U.S. Marines Stand Up New Regiment, Chinese Warships Sail in East China Sea

November 16, 2023 12:23 PM
Marine Corps Col. Peter Eltringham, 12th Marine Littoral Regiment Commanding Officer, uncases 12th MLR’s unit colors during the redesignation ceremony of 12th Marines to 12th MLR on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 15, 2023. US Marine Corps

The Marine Corps formally established its second littoral regiment, converting the Japan-based 12th Marine Regiment into the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR) at Camp Hansen, Okinawa, on Wednesday, in line with its modernization efforts under the Force Design 2030 plan. Meanwhile, a number of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) ships have sailed past Japan into the East China Sea as they return from operational deployments.

“Today marks a significant milestone in the storied history of 12th Marine Regiment as they transition to 12th Marine Littoral Regiment,” said Maj. Gen. Christian Wortman, commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division, in his speech during the establishment ceremony of 12th MLR. “This transformation is not merely a change in designation, but a strategic evolution, a direct response to the dynamic defense landscape that we face in the 21st century.”

Wortman said in his speech the 3rd MLR’s transformation process brought about various lessons that his command has adapted and applied to the plan for 12th MLR. “The 12th Marine Littoral Regiment is poised to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, with a vigilant eye on the horizon and a steadfast resolve to protect our nation and support the defense of Japan and its sovereignty,” said Wortman.

While forward stationed in Okinawa, 12th MLR will integrate with the joint force and the capabilities of U.S. allies and partners, supporting deterrence efforts and remaining prepared to respond to potential crises, stated a Marine Corps release. “12th MLR represents a vital evolution of our mission and capabilities,” said Col. Peter Eltringham, commanding officer of 12th MLR, in the release. “We’re proud to be here in the first island chain, and a force prepared to respond to contingencies wherever and whenever required. It is our pledge to guard and advance the 12th Marines legacy of honor, fidelity and valor, now as the 12th MLR.”

Under the Force Design 2030 plan, a total of three MLRs will be established in the Indo-Pacific. The 4th Marine Regiment, also based on Okinawa, will be transformed into the 4th MLR in the 2027–2030 timeframe. The MLRs are part of the Marine Corps’ overall strategy to have smaller units that can quickly move between islands and archipelagos to set up ad-hoc expeditionary advanced bases.

The operational focus on islands and archipelagos is not just within the Marine Corps but also with its Japanese partners. Japan is restructuring its military commands and units and acquiring missiles and munitions suited to island defense given the threat posed to its southwest islands by China, particularly the disputed Senkaku Islands held by Japan but claimed both by China and Taiwan. The Chinese military conducts routine sea and transits in the vicinity of Japan, and conducts solo military exercises or exercises with the Russian military near Japan, which are considered provocative given their proximity.


On Monday and Wednesday, the Joint Staff Office (JSO) of Japan’s Ministry of Defense issued several releases regarding PLAN ships moving around Japan. A Monday JSO release stated that on Sunday at 6 p.m., cruiser CNS Nanchang (101), destroyer CNS Tangshan (122), frigate CNS Weifang (550) and Type 903A replenishment ship CNS Kekexilihu (903) were sighted sailing northwest in an area 75 miles east of Amami Oshima Island and, from Sunday to Monday, the PLAN ships sailed southwest between Amami Oshima and Yokoate-jima to enter the East China Sea. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) fleet oiler JS Hamana (AOE-424) shadowed the PLAN ships, according to the release, which also noted that on Oct. 29–30, Nanchang and Kekexilihu sailed between Amami Oshima and Yokoate-jima to enter the Pacific, and, on Oct. 30, Tangshan and Weifang sailed through the Miyako Strait to enter the Philippine Sea

On Wednesday, the JSO issued two releases, the first stating that Dongdiao-class surveillance ship Jinxing (799) was sighted on Wednesday noon in an area 12 miles northwest of Tsushima and sailing southwest. It subsequently sailed southwest through the Tsushima Strait to enter the East China Sea. Destroyer escort JS Oyodo (DE-231) and a JMSDF P-1 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) from Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi on the main island of Honshu conducted surveillance on the PLAN ship. The release noted that Jinxing transited the Miyako Strait to enter the Philippine Sea on Oct. 28, sailed west through the Osumi Strait from Nov. 8–9, and sailed northeast through the Tsushima Strait from Nov. 9–10.


According to the second release, at 6 a.m. on Wednesday, destroyer CNS Suzhou (132), frigate CNS Zhoushan (529) and fleet oiler CNS Gaoyouhu (904) were sighted sailing west in an 37 miles northeast of the island of Tanegashima and subsequently sailed west through the Osumi Strait to enter the East China Sea. Destroyer escort JS Chikuma (DE-233) and a JMSDF P-1 MPA shadowed the PLAN ships, stated the release. There was no mention of earlier sightings of the PLAN ships transiting through near Japan, which indicates the PLAN ships likely deployed to the western Pacific by entering the waters between Taiwan and the Philippines. Both Suzhou and Zhoushan were part of the Shandong Carrier Strike Group (CSG) during its deployment in the western Pacific from late October to early November, with Suzhou part of the CSG from Oct. 29–Nov. 2 and Zhoushan from Oct. 31–Nov. 2.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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