by Ann Wright, Consortium News:
A robust schedule of military maneuvers and exercises is either underway or planned for Europe and the Pacific this year, with more in store for 2021, Ann Wright reports.
During the pandemic the U.S. military is running the largest maritime military maneuvers in the world, with Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) coming to the waters off Hawaii Aug. 17-31, bringing 26 nations, 25,000 military personnel, up to 50 ships and submarines and hundreds of aircraft.
Hawaii hasstringent measures to combat the spread of Covid-19, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine for all persons arriving in the state; returning residents as well as visitors. This quarantine is required until at least June 30, 2020.
The U.S. Army is also pursuing a 6,000-person war game in Poland, June 5-19, with a Polish airborne operation and a U.S.-Polish division-size river crossing.
If these weren’t too many military operations during an epidemic in which personnel on 40 U.S. Navy ships have come down with the hyper-contagious virus and during which military personnel and their families have been told not to travel, plans are also underway for a U.S. Army division-sized exercise in the Indo-Pacific region in less than a year. Known as Defender 2021, the U.S. Army has requested $364 million to conduct the war exercises throughout Asian and Pacific countries.
The pivot to the Pacific, begun under the Obama administration, and maintained by the Trump administration, is reflected in a U.S. National Defense Strategy (NDS) that sees the world as “a great power competition rather than counterterrorism and has formulated its strategy to confront China as a long-term, strategic competitor.”
Earlier in May, the U.S. Navy sent at least seven submarines, including all four Guam-based attack submarines, several Hawaii-based ships and the San Diego-based USS Alexandria to the western Pacific in what the Pacific Fleet Submarine Force announced as simultaneous “contingency response operations” for all of its forward-deployed subs. This was all in support of the Pentagon’s “free and open Indo-Pacific ” policy — aimed at countering China’s expansionism in the South China Sea — and as a show of force to counter ideas that the capabilities of U.S. Navy forces have been reduced by Covid-19.
The U.S. military force structure in the Pacific will be changed to meet the National Defense Strategy’s perceived threat from China, beginning with the U.S. Marine Corps creating new infantry battalions that will be smaller to support naval expeditionary warfare and designed to support a fighting concept known as expeditionary advanced base operations.
U.S. Marine forces will be decentralized and distributed across the Pacific on islands or floating barge bases. As the Marine Corps eliminates much of its traditional equipment and units, the Marines plan to invest in long-range precision fires, reconnaissance and unmanned systems, doubling the number of unmanned squadrons.
To effect this change in strategy, Marine infantry battalions will go down to 21 from 24; artillery batteries will go to five down from two; amphibious vehicle companies will be reduced from six to four’ and F-35B and F-35C Lightning II fighter squadrons will have fewer aircraft per unit, from 16 aircraft down to 10. The Marine Corps will eliminate its law-enforcement battalions, its units that build bridges and will reduce the service personnel by 12,000 in 10 years.
A Hawaii-based unit called a “Marine Littoral Regiment” is expected to have 1,800 to 2,000 Marines taken from the three infantry battalions based at Kaneohe Marine Base. Most of the companies and firing batteries that will make up a littoral anti-air battalion will come from units not currently stationed in Hawaii.
The III Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Okinawa, Japan, the main Marine unit in the Pacific region, will be changed to have three Marine littoral regiments that are trained and equipped to operate within contested maritime areas. The region will also have three Marine expeditionary units that are globally deployable. The other two Marine expeditionary force units will provide forces to the III MEF.
The U.S. military war games in Europe, “Defender Europe 2020,” is already underway with troops and equipment arriving at European ports. It will cost about $340 million, which is roughly in line with what the U.S. Army is requesting for fiscal year 2021, which begins Oct. 1, for the Pacific version of the Defender series of war maneuvers.
It will take place at Drawsko Pomorskie Training Area in northwest Poland. More than 6,000 U.S. and Polish soldiers will participate the exercise, named Allied Spirit. It was originally scheduled for May, and is linked with Defender-Europe 2020, the Army’s largest exercise in Europe in decades. Defender-Europe was largely canceled because of the pandemic.
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