U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, demonstrate advanced basing capabilities as part of Exercise Noble Fury. The Marines rapidly inserted via an air assault, defeated simulated adversary forces, secured the airfield, and established defensive positions around the island (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Josue Marquez)

As the US Marines face their biggest reorganization in 100 years, shifting from a second land army to smaller amphibious units stationed strategically, a new study suggests that Taiwan could play an important role in that transformation, in the case of a conflict with China, Taiwan News reported.

Taipei-based Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR) cybersecurity researcher Hsieh Pei-hsueh  presented an analysis in the think tank’s biweekly report, examining the US Marines’ presence in the Taiwan Strait and the role of Taiwan in the event of a regional conflict.

Hsieh pointed out that in response to the increasing threat posed by China in the Indo-Pacific region, senior US Marine officials believe the force must develop its capability to carry out long-range precision strike capabilities and expeditionary advanced base operations.

That would mean transforming its forward bases into a more comprehensive network with the use of amphibious assault ships, barges, and even floating platforms to strengthen its ground and air forces.

As such, he claimed that Taiwan can serve as a key center of operations for this system.

He said that if the Marine Corps use Taiwan’s main island and its outlying islands, it could use at least six effective ports in Yilan, Hualien, Green Island, Orchid Island, Xiaoliuqiu, and the Dongsha Islands.

These could shelter an American littoral combat regiment and mobile missile launchers, he added.

Hsieh also noted that Marines operations in the first island chain, namely amphibious landings and island raids, would have to be conducted in unfavorable conditions, such as insufficient air support, during a conflict with China.

When the fighting in the Taiwan Strait reaches its peak, that is when Beijing will begin its landing operations against the country, he added.

Marine vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) MV-22 Osprey aircraft, littoral combat ships, assault boats and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could be quickly brought into the fray to conduct attacks.

Hsieh said the Marines could use their BGM-109G cruise missile to complement Taiwan’s Hsiung Feng II E cruise missiles to suppress China’s defensive strongholds and destroy its VTOL and missile strike capabilities.

A reconnaissance Marine with the Maritime Raid Force (MRF), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), provides aerial security using a M110 semi-automatic sniper system (SASS) during a Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) mission after taking off from amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) in the Philippine Sea, Jan. 24, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Brandon Salas)

Taiwan can then launch counter-landing operations and wipe out invading Chinese ground forces that have not yet established a beachhead, the researcher speculated.

Taiwan’s new 10,000-ton amphibious dock transport ship the Yushan could also strengthen the nation’s ability to transport troops and support its amphibious operations.

Taiwan may soon be acquiring US-built MQ-9 Reaper drones according to a recent State Department Congressional notification, a move which could massively improve Taiwan’s electronic eyes on vital areas of the Chinese coastline and waters between them and the mainland, National Interest reported. 

A universal weapons interface enables the MQ-9 Reaper to more quickly integrate new weapons technology as it emerges and efficiently swap or replace bombs on the drone without much difficulty. 

The MQ-9 Reaper currently fires the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, a 500-pound laser-guided weapon called the GBU-12 Paveway II, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions or JDAMs which are free-fall bombs engineered with a GPS and Inertial Navigation Systems guidance kit.

The service has also been working on developing the MQ-9 Reaper as a possible air-to-air fighter by arming it with the AIM-9X.

Weaponized Reapers could cause havoc with invading Chinese forces in the Strait, picking them off, one after another.

The Sea Sword II air defense missile system has also passed live-fire trials and operational evaluations, and is ready to be deployed on Taiwan Navy ships by August.

The new system is the naval variant of the Sky Sword II and will be outfitted on the Navy’s newest vessel, the Ta Chiang, which is a Tuo Chiang-class frigate.

According to Taiwan News, the Ta Chiang will carry four Hsiung Feng II subsonic anti-ship missiles and 12 Hsiung Feng III supersonic anti-ship missiles.

The Sea Sword II is an active radar-guided, mid-range air defense missile developed by the National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST). The new system’s multi-target capability allows it to engage with anti-ship missiles and aircraft simultaneously.

Meanwhile, the 10-year plan to revamp the Corps follows years of classified US wargames that revealed China’s missile and naval forces to be eroding American military advantages in the region.

“China, in terms of military capability, is the pacing threat,” Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. “If we did nothing, we would be passed.”

To reinvent themselves as a naval expeditionary force within budget limits, the Marines plan to get rid of all of their tanks, cut back on their aircraft and shrink in total numbers from 189,000 to as few as 170,000, Gen. Berger said.

An MQ-9 Sea Guardian unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft system flies over the littoral combat ship USS Coronado in the Pacific Ocean, April 21, 2021 during U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21. Photo By: Navy Chief Petty Officer Shannon Renfroe.

“I have come to the conclusion that we need to contract the size of the Marine Corps to get quality,” he said.

By 2030, the Marine Corps will drop down to an end strength of 170,000 personnel. That’s about 16,000 fewer leathernecks than it has today.

Artillery cannon batteries will fall from 21 today to five. Amphibious vehicle companies will drop from six to four.

And plans to reactivate 5th Battalion, 10th Marines, as a precision rocket artillery system unit are also being scrapped. That unit’s assigned batteries will instead realign under 10th Marines.

Berger has called China’s buildup in the South China Sea and Asia-Pacific region a game changer for the Navy and Marine Corps.

He has pushed for closer integration between the sea services, as the fight shifts away from insurgent groups in the Middle East and to new threats at sea.

Hsieh’s analysis would require this closer integration to take place.

Because it lies only 90 miles from Taiwan, China needs only to hold US forces at bay for a matter of weeks to achieve its strategic objective of capturing Taiwan.

“Whenever we war-gamed a Taiwan scenario over the years, our Blue Team routinely got its ass handed to it, because in that scenario time is a precious commodity and it plays to China’s strength in terms of proximity and capabilities,” said David Ochmanek, a senior RAND Corporation analyst.

“That kind of lopsided defeat is a visceral experience for US officers on the Blue Team, and as such the war games have been a great consciousness-raising device.”

Sources: Taiwan News, Wall Street Journal, Military.com, Yahoo News, National Interest