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To prepare for a fight on a Pacific island, the Marines hide and attack in California. Story-level




TWENTY-NINE PALMAS, California. — Sitting around a plastic folding table in a dusty tent, half a dozen officers from the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment took a short rest from days of fighting with little to no sleep.

The war, they said, was going well.

The newly created and innovative in nature unit was facing its toughest test yet: a 10-day mock battle in southern California, where a series of military bases played the role of a chain of islands. Although outnumbered by the regiment it was fighting, the Hawaiian team had an advantage.

The team was created to fight on islands and along the coasts, the “littoral region” in military jargon. He was also given special equipment and the freedom to innovate, developing new tactics to figure out one of the service’s top priorities: how to wage war against Chinese forces in his own backyard and win.

Though far from the ocean, the base at Twentynine Palms offers about 1,200 square miles for training, more than all other Marine Corps training bases combined. Days ago, the two sides were dropped off here about 12 miles from each other. Then came the time to fight.

No live ammunition was used, but that was essentially the only rule. Evaluators standing by them graded everything they did, judging the hits and misses and pulling troops out of action when they had been “killed.”

Over the next two years, the new unit will have a relentless schedule, with roughly four to five times as many exercises as most infantry regiments. His next big test will be in the Philippines in April.

The Marines anticipate a very different type of battlefield in the future than those of the post-9/11 wars. Today, civilian and enemy spy satellites fly overhead alike, and anyone turning on a small radio or cell phone can be targeted by long-range rockets and missiles.

“We have to unlearn the way we were trained,” said Gen. David H. Berger, the service’s top general, noting that 20 years ago, Marines in the field typically radioed their commanders every hour. “You have to have an incredible amount of confidence when you haven’t heard from your Marines for days.”

The exercise is essentially a do-or-die version of hiding, with remote military bases in California at Barstow, Camp Pendleton, Twentynine Palms and an outpost on San Clemente Island, about 70 miles off the coast of San Diego. , all standing in for an unnamed Pacific island chain.

China’s navy, General Berger said, was now following the lead of the US Navy, operating in strike groups, with destroyers and other warships escorting an aircraft carrier.

Littoral Marines can serve as spotters who pass along the position of enemy forces for US fighter planes, ships or submarines to attack. Or, the Marines could take those shots themselves.

They are learning how to network sensors that monitor small fluctuations in the electromagnetic spectrum, from walkie-talkies, radar, and other transmitters, to find enemy troops, using classified surveillance technologies previously only available to three-star generals.

To fight in that part of the world, General Berger created the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment as a fighting unit like no other. Instead of having three infantry battalions of about 800 Marines each, it has one; the other two are ideas borrowed from much larger task forces: an anti-aircraft battalion testing new weapons and tactics, and a logistics battalion.

The unit includes a communications section more than 50 percent larger than that of a typical regiment, including several combat-experienced chief petty officers from Marine Forces Special Operations Command.

Those specialists introduced the other Marines to new ways of thinking, as well as technologies developed for covert operations: signals that bounce off layers of the atmosphere, or the use of directional beams of hard-to-detect infrared light, in bursts. short images that carry large amounts of digital text.

Military planners assume that any potential future battle with China may take place on what the Pentagon often refers to as the “first island chain,” which includes Okinawa and Taiwan to Malaysia, as well as the South China Sea and disputed islands in the Spratly and Paracel Islands.

The “second island chain” includes the Philippines, from Tokyo to Guam and south to Palau.

The new reality for the Marines boils down to this: If you’re emitting radio energy, the enemy can detect you. If detected, it can be located and seen. If they see you, you can be attacked and killed.

Resupplying on islands hundreds or even thousands of miles away, General Berger said, may not be something Marines can count on. They may have to buy food and fuel from the people who live there, desalinate the ocean water for drinking, and use only enough ammunition to get the job done.

To that end, Marine Corps officers undergoing basic training in Quantico, Va., are now learning how to capture and kill animals such as rabbits for food, a skill typically taught only to service members at high risk of capture. such as aircrews and special operations troops. .

“The idea is that he’s deploying with his Marines as self-sufficient as possible,” Gen. Berger said.

By the time General Berger reached Twentynine Palms, the colonel commanding the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment had withdrawn his troops from the other bases in Southern California for a final battle, using CH-53 helicopters and warplanes. Osprey tiltrotor, just like him. they would if they were on real islands. In an actual conflict, he would also move Marines across the Pacific via small ships.

The visiting delegation of Marine Corps leaders had to stay at Camp Wilson, just outside the training area, and the only participants they could talk to were majors and lieutenant colonels running backup command posts in restricted areas. guarded by barbed wire and armed marines.

As the battle raged on, the sunburnt and weary senior officers of the 7th Marine Regiment, who have been playing the role of the enemy, offered an assessment of their enemy from their reserve command post. – and it happened so often – at least some of their Marines had to stop what they were doing to keep a visual eye on them or to shoot them down. Even unarmed drones made the job of the leaders difficult.

The 7th Marines usually quickly overwhelm opponents here. Twentynine Palms is their home turf, but the Hawaii unit kept them at bay.

They especially disliked their opponents’ “loitering munitions”: small attack drones that can fly over an enemy’s position, transmit video surveillance, and then head straight for a target to explode a small warhead on impact. They were proving effective at destroying high-value targets like armored vehicles and anything that looked like a command post.

The 7th Marines wanted them too.

These Marines have been closely watching how fighters in Ukraine use such small drones and loitering munitions. When General Berger visited an air station near Yuma, Ariz., the next day, a Marine fighter pilot said his unit was evaluating anti-drone technologies so his fellow Marines wouldn’t “terminate like TikTok videos” someday. nod to the stream of videos on social media sites showing Russian troops being attacked by Ukrainian quadcopters lobbing small grenades.

If called upon to fight in the western Pacific, the Marines will likely also make use of their most capable drones: the MQ-9 Reaper, which can drop bombs and fire missiles, but is valued more for its ability to transmit information.

In Yuma, the Marines are flying the Corps’ first two Reapers, which can take off from runways just 3,000 feet long, meaning smaller islands can host them, greatly extending their range and making it harder for an adversary to potential find their airfields.

The Marines’ version of the F-35 fighter, which flew over Yuma, will also be a part of any future campaigns in the Pacific. It can take off and land vertically, making it capable of launching airstrikes from even smaller islands.

At Twentynine Palms, the colonels in command of both regiments searched for any sign, anything, that might tell them the location of their adversary. So the Marines in the field hid physically and electronically as best they could.

The littoral regiment occasionally took cover to use one of their signature weapons for an island fight, a missile that can hit ships over 100 miles away and is launched from the back of a small truck: easy to move, difficult to detect.

General Berger said that many of those strategic points in the ocean, and many of the islands that may cover them, have already been identified and written into contingency plans by the US Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii.

In the end, the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment held their ground and held their own against their opponents, which they considered a victory.

All the work done so far in Hawaii and California will soon benefit a new unit, the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment, which military leaders say will be based on Okinawa in 2025.

That Japan-based unit will be the closest to the island, chains that stretch thousands of miles across the Pacific and could once again become battlefields.

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