get the maximum value out of limited resources.
"So not only will you have a forward-deployed naval force with forward ships that are home-ported in Japan, but you will have additional amphibious capability on multiple 90-day patrols in and around the Asia Pacific," he said.
Many key details, including where the Marines will come from to deploy aboard the ships, have yet to be determined, Wissler said.
"Whether those Marines come from the continental United States, whether they come from Hawaii, or whether they come from the United Deployment Program Marines in Japan, all those details are being worked out," he said.
The focus of this new deployment strategy is to create additional presence in southern Asia, Wissler said. That region may include China and the Philippines, where recent months have seen a bulked-up Navy presence as tensions burn hot over territorial claims in the South China Sea. Earlier this month, the service moved a second carrier strike group into the Philippine sea in a show of strength and assertion of navigational rights.
Currently, the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is forward-based in Japan, completing regular deployments in the region. The Corps also sustains a Unit Deployment Program in which Marine units rotate through Okinawa, Japan in six-month pumps. Marine infantry units also rotate through Darwin, Australia six months out of the year. Marine officials have previously discussed plans to create opportunities for the troops in Darwin to conduct 90-day patrols around the continent during their deployment cycle.
Wissler said an additional ARG would give the Marines the opportunity to cover more ground in the Pacific.
"This is an opportunity to create a presence so that the forward-deployed naval force would have sort of a northern, eastern region, and then that second, through two 90-day patrols would be worked out," he said.
Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said the future America-class amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli, set to be delivered to the Navy in 2018, could eventually lead the new ARG in the Pacific. Another possibility to lead the ARG is the amphibious assault ship America, which entered service in 2014 and is now home-ported in San Diego, California.