Not so much storming the beaches as trying to keep an airbase open

Monday, June 20th, 2022

In a war against China, tiny islands could become strategic strong points for the U.S. military’s advance across the Pacific Ocean for the first time since World War II:

The Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept, for example, calls for putting small numbers of forces on “a series of austere, temporary locations ashore or inshore,” an August 2021 Marine Corps story explaining the concept says. The story includes a diagram showing how Marines would move from ships onto islands using MV-22B Ospreys and CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters.


Rather than invading and clearing islands such as Saipan and Tinian, U.S. troops would likely set up airfields and air defense systems on them and then defend those islands against Chinese air and missile attacks, said Dean Cheng, a China expert with the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, D.C.

“These are islands that aren’t even defended,” Cheng told Task & Purpose. “It’s an interesting way of thinking about it: Island hopping, not so much storming the beaches of Iwo Jima as trying to keep an airbase open,” Cheng said.

First, however, U.S. ships and troops would have to fight their way across the Pacific Ocean, and they would likely take casualties along the way, Cheng said. Just to get from Hawaii to Guam, U.S. forces would have to brave Chinese DF-26 intermediate ballistic missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, submarines, and possibly Chinese merchant ships armed with missiles.


Instead, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s plan to redesign the force calls for Marines to operate from Expeditionary Advanced Bases inside the range of enemy missiles and other defenses.

The term “Expeditionary Advanced Bases” is intentionally vague so that adversaries cannot be sure which forces are ashore and which are embarked on ships, according to a 2018 Marine Corps Warfighting Lab, Concepts & Plans Division paper about the concept.

“Historically, advanced naval bases have frequently been found astride straits or on islands,” the paper says. “It is appropriate to think of future EABs being similarly situated, but the expeditionary advanced ‘base’ is purposefully ill-defined in terms of its perimeter and specific geographic location. ‘Amorphous’ is an apt description of how we wish EABs to appear to adversaries.”

The Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept envisions small numbers of Marines managing to operate undetected from islands, from which they can fire anti-ship missiles, collect intelligence, and possibly coordinate long-range strikes from ships and aircraft, said Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defense program at the Center for a New American Studies think tank in Washington, D.C.


  1. Roo_ster says:

    I sure hope every jarhead so deployed has directional satellite commo so Chinese EW doesn’t detect emissions on the “uninhabited” island and turn them into chum with one of China’s many thousands of short & medium range ballistic missiles.

  2. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “The Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept envisions small numbers of Marines managing to operate undetected from islands, from which they can fire anti-ship missiles …”

    Maybe the marines can remain undetected — until they fire the first anti-ship missile. Then it is Goodnight, Eileen.

    But what is the big picture plan? The marines are going to cross an ocean which goes almost half-way round the world, land on the shores of an arguably technologically more-advanced nation with 1,400 Million people and an unarguable local overwhelming superiority in men & materiel — and do what?

    And if the Chinese feel threatened by the marines on their beaches, what is to stop them responding by firing missile salvos at the US mainland, with or without nuclear warheads?

  3. Altitude Zero says:

    Our war plans with regard to China would seem to fall into the category of “Not particularly well thought out”.

  4. Contaminated NEET says:

    War with China? What a fantasy. They wouldn’t even have to fire a shot. If they stopped sending us products, we’d be begging for mercy inside of a week.

  5. Kunning Drueger says:

    Notice how whenever “war with China” is discussed, it’s always located near, next to, or in China. Not that the GAE ever would, but retrenching is the only viable strategy. Let them have the Pacific. Smart money says Nippon, Korea, Vietnam, and Indonesia would bleed the Yellows white.

  6. Jim says:

    Kunning Drueger: “Notice how whenever ‘war with China’ is discussed, it’s always located near, next to, or in China.”

    An astute observation.

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