- By Michael Evans
- An hour ago
The US Marines have tested a new strategy for fighting China in a future naval war that would involve missile-armed units island-hopping across the Pacific.
The battle plan, rehearsed in Exercise Noble Fury, is for Marines to be dropped covertly on islands and atolls in the region to attack Chinese warships and missile sites in a “shoot-and-scoot” manoeuvre.
It is envisaged that the Marines would fire rockets and missiles at designated targets before escaping by helicopter to another island.
The setting up of “expeditionary advanced base operations” across the Pacific in a time of conflict is part of a new fighting blueprint for the US Marines that is expected to be fully operational by 2030.
During Noble Fury, which took place this month, more than 100 Marines were flown by MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to the Japanese island of Iejima near Okinawa in the East China Sea, where they “captured” an airfield.
Long-range artillery rocket systems, known as Himars, were then flown to the airfield at midnight on board a US Air Force MC-130J Super Hercules. The Marines set up the rocket system and carried out a “notional” attack.
“Minutes later, the Himars was back on board the aircraft to exfiltrate and move to its next firing point at a different location,” a statement from the 3rd Marine Division, based at Okinawa, said. Throughout the exercise the Marines were linked to warships of the US Seventh Fleet.
Colonel Jason Perry, assistant division commander for 3rd Marine Division, said Noble Fury had demonstrated that “we can deter and defeat any adversary that threatens peace and security in the region”.
Noble Fury was a new-style exercise designed to take into account the threat posed by China’s rapidly growing naval and ballistic-missile capabilities.
Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated in recent years. Rows over trade, China’s treatment of Hong Kong and Taiwan and its more aggressive military stance in the region have all contributed to diplomatic ties being strained.
As part of a changing strategy for the Indo-China region, the US Marines are being given greatly different roles that will lead to small units being spread out over thousands of miles on captured uninhabited islands and atolls in time of conflict.
The new thinking is partly aimed at countering China’s own program of building military bases with missile sites on islands and reefs in the South China Sea, whose sovereignty is disputed by other nations in the region.
General David Berger, commandant of the US Marine Corps, has made it clear that the present design of the corps is not best suited “for great power competition”, a reference to the Pentagon’s 2018 switch in focus to countering China and Russia as military rivals.
In the future the Marines will be equipped with long-range anti-ship missiles. One weapon system designed by the American defence company Lockheed Martin has a 1000lb warhead and a range of more than 200 miles.
One of General Berger’s first decisions was to scrap all Marine Corps tanks and heavyweight artillery in favour of lighter weapon systems that could be deployed rapidly.