• By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

The Marines are coming— very soon

DOD sharpens ‘the tip of spear” as it hones its Indo-Pacific strategy

The relocation of 5,000 U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam will begin “in the first half of the 2020,” according to the Department of Defense.

The new schedule of Marine Air Ground Task Force’s deployment to Guam, a central feature of the U.S.-Japan realignment plan, is four years earlier than previously announced. During his visit to Guam in April, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki told his local counterpart, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero that the U.S. military had informed him the Marines’ transfer would begin between October 2024 and March 2025.

The acceleration of troop deployment to Guam — dubbed as the “tip of the spear” — comes amid the unbated security threats in the region.

“The forces stationed and deployed through Guam are vital to our nation’s defense in depth in the Pacific,” the Joint Region Marianas states in a report presented to members of the Guam Legislature on Nov. 25. “The DOD’s presence in Guam is part of our (U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s) strategy for a free and open Indo-Pacific region, backed up by historic alliances and strong regional partnerships.”

The DOD’s Indo-Pacific Strategy Report, officially released on Nov. 5, states that the U.S. is “modernizing its force posture in Guam, in keeping with Guam’s position as the westernmost territory of the United States and a strategic hub for our joint military presence in the region.”

The report dated June 1, 2019 was made public two months after the Pentagon announced the downsizing of military projects on Guam. Eight defense projects on Guam are among the 127 military construction tasks that stand to lose funding as a result of the DOD’s $3.6 billion fund diversion measure to build President Trump’s Mexican border wall projects. The $257 million worth of projects on the chopping block are components of the $8.7-billion Marines’ relocation program.

Japan has already provided more than $2 billion of a $3.1 billion commitment for construction of facilities for the U.S. Marine Corps realignment. The U.S. government will fund the balance of construction.

According to the Joint Region Marianas’ report to the Guam Legislature, DOD has a total of 83 projects on Guam, with dollar values ranging from $2 million to $200 million. At least 12 projects, worth $772 million, have been completed so far. There are 11 projects, with a combined total of $927 million, that have either been awarded or are currently under construction. Four projects, valued at $500 million, are in in solicitation. To date, the Navy has awarded more than $1.6 billion, according to JRM’s report.

Based on the 2015 Socioeconomic Impact Analysis Statement, civilian labor force demand is projected to increase by over 7,000 full-time jobs during construction peak, almost half are expected to go to Guam residents. After 2028, labor force demand is expected to increase by approximately 1,438 fulltime jobs; half to Guam residents. At peak, the new jobs are estimated to generate $296 million in incomes and $67 million after 2028. Tax revenues are anticipated to increase by up to $86.4 million at peak and steady state at $40 million after 2028.

The troop relocation entails the establishment of a new Marine Corps Base, the first to be built by DOD since the 1950s. Officially named “Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz” after Brigadier General Vicente “Ben” Blaz, the new base is located in Dededo.

DOD said the Indo-Pacific Command currently has more than 2,000 aircraft; 200 ships and submarines; and more than 370,000 soldiers, sailors, marines, airmen, DoD civilians, and contractors assigned within its area of responsibility.

While the largest concentration of forces in the region are in Japan and South Korea, the DOD said, Guam serves as a strategic hub that supports crucial operations and logistics for all U.S. forces operating in the Indo-Pacific region. Guam has a sizable contingent of forces —more than 5,000 on a day-to-day basis — some of the most significant ammunition and fuel storage capabilities in the Indo-Pacific, according to DOD.

“The addition of rotational maritime lift in Guam will increase the reach of our combat power in the Western Pacific,” the report said. “At Anderson Air Force Base, we have established an active Army Missile Defense capability in response to increasing threats, and maintain a continuous bomber presence and ISR capability.”

In the CNMI, the U.S. forces have air, surface, and subsurface training capabilities, with ready joint forces and opportunities for increased multilateral training, DOD said.

“We are revitalizing our engagement in the Pacific Islands to preserve a free and open Indo-Pacific region, maintain access, and promote our status as a security partner of choice,” the report said. “The Pacific Islands represent a region distinct from other regions in the Indo-Pacific because of the relatively small size of states, unique geography, and challenges to promote economic prosperity.”

The report details the DOD’s strategy to counter China’s military expansion that “seeks to reorder the region to its advantage by leveraging military modernization, influence operations, and predatory economics to coerce other nations.”

“Inter-state strategic competition, defined by geopolitical rivalry between free and repressive world order visions, is the primary concern for U.S. national security,” said Patrick M. Shanahan, acting Secretary of Defense.

Along with China, Russia and North Korea complete the triumvirate of threats in the Indo-Pacific region. “Russia is re-establishing its military presence in the Indo-Pacific by regularly flying bomber and reconnaissance missions in the Sea of Japan and conducting operations as far east as Alaska and the west coast of the continental United States,” the DOD report states. “Russia has also intensified its diplomatic outreach in Southeast Asia, seeking to capitalize on U.S.-China tensions in order to present itself as a neutral ‘third partner.’”

As for North Korea, DOD considers this rogue nation a continuing security challenge in the region. “Although a pathway to peace is open for a diplomatic resolution of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, other weapons of mass destruction, missile threats, and the security challenges North Korea presents are real and demand continued vigilance,” states the DOD report.

Shanahan said the national security and defense strategies “articulate our vision to compete, deter, and win in this environment.”

Achieving this vision, he added, “requires combining a more lethal Joint Force with a more robust constellation of allies and partners. Increased investments in these imperatives will sustain American influence in the region to ensure favorable balances of power and safeguard the free and open international order.”

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