Ships in the U.S. Navy may have linked up with its Chinese counterparts en route to the Rim of the Pacific military exercise in Hawaii and Southern California. But that doesn’t mean the territorial dispute along the South China Sea has been forgotten. In fact, U.S. Marines have deployed their own amphibious assault force to the area.
The U.S. is clearly not letting up when it comes to the South China Sea. Previously, China has expressed in an animated video that the U.S. should not be interfering when it comes to matters regarding territorial claims. However, the U.S. said they will still help maintain peace and stability in the region by ensuring a constant presence and freedom of navigation.
Recently, reports have indicated that the U.S. Marine Corps will be moving its 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to the Asia Pacific region. Based in Okinawa, Japan, the MEU is a forward deployed unit that can readily give crisis response as well as conduct amphibious operations in the Asia Pacific Area.
The 31st MEU is also part of the Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTF), which means it has a combination of air, support and ground assets at its disposal. However, an MEU is said to be the smallest of all MAGTF. It is made of approximately 2,200 marines and sailors that embark among three or four amphibious ships.
The ships are manned by another group of 2,100 to 2,300 marines and sailors part of an Amphibious Squadron (PHIBRON). In the case of the 31st, it is supported by the PHIBRON 11 and the USS Essex ARG. This helps the 31st MEU become “the only continuously forward-deployed MEU.”
According to a report from Sputnik, the 31st MEU will help extend the reach of operations of both the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines. It is also possible that U.S. marines based in Australia may join the expeditionary force.
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General John E. Wissler, Commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Command, has also recently promised greater U.S. Marine presence in Asia Pacific waters in the coming years. “By 2019 you will have more amphib capabilities on multiple 90 day patrols in & around the Pacific,” he said.