The move sends a strong signal to China that the United States can quickly defend Japan and that the new unit will be able to respond quickly to contingencies, Defense Department officials said.
A Marine Littoral Regiment is a hard to detect unit designed for operations in coastal waters. It is equipped with naval strike missiles mounted on unmanned variants of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles. The units comprise 1,800 to 2,000 soldiers.
Austin announced the news during a joint press conference at the State Department with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and their Japanese counterparts, and comes two days before President Joe Biden is due to meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the White House.
While the number of American troops in Japan will not change, Austin said the United States believes the new unit, which replaces the 12th Field Artillery Regiment, will be “more lethal, more agile and more capable”. The move is expected to be completed by 2025, he said.
The change is also essential to deter China from a possible invasion of Taiwan. “What we’ve seen from China in recent years is … an effort to undermine the long-standing status quo that has maintained peace and stability for decades,” Blinken said.
It was an implied reference to China’s escalating military intimidation of Taiwan, which in recent weeks has included an incursion of a record number of nuclear-capable bombers into the area. Autonomous Island Air Defense Identification Card. The moves constitute Beijing’s efforts to “establish a new normal” favoring Chinese military might in the Taiwan Strait, Austin said, though he added that he doubted “an invasion is imminent.”
Japan is home to 18,000 US Marines, mostly based in Okinawa. But the large US military presence has been a source of tension with Tokyo for years. In total, the United States has approximately 54,000 troops in the country.
The deployment reflects what Blinken said was a mutual recognition that China “is the greatest common strategic challenge facing us, our allies and partners.”
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada used unusually blunt language to describe China as posing an “unprecedented and most important strategic challenge” to the U.S.-Japan alliance. Hamada also expressed concern over “enhanced military cooperation” between Beijing and Moscow, an implied reference to live-fire Sino-Russian naval drills in the East China Sea last month.
The news comes weeks after Tokyo unveiled its biggest military buildup since World War II, approving more than $2 billion in defense spending, including hundreds of long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles.
Both Austin and Hamada referred to growing military tensions between Japan and China over the disputed chain of islands that Japan calls the Senkakus and what Beijing calls the Diaoyutai. China has fueled these frictions with increasingly frequent incursions by ships into Japanese territory. “Japan and the United States will continue to stand united in raising objections to China’s attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea,” Hamada said.
Blinken also said that the two countries will strengthen their cooperation in space and cyberspace, saying in particular that attacks in space could trigger Article V of the US-Japan Security Treaty, which states that the United States will defend Japan against an attack.
U.S.-Japan cooperation on space exploration aims “to land the first woman and person of color on the moon,” Blinken said.