After nearly a century of Marines using tanks, the times they are a-changing.
This change in their configuration tells us a lot about who the military perceives as the key future political rival or threat. Instead of a long slog in landlocked regions where armor and firepower are the difference-maker, they’re gearing up for a light, mobile, quick-response configuration that would be effective in an island-hopping campaign.
And that — right there — is a clue to exactly what threat they are lining up to stand against.
In a word, China.
The U.S. Marine Corps is remaking itself to better fight China in a potential conflict, and it’s making bold choices to make it happen. The Marines will eliminate all of their tank units (a capability the service has had for nearly a century), most of its tube artillery, and a substantial amount of aviation units. In return the service will bulk up with long-range rocket artillery and anti-ship missiles, weapons the service thinks will be more useful in island-hopping campaigns in the South Pacific.
The Marine Corps, according to USNI News, says it is not “optimized to meet the demands of the National Defense Strategy.” The service also identifies China as the “pacing threat” to the U.S. and its allies in the coming years. Most experts believe that in the event of conflict between the two countries, the South China Sea will be a major theater of war.
The sea is the location of several island archipelagos, including the Spratly Islands, Paracel Islands, and a number of islets, atolls, shoals, and other above-water terrain features. In recent years China has claimed up to ninety percent of the South China Sea and established military bases at several key locations. —PopularMechanics
More recently, China has been harassing the Philippines by projecting a naval presence deep into their territory.
So, what will we be doing instead of tanks?
The Marines will make heavy cuts in existing capabilities to stand up new capabilities. Long range rocket artillery, which will allow the Marines to strike other islands and even People’s Liberation Army Navy ships at sea, will see a 300 percent boost. The Marines’ rocket artillery platform is HIMARS, or High Mobility Artillery Rocket System. HIMARS is a six tube rocket launcher mounted on the back of an armored truck…
The Marines are also buying new Naval Strike Missiles and Maritime Strike Tomahawk, a variant of the Tomahawk land attack cruise missile. Both missiles will allow the Marines to quickly fortify any islands that fall under their control, forcing Chinese navy ships to keep their distance. Maritime Strike Tomahawk has an unclassified range, according to Defense News, “of about 900 nautical miles.” —PopularMechanics