USS Chancellorsville Performs South China Sea FONOP, Draws Chinese Protests

The Tuesday passage of a U.S. guided missile cruiser past a disputed island chain in the South China Sea has drawn protests from Beijing and claims that the People’s Liberation Army expelled the ship from Chinese territorial waters. According to U.S. 7th Fleet, USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed past the Spratly Island chain on Tuesday as […]

Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) conducts routine underway operations in the South China Sea, Nov. 29, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Tuesday passage of a U.S. guided missile cruiser past a disputed island chain in the South China Sea has drawn protests from Beijing and claims that the People’s Liberation Army expelled the ship from Chinese territorial waters.

According to U.S. 7th Fleet, USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) sailed past the Spratly Island chain on Tuesday as part of a freedom of navigation operation.

“USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) asserted navigational rights and freedoms in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands, consistent with international law. At the conclusion of the operation, USS Chancellorsville exited the excessive claim area and continued operations in the South China Sea,” reads the statement from 7th Fleet.
“The freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam and Taiwan.”

China asserts that foreign warships passing within the territorial sea of its claims in the South China Sea require prior approval from Beijing. Under the U.N. Law of the Sea Convention, a warship make an “innocent passage” through another country’s territorial waters with our prior notification.

The Chinese state-supported South China Sea Probing Initiative published satellite images on Twitter showing the cruiser was operating near the Chinese artificial island at Fiery Cross Reef along with a U.S. P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft.

SCS Probing Initiative

Under international law, a warship can transit through a nation’s territorial waters “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state,” according to Article 19 of the UNLOSC.

In a statement following the transit, the PLA Southern Theater issued a statement claiming Chinese forces drove Chancellorsville out of Chinese territorial waters.

Chancellorsville illegally intruded into the waters adjacent to China’s Nansha islands and reefs without the approval of the Chinese Government, and organized naval and air forces in the Chinese southern theater of the People’s Liberation Army to follow and monitor and give a warning to drive them away,” reads a translation of the statement. “The U.S. military’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, which is another ironclad proof of its hegemony in navigation and militarization of the South China Sea, and fully demonstrates that the United States is an out-and-out security risk maker in the South China Sea.”

In response, the U.S. Navy pushed back against the Chinese statement.

“The PRC’s statement about this mission is false. USS Chancellorsville (CG-62) conducted this FONOP in accordance with international law and then continued on to conduct normal operations in waters where high seas freedoms apply,” reads a 7th Fleet statement.
“The operation reflects our continued commitment to uphold freedom of navigation and lawful uses of the sea as a principle. The United States is defending every nation’s right to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as USS Chancellorsville did here. Nothing the PRC says otherwise will deter us.”

The Japan-based Chancellorsville has been operating with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group in recent months.

The last reported U.S. FONOP in the South China Sea was performed by the guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold (DDG-65) in July.

‘Fat Leonard’ Extradition Gives Maduro Regime an Edge in Redefining Relations with U.S., Says Legal Expert

The extradition of international fugitive Leonard Francis from Venezuela to the United States could mark the start of a major shift in the relationship between Caracas and Washington, D.C., a Venezuelan legal expert told USNI News on Thursday. The Venezuelan Supreme Court began the extradition procedures outlined in a 1922 treaty with the U.S. after […]

Interpol Venezuela Image

The extradition of international fugitive Leonard Francis from Venezuela to the United States could mark the start of a major shift in the relationship between Caracas and Washington, D.C., a Venezuelan legal expert told USNI News on Thursday.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court began the extradition procedures outlined in a 1922 treaty with the U.S. after Francis was arrested on Sept. 20 on an international warrant by Interpol Venezuela. He was arrested while traveling on a Malaysian passport at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetía, attempting to fly to Russia after he flew to the country from Cuba. Francis escaped house arrest near San Diego, Calif,. on Sept. 4 ahead of a sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to charges of defrauding the U.S. Navy out of $35 million.

On Oct. 13, Venezuelan judge Elsa Janeth Gómez Moreno issued a decision to notify the U.S. of Francis’ capture and ask for proof of his crimes within 60 days – all in line with the agreement outlined in the treaty.

However, how the U.S. responds could lead the Biden administration to acknowledge the legitimacy of the regime of Nicolás Maduro, one legal expert told USNI News.

“From a legal perspective, the core of this case is whether the United States government is going to interact with the Maduro government or in a diplomatic way we can provide the necessary documents to advance in the extradition of this guy,” José Ignacio Hernández, a visiting fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and a member of the Atlantic Council’s Venezuela Working Group, told USNI News. “For the United States government, that’s a problem.”

Maduro broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. on Jan. 23, 2019, after Washington and other Latin American nations declared his 2018 election fraudulent and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela. Since then, Guaido has failed to remove Maduro from power and the humanitarian and economic strain on Venezuela has mounted over the last several years. Maduro, shunned by Washington, has cultivated relationships with U.S. rivals, including Russia, China and Iran.

However, the U.S. responding to the request from the Venezuelan court controlled by Maduro could upend the current status quo.

“The [U.S.] cannot have any formal communication with the Maduro government because they recognize Juan Guaido as the interim president, and you cannot have a diplomatic conversation with two governments at the same time,” Hernández told USNI News. “If [the] United States government decided not to answer this petition, this guy’s going to be released, for sure. But if the Biden administration decided to provide the information, Maduro is going to say, ‘we were recognized as the government by the Biden administration, because we have had this diplomatic interchange.’”

The Department of Justice declined to comment on the process of Francis’ extradition when contacted by USNI News late last week.

Francis’ extradition comes as the Biden administration has considered softening its stance toward the Maduro regime, steering away from the hardline set by the Trump White House.

In early October, Venezuela released seven Americans from prison in exchange for two of Maduro’s relatives who had been held in the U.S. on drug charges.

According to a report this month in The New York Times, in exchange for humanitarian reforms, the Biden administration is considering easing sanctions and opening up relations with the Maduro regime.

“We will review our policies, including our sanctions policies, in response to constructive steps by the Maduro regime to restore democracy,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told reporters earlier this month.

Some in Congress have opposed warming up to Caracas. On Wednesday, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) issued a joint letter to President Joe Biden that said working with the Maduro regime would “undermine prospects for the return of democracy to Venezuela.”

In the meantime, Francis remains in the custody of Venezuelan authorities, pending the response to the Oct. 13 court order from the Venezuelan court.

“In my opinion, Biden is going to provide the documentation to Maduro, and Maduro is going to work that this is a sort of recognition of his government,” Hernández said.
“[Maduro will say], because I have an answer in the form of diplomatic communication with the United States government. I have been recognized as the government of Venezuela.”

INTERPOL: Fat Leonard Arrested in Venezuela Trying to Flee to Russia

After two weeks on the run, authorities in Venezuela arrested former defense contractor Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis as he attempted to board a plane to Russia, officials said late Wednesday. Francis was detained by Venezuelan authorities at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetía on Tuesday morning, Interpol Venezuela Director General Carlos Garate Rondon said in […]

Interpol Venezuela Image

After two weeks on the run, authorities in Venezuela arrested former defense contractor Leonard “Fat Leonard” Francis as he attempted to board a plane to Russia, officials said late Wednesday.

Francis was detained by Venezuelan authorities at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maiquetía on Tuesday morning, Interpol Venezuela Director General Carlos Garate Rondon said in a post on Instagram.

Francis “had entered the country from Mexico with a stopover in Cuba to then proceed… [to the] Federal Republic of Russia,” Rondon said in a translation of the post from the original Spanish.
“The detainee will be handed over to our judicial authorities in order to initiate extradition procedures.”

The U.S. Marshall Service confirmed the dentition by Venezuelan authorities to reporters on Wednesday night, according to NBC. The U.S. issued a $40,000 reward for Francis’ capture. It’s unclear the timeline for returning Francis to the U.S.

English translation of Interpol Venezuela’s Instagram post

On Sept. 4, Francis cut off his GPS tracker and escaped house arrest from a multi-million dollar home outside of San Diego where he had been living with family members in an arrangement agreed to by a federal judge, USNI News previously reported.

The arrest came the day before Francis scheduled sentencing for more than a decade of bribing U.S. Navy officials to get advantages in ship husbanding contracts and overcharging the U.S. government $35 million for support to warships in the Western Pacific.

As part of his 2015 plea arrangement, Francis pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States, but his sentencing was kept open while he cooperated with the wider probe overseen by the Department of Justice.

Francis’ capture comes as four former Navy officers await sentencing in October following a June conviction on bribery charges in federal court.

Of the 34 Navy officials arrested in the Fat Leonard scandal, 29 have pleaded guilty, USNI News previously reported.

New Details Revealed in ‘Fat Leonard’ Escape, Detention as Manhunt Continues

An international manhunt continued Tuesday for Leonard Glenn Francis, a former defense contractor and convicted mastermind of a multimillion-dollar U.S. Navy corruption case who fled custody from home detention Sunday morning, just weeks before he was to be sentenced to federal prison. Francis, a Malaysian national and the former president of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine […]

U.S. Marshals wanted poster for Leonard Francis

An international manhunt continued Tuesday for Leonard Glenn Francis, a former defense contractor and convicted mastermind of a multimillion-dollar U.S. Navy corruption case who fled custody from home detention Sunday morning, just weeks before he was to be sentenced to federal prison.

Francis, a Malaysian national and the former president of Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia, was convicted in 2015 after taking a plea deal in exchange for helping U.S. prosecutors implicate three-dozen military officials. Since at least 2018, he has been living in home detention in San Diego under court-approved “medical furloughs” for treatment of renal cancer and other health issues, according to federal court documents. He was scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 22 before District Court Judge Janis Sammartino.

But at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday, the GPS tracker affixed to Francis’ ankle alerted federal monitors that it “was being tampered with,” a U.S. Marshals Service official told USNI News.

That alert prompted monitors with U.S. Pretrial Services to check on his status, which, per protocols, means ruling out scenarios including a faulty tracker. That agency handles all federal defendants on pretrial or pre-sentencing release.

“They just can’t assume somebody is on the run and call U.S. Marshals,” said Supervisory Deputy U.S. Marshal Omar Castillo, with the U.S. Marshals Service in San Diego. “We got the call from them around 2:30 in the afternoon, and that’s when we went out to the residence.”

About a half hour later, the Marshals’ team arrived at the home, in an expensive area known as Carmel Valley, “to see if in fact he had possibly left or if he just had an issue with the GPS,” Castillo said. When they got there, the deputy marshals confirmed Francis wasn’t there.

Looking through the windows, after announcing their presence, they could see “the house was empty,” he said. Someone found an unlocked door, and “found the GPS monitor inside the house … and the scissors that he used to possibly cut it were right next to the GPS monitor.”

Before the marshals got to the house, San Diego Police Department had been alerted, either by Pretrial Services or Francis’ attorneys, to conduct a welfare check on Francis, Castillo said.

More than seven hours passed between when federal authorities were alerted by the GPS monitor and when marshals arrived at the house. Castillo said he didn’t know what caused the lapse in time. Marshals don’t get involved in any of the monitoring actions “until a judge actually issues a bench warrant for a defendant to be brought back … for pretrial release violation,” he added. It wasn’t clear whether Sammartino issued the warrant. U.S. Pretrial Services provides probation and pretrial work for the federal courts.

Unknown to federal monitors, Francis had been moving belongings out of the property – he lived there with his mother and children, according to court documents – for several days as neighbors told federal authorities they saw several U-Haul trucks “coming in and out of the residence,” Castillo said. “There was more than one” seen on Friday or Saturday.

Undated photo of Leonard Francis

“We are following leads that have come into our national number, as well as our website, and we are following some leads that we have established ourselves,” he said. “As of now, we think he’s probably going international. It sounds like he’s been planning this for a while.”

Castillo said he didn’t know what security arrangements were in place at Francis’ residence. He understands that Francis had security monitoring him, issued by the court, but paid for by Francis.

“I can tell you nobody was there when we showed up,” he said. “Nobody was there.”

It’s unclear how much time Francis had spent detained in U.S. physical custody before or after his conviction on a guilty plea. He had been living in home detention for at least four years, according to unsealed court documents.

That arrangement, approved by Sammartino with prosecutors’ support, was based on round-the-clock monitoring by a GPS ankle bracelet and a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week physical guard at Francis’ residence. That residence included a one-bedroom apartment, rented condominium and a gated single-family home, according to court transcripts.

Sammartino, a long-time district judge, has been overseeing the bulk of the cases brought forth from San Diego-based federal prosecutors who have led the long-running, wide-ranging investigation into Francis and GDMA’s alleged fraud and bribery of Navy and military officials, including senior officers serving with the Japan-based U.S. 7th Fleet.

“Our office is supporting the U.S. Marshals Service and its San Diego Fugitive Task Force in their efforts to bring Leonard Francis back into custody,” Kelly Thornton, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, said in a statement Tuesday. “We will have no further comment at this time.”

Prosecutors have garnered federal convictions against 33 of 34 U.S. Navy officials, defense contractors and GDMA officers charged in the case, including Francis.

“We can confirm that NCIS is working jointly with the U.S. Marshals Service, Defense Criminal Investigative Service and U.S. Attorney’s Office to locate and apprehend Mr. Francis,” the Navy said in a statement to USNI News. “Out of respect for the investigative process, we cannot comment further at this time.”

Francis’ escape comes just two weeks before he was due to show up in a San Diego courtroom to be sentenced for his role in the case.

Francis was 50 years old when he, along with his company, in 2015 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bribery, bribery and conspiracy to defraud the United States, charges that could net him a 25-year prison sentence.

How Francis could escape from a four-years’-long home detention isn’t clear. But court documents unsealed last month reveal that Sammartino, as well as federal prosecutors, had lingering concerns about Francis’ commitment to adhere to judge-approved, pretrial restrictions that would enable him to get medical treatment in San Diego for unspecified ailments. This includes reported Stage 4 renal cancer, according to the transcripts, and other health issues related to aging.

Undated photo of Leonard Francis

Francis’ defense attorneys repeatedly requested that he be allowed to continue living at home while he received medical care, rather than be medically treated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. That request came after he had undergone some medical procedures and was receiving a series of medical treatments that required constant and regular medical monitoring. Those treatments, at times, required adjustments to the private security guards that were required to watch him round-the-clock, including when he moved into a condominium, rented from a medical doctor, for medical care. It wasn’t clear, from available court records, where the security guards were stationed, and how many. During one December 2020 court hearing, his attorney said that two guards alternated 12-hour shifts, a situation that raised concerns when one guard left the property for an extended lunch during a time when a federal pretrial monitor showed up to check on Francis.

“I don’t want to make this more complicated than it is, but in the event that something were to happen and the facility were to be empty one morning and he’s not there and he’s back in Malaysia for whatever reason,” she said, regarding her concerns about setting up that temporary convalescent location.

At one point, Sammartino repeated concerns in court about Francis’ honesty after Pretrial Services told the court that the security guard at Francis’ residence wasn’t on site during one unannounced visit. Francis was paying those security guards. Sammartino ordered all sides to her courtroom, and Francis, speaking by phone, apologized to her and said it wouldn’t happen again.

“Understood,” Francis’ lead attorney, Devin Burstein, replied, according to a transcript.

The judge questioned whether or not the U.S. Marshals Service would monitor Francis, saying that her name was on the the decision to let Francis outside of jail “without any security.”

“You’re not telling me he can’t afford this anymore, because he’s affording everything else, which is infinitely more expensive than the security individual,” Sammartino said.

Sammartino had approved those “medical furlough” requests multiple times, starting at least December 2017 – including in late 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic became more concerning to Francis’ medical condition – and even after she had received, unsolicited, a November 2020 letter from a San Diego-area bariatric surgeon who had been treating Francis that gave him a clean bill of health.

At a hearing to discuss that matter, the judge seemed to question her decision to allow Francis to remain in home detention. Francis had been released, by federal authorities, on his own recognizance and with a GPS bracelet, but without needing to post a monetary bond, as is common in cases where there’s a concern about escape.

“Number one, he could be here,” Sammartino told attorneys at one status hearing. “Number two, what I have traditionally told other defendants in pending cases in this overall conspiracy is that this has been a legitimate medical furlough, and at the point of which it is no longer a legitimate medical furlough, the court may take a different position.

“The other concern I have is, if he is not (redacted), I’m concerned. Is he paying his security team? What is his status? I even went so far as to wonder if he is still in this country. So I would like to hear all of those addressed. And the other thing is, Mr. Burstein, Mr. Pletcher, you have been very diligent in this matter, and it surprises me that I hear this from the doctor directly and not from you when there was a change of [medical] circumstance.”

Francis’ attorney told her that Francis continued to pay his round-the-clock security team and he was living in the house with his children.

“He’s not going anywhere,” said the attorney, who later added that Francis had moved out of the condo, which he had rented from the doctor who he had a falling out with over a billing issue, according to the transcript.

A U.S. Pretrial Services representative told the judge that Francis was monitored, even throughout the times when medical treatments required that the GPS bracelet be removed.

At a status hearing in January 2021, Sammartino questioned the status of Francis’ health and, at one point, raised the possibility of having an independent, third-party medical expert come to the court and explain Francis’ current health and future expectations. He was expected to testify at several pending trials of Navy officials, including five former 7th Fleet officers.

Defense attorneys argued that he would do so in 90-minute increments, with 15-minute breaks to accommodate his medical condition, as was the practice when Francis testified at an earlier military court-martial.

But when that trial began last spring, Francis wasn’t on the witness list. It’s unclear why he wasn’t called to testify. The latest court transcripts available on the publicly accessible website were from a December 2021 status conference, when the judge extended the medical furlough until May 23, 2022.

A federal jury convicted four of the five Navy officers – Capts. David Newland, James Dolan and David Lausman and former Cmdr. Mario Herrera – in late June on charges of accepting bribes from Francis. They are set to be sentenced next month.

The jury couldn’t agree on a verdict for the fifth officer, Rear Adm. Bruce Loveless. Loveless, a former fleet intelligence chief, has continued to contest the charges and is seeking an acquittal. Sammartino has denied his motion for mistrial, and a status hearing is set for Sept. 30 in San Diego.

USS Abraham Lincoln Return Marks End of Second High-Tempo Carrier Deployment in WESTPAC

ABOARD AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, OFF THE COAST OF HAWAII – When aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) pulls into Naval Air Station North Island on Thursday, it will cap off a busy deployment to the Western Pacific. Lincoln’s deployment saw the carrier largely operating in U.S. 7th Fleet, where it had the chance […]

An F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the ‘Black Knights’ of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, flies over USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on July 30, 2022. US Navy Photo

ABOARD AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, OFF THE COAST OF HAWAII – When aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) pulls into Naval Air Station North Island on Thursday, it will cap off a busy deployment to the Western Pacific.

Lincoln’s deployment saw the carrier largely operating in U.S. 7th Fleet, where it had the chance to drill with both Japan and the Philippines ahead of the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise in Hawaii.

It’s the second consecutive high operational tempo aircraft carrier deployment to WESTPAC, as the U.S. Navy increases its emphasis on operating in the region to counter China.

“Our activities into the South China Sea as well as East China Sea were important to send a signal to China, North Korea, Russia of our commitment to the region, as well as our willingness to fly, sail, or operate wherever international law allows,” Rear Adm. J.T. Anderson, the commander of Carrier Strike Group Three, told USNI news in a recent interview.

While the carrier participated in a wide range of exercises, the deployment also marked the first U.S. Marine Corps F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter squadron deployment on an aircraft carrier and the second for the CMV-22B Osprey.

Capt. Amy Bauernschmidt, Lincoln’s commanding officer, told USNI News that the crew applied many of the takeaways from USS Carl Vinson‘s (CVN-70) recent deployment in the region to Lincoln’s time in WESTPAC.

“We took onboard a lot of their lessons about … where to base, and how to operate. We did build upon those lessons and learned a few of our own. We were fairly fortunate in that while we covered a vast amount of space in 7th fleet – some days it was a long flight for the CODSPREY – but we were able to remain mostly based out of one location for most of the deployment, which at least facilitated the flow of people and parts to one location,” Bauernschmidt said.

Dynamic Environment

USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) sails in formation during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 28, 2022. US Navy Photo

The early days of Lincoln’s deployment saw the carrier operating in the South China Sea – including amid People’s Liberation Army Air Force incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone – and the Philippine Sea.

Anderson echoed remarks Vinson crew members made to USNI News during a trip earlier this year to Vinson at the tail-end of its deployment, in which sailors described a more dynamic environment in U.S. 7th Fleet compared to deployments over the last two decades in U.S. Central Command.

“We spent a lot of time maneuvering around not only the Philippine Sea, but also in the South China Sea and well as the East China Sea. And the dynamic maneuver wasn’t just exclusively maneuvering around to avoid certain things, but it was also that that’s our best way of being able to compete in that space, as well as provide a strong presence throughout the region,” Anderson said.
“If we were to just simply maintain our location in one general location, I don’t think we were necessarily doing our job, right, in terms of providing a sustained presence throughout the region.”

Bauernschmidt acknowledged the difference between operations in U.S. 7th Fleet versus U.S. 5th Fleet.

“I would say a vast majority of folks that have deployed in the Navy got very comfortable and used to 5th Fleet operations and this is obviously not 5th Fleet operations. And so it is a much larger area than we would typically operate in and … it’s not just about one entity. It’s about China, Russia, [North] Korea. It’s about multiple different actors and being able to respond to any of those,” she told USNI News.
“Because it’s a large area of operations, being able to strategically place yourself to answer whatever mission we’re called upon is very important.”

Because of the size of the Indo-Pacific region, Bauernschmidt said she had to change how she thought about the carrier’s operations.

“I personally also had to think a little differently about each and every night what the sea space looked like, what we were being tasked with, what we were being asked to accomplish, or to just think ahead about where we may want to position ourselves in the event we were tasked with a different mission,” she said.
“Because unlike operations in the 5th Fleet that you can get where you needed to be in a half a day, in a fairly short amount of time, we have a lot more sea space to cover. And so being able to think strategically, position yourself where you need to be, understand the constraints and the restraints of ourselves, our aircraft, and other forces was important.” 

Lessons Learned from Vinson

An F/A-18E Super Hornet, assigned to the ‘Tophatters’ of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 14, prepares to make an arrested landing on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on June 3, 2022. US Navy Photo

Lincoln’s deployment to the western Pacific followed a similar one last year by Vinson, which sent the first U.S. Navy F-35C squadron and CMV-22B Osprey squadron out to sea. Lincoln deployed with 10 Marine Corps F-35Cs that make up the “Black Knights” of Marine Strike Fighter Squadron (VMFA) 314 out of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif.

Ahead of the deployment, Bauernschmidt said Lincoln had the authority to install a double-decker mezzanine at the back of the hangar bay.

“What that allowed us to do was get some of the material that was normally in hangar bay 3 up into that mezzanine,” she said.

“We also took a good look at all of the support equipment and really tried to optimize where maybe we had duplicates, or we had the ability to truly ensure that the support equipment for the aircraft that we had was the right quantity, the right number, and the right ability,” Bauernschmidt added.

Instead of basing out of the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, like Vinson’s CMV-22B Osprey detachment, Lincoln’s detachment was based out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. This helped with parts and maintenance because the U.S. Marine Corps’s MV-22B Ospreys were also at Futenma.

“It is always helpful when there’s extra bodies, extra parts. So there was a little bit easier flow because there was already an established flow for most of their parts,” Bauernschmidt said.

Cmdr. Daniel Hutton, an aircraft intermediate maintenance department officer aboard Lincoln, said the carrier’s crew used takeaways from the Vinson deployment to tweak what equipment Lincoln brought. This allowed the crew to make more space in the hangar bay and be more strategic with what equipment it needed or did not need. As a result, the crew placed more gear in hangar bay 3, which made for more space in the middle of the carrier and in the forward part of the ship.

“Being the second air wing ship team to go out to sea with that type of aircraft, there’s a constant learning process that takes place between the ship, the supporting entities ashore, and then being able to adjust and take into account what things break,” Hutton told USNI News.

Hutton said they will continue to make tweaks depending on what happens throughout the deployment.

Since Vinson‘s crew had the chance to test out the deck density aboard the carrier with the Navy F-35Cs and the CMV-22B Ospreys, Lincoln could take those lessons and alter what they brought to sea. As a result, Bauernschmidt said Lincoln decreased its deck density.

An CMV-22B Osprey, carrying the U.S. ambassador to Japan, Hon. Rahm Emanuel, Japan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hayashi Yoshima, Commander, U.S. 7th Fleet, Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, Commander, Navy Region Japan/Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Japan Rear Adm. Carl Lahti, lands on Naval Air Facility (NAF) Atsugi following an official visit, to the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) on April 23, 2022. US Navy Photo

“Because we had a lot of Vinson’s lessons learned, we were able to sit down and take a very thoughtful look at how we were utilizing space in the hangar bay to try to ensure that we didn’t have anything we didn’t need, but we did have everything that we were going to need so that it opened up extra space for aircraft and a little bit of extra maneuver space to maneuver them around,” she said.
“And we got our deck density down quite a bit from where Vinson was and into a pretty good place. And then we were still able to provide a little bit more feedback for follow on carriers so that they can learn from what we kind of figured out as well.”

Bauernschmidt said she also took advice from Vinson‘s commanding officer about how to perform replenishments at sea to maximize the carrier’s ability to respond to missions if necessary.

“He talked about some of the pluses and minuses with different locations – impacts of sea space, or how flight operations worked. We try to ensure that we were postured very well to be able to react to anything that we needed to react, like we do every day,” Bauernschmidt said. “But when you’re alongside another ship, we were very careful about planning it so that we were – several times we launched aircraft while we were alongside replenishing to be able to respond as necessary and then we were able to continue about the mission.”

F-35C Operations

Aviation Boatswain’s Mate (Equipment) 2nd Class Justin Mancha, from San Antonio, signals an F-35C Lightning II, assigned to the ‘Black Knights’ of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 314, as it takes off from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on July 14, 2022. US Navy Photo

After employing the Navy and Marine Corps F-35Cs at sea, officials aboard both Vinson and Lincoln say they want more of the aircraft operating within a carrier strike group.

Anderson, when asked why he would like more F-35Cs, pointed to the fighter’s sensing capabilities. Both Bauernschmidt and Anderson described “seamless” integration of the F-35Cs into the carrier air wing.

“It’s the tremendous capability that the aircraft provides from an ability to generate information, the sensors that it has onboard, as well as its ability to distribute that information, not just to other aircraft but to the rest of the force,” Anderson told USNI News.
“It’s a testament to the platform and the folks that fly it too that it can integrate so well in with the rest of the air wing. We don’t have to do unique things with the schedule, the cycle lengths, etc. in order to accommodate it.”

Despite concerns ahead of the first F-35C deployments, Bauernschmidt said at-sea operations disproved some of those worries.

“I think like any new platform that’s introduced, there’s a little bit of angst about how it’s going to go. And I think what ended up happening when we got them was the realization that it was again a fairly seamless integration, regardless of whether it was Marine Corps or Navy,” she said.
“But I think in terms of the noise and some of the things they were concerned about from whether it was a deck density standpoint, or parts availability, or maintenance that they were going to be required to do, I think there were a lot more concerns that were fairly unfounded once, you know, now that we’ve gotten through this deployment [and] we’ve been able to see and operate with them.”

Marines Pitching Service as Western Pacific Recon Asset for Combined Joint Force

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military. The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines […]

Marine Corps Cpl. Alexander Tran, intelligence specialist with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, launches a RQ-20B Puma at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 20, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII — As the Marine Corps reshapes its force for a future conflict in the Western Pacific, the service is refining how to meet the reconnaissance mission for the wider U.S. military.

The Marine Corps is a year away from the initial operational capability milestone for the Stand-in Forces concept, meaning Marines would have the capabilities needed to deploy for missions in the region.

In a recent interview with USNI News, Col. Stephen Fiscus, the assistant chief of staff for force development at Marine Corps Forces Pacific, described the vision for SIF as having nearly all of the service’s force laydown in the Indo-Pacific acting as the reconnaissance arm for the combined joint force.

“To be inside and to be able to understand and report on what the enemy is doing, basically to be able to … the wonky way of describing it is the ability to gain and maintain custody of high-value targets and hold them at risk, with our own resources or joint force resources,” Fiscus said.

“[Special Operations Forces] has the capability to do that, but certainly the Marine Corps has the capability to do that at much greater scale, and with much greater persistence. SOF can’t do it at scale and at the capacity that we can,” he added.

The Marines argue that because they’re already operating in places like Okinawa, Japan, part of the first island chain that is in the range of Chinese weapons, they are in the position to perform the reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance missions in a potential conflict.

“As part of the Stand-in Force, what that really means to the [Marine Littoral Regiment] is, we look at it to deter malign behavior, to operate inside the enemy’s weapons engagement zone, to support sea control and sea denial operations and then ultimately … to set the conditions for joint force and combined follow-on actions as part of that Stand-in Force,” Col. Timothy Brady, the commanding officer of the recently re-designated 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, told USNI News.

While the new 3rd MLR is a piece of the Stand-In Force, the concept would employ most of the Okinawa-based III Marine Expeditionary Force and the Marine Expeditionary Units embarked on the Navy’s amphibious ships and operating in the Pacific.

“The Stand-in Force … pretty much requires almost all of III MEF, elements of I MEF, and the transiting MEUs in order to make it fully capable. It requires almost all of the [U.S. Indo-Pacific Command]-assigned force. And the infrastructure from Marine Corps Installations Pacific that enables that is pretty key to that as well. So it requires all of it. So to focus on just, on one entity is kind of missing the totality. The whole MAGTF, or Marine Air-Ground Task Force concept, is applicable to the Stand-in-Force,” Fiscus said.

The ability to see and realize information, Fiscus said, is the cornerstone of delivering the type of lethality the Marine Corps is historically known for bringing to conflict.

Landing Craft, Air Cushion 76 assigned to Assault Craft Unit 5, prepares to land on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

“It’s understanding what your target is, where it is, and the effect that it’s going to have on the network that you’re influencing. You can translate that directly from what we were doing in counter-insurgency operations with the effect on an insurgent network, all the way down to a peer and pacing threat,” he said.

“And what’s going to happen when you take this asset out? It’s fairly easy to be lethal, to pull a trigger – whether that trigger is the 566 from a rifle or all the way up to using a Naval Strike Missile or a [Tomahawk Land Attack Missile], or some other huge asset and you’re targeting a capital asset. The need is to understand what you’re doing and understand immediately what’s going to happen. And that’s what Stand-in Forces bring, is they bring that whole package to the naval expeditionary force that really closes a pretty significant gap,” Fiscus continued.

3rd MLR Experimentation

U.S. Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division, post security during a field training exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows, Hawaii, May 30, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

After converting the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in March, Brady says they now have the relevant units in place to do full-scale experimentation.

The MLR consists of a Littoral Combat Team, a Littoral Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion. In June, the Marine Corps converted 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines into the 3rd MLR’s Littoral Combat Team and also re-designated Combat Logistics Battalion 3 into the Littoral Logistics Battalion that is now under the 3rd MLR, Brady said. That means the 3rd MLR now has all three units operating under the new construct.

“This provides us the opportunity – as we continue to train and experiment moving forward – with all of the primary capabilities now being organic to the MLR, to be able to develop our concepts of employment for our future Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations,” Brady said.
“Because it will take portions of all those different units to provide the capabilities necessary to be able to do the sea control and sea denial operations, to be able to provide the long-range precision fires, to be able to provide the air direction, air control early warning activities, to be able to provide the sensors necessary to the joint force,” he continued. “It will take an aspect of each one of those battalions to be able to actually produce the capability for it in the battlespace. So for the very first time, we have all of those capabilities as part of this unit and that’s what we’re looking forward to training in the future with.”

The Hawaiian islands, where the 3rd MLR is based, are uniquely suited to experiment with the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept – which would see Marines quickly moving between islands and shorelines to set up ad-hoc bases and fire anti-ship missiles – because they are similar to the first island chain, Brady said.

“To EABO in and of itself – to be able to seize and secure key maritime terrain – is not anything new to the Marine Corps. But the purpose of EABO is a paradigm shift. The purpose now is once we do seize and secure that maritime terrain is to look outward, right, to be able to support the naval expeditionary campaign and the larger naval campaign with that battlespace awareness … along with those long-range precision fires,” Brady said.

During the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise, the Marine Corps is employing the EABO concept in two different scenarios: to enable an amphibious landing and to enable the transit of a carrier strike group.

“So specifically to RIMPAC, having an amphibious task force as well as a carrier strike group operating in the notional operating environment, we are supporting their maritime maneuver. And ultimately the MLR helps the joint and combined force achieve multi-domain integrated naval power to be able to impose asymmetric threats on the enemy,” Brady said.

Digital Interoperability

A Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra participates in a sink exercise (SINKEX) during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, from Marine Corps Base Hawaii on July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

Brady described a layered approach to how his unit is working toward operating with the joint force and ultimately allies and partners, also known as the combined force, which the Marines have the chance to work with at RIMPAC.

But working across the various platforms means they need what the Marines have defined as digital interoperability, or a way for all of the systems from the different U.S. services and other nations’ forces to communicate with each other.

“As we build those kill webs, that digital interoperability, you know the communications and the [command and control] systems, and we’re actually applying all those sensors and eventually the long-range precision fires, is we’re doing that internally to that Stand-in Force, the MAGTF, right, the Marine Corps,” Brady said.

“At the next level we’re really doing that across the joint force and looking at how to do that better. And then what RIMPAC provides us the opportunity to do is to do that with the combined force, right, the allies and partners, because to close those kill webs requires a lot of digital interoperability across multiple different systems, to be able to do it at speed and to be able to do it with all those nations that will be together inside the first island chain,” he continued.

In the type of conflict environment the services are preparing for in the Indo-Pacific, forces need multiple avenues to share information.

“If one type of way form is shut down and we can’t use it, there needs to be other pathways that we can take advantage of to move that information along, again, to generate that tempo for the commander so he can make a timely and accurate decision,” said Maj. Adrian Solis, a fires expert at MARFORPAC.

Future Capabilities

A Marine with 1st Battalion, 12th Marines, 3rd Marine Division, triages a victim during a simulated mass casualty evacuation training event at Pōhakuloa Training Area, Hawaii, July 22, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

While Fiscus said the Marine Corps has what it needs to communicate with various assets across the joint force to share targeting information and execute missions under the Stand-in Forces concept, he said the Marines need more of the platforms they’re currently experimenting with – like the MQ-9A Reaper used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

“A lot of our platforms right now, we have one or two of them. And we have a plan to get more, but we have one or two of them. So we’re fairly finite,” he said.

The service also wants to make some of their capabilities and assets lighter so Marines can move quickly and carry what they need on their backs while moving around islands and shorelines.

“Making them small, deployable forward and getting them out to where [Brady] can access them and tactical commanders can fuse all of those systems is a big part of the experimentation in the systems that we’re doing. We have answers that say yes, we can do that. We can see them. We can put them together,” Fiscus said.

“Doing it sustainably and in austere environments and amidst allies and partners – because remember, we’re standing in, chances are we’re standing in next to somebody. All of the allies and partners that we’re sailing with that he’s working with right now, they by nature of where they’re located are standing in too. So we anticipate being with them on their terrain,” he added.

With IOC a year away, Brady and Fiscus said they’re focused on getting more capabilities to experiment with, like the stern landing vessel the Marine Corps wants to use while the service continues developing the Light Amphibious Warship. LAW is meant to have a beachable capability to shuttle Marines directly to islands and shorelines without needing to pull into a pier and a leased stern landing vessel will allow the Marine Corps to experiment with the capability in the interim.

I MEF in southern California will start the experimentation with the stern landing vessel, and then it will head to Hawaii. Fiscus said the 3rd MLR should have the platform within a year.

The service also now has a platoon of several dozen Marines who will do research and development work in Norfolk, Va., on the service’s future Long Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle, or LRUSV, Brady said.

“The Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vessel … that’s something that will provide additional reach and availability of weapons and systems well out into the maritime domain,” Brady said. “All of those things are coming in the next couple of years that will further enable us to provide additional capabilities to the joint and combined force.”

Metal Shark is on contract to build several LRUSV prototypes for the Marine Corps through an other transaction authority agreement, the company announced in January 2021.

While the Marine Corps first envisioned the LRUSV to function as an ISR platform and a way to bring more fires to the fight, Fiscus said the service wants to experiment and see what else the platform could do. 

“Its principal mechanism right now, as it was conceived, was the ability to sense and bring additional firepower, organic precision firepower to the totality of the package. But that doesn’t limit it from what it’s possibilities could be once we understand – you know, right now we’re still in that concept phase. But the initial concept the way it was scratched out was for an additional surface ISR and organic precision fires platform,” he said.

While IOC is about a year away and will mean the Marines are ready to deploy under the SIF concept, Fiscus said achieving full operational capability will require the Marine Corps to remain deployed for longer and sustain the force’s operations.

“By achieving IOC of the Stand-in Force, the totality of the Stand-in Force, you will have a deployable and sustainable capability for that to go forward, supported by the full MAGTF. That includes the full sense and make sense. So we will have our Group 5 [unmanned aerial system] – the MQ-9A – up with the ability to connect the whole package and do it. IOC means we have the capability and it’s deployable,” Fiscus said.

The 3rd MLR “be forward doing it, supporting operations, activities, investments – OAIs – but you’ll see the totality of the value proposition fieldable and presentable in its full depth. It may only be for finite periods of time because … the difference between IOC and FOC is depth and sustainability and how long that presence can be forward and impactful.”

U.S. Destroyer Performs South China Sea FONOP; China Says it Expelled Warship

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer passed near a South China Sea island chain claimed by China as part of a Freedom of Navigation operation and drew complaints from Beijing. USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailed near the Paracel Islands early Wednesday local time in a FONOP and was monitored by the People’s Liberation Army Navy frigate Xianning (500), […]

USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailing past the Paracel Islands on July 13, 2022. PLA Photo

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer passed near a South China Sea island chain claimed by China as part of a Freedom of Navigation operation and drew complaints from Beijing.

USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailed near the Paracel Islands early Wednesday local time in a FONOP and was monitored by the People’s Liberation Army Navy frigate Xianning (500), according to the Chinese Ministry of Defense.

“This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging the restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Vietnam and also by challenging PRC’s claim to straight baselines enclosing the Paracel Islands,” reads a statement from U.S. 7th Fleet.
“At the conclusion of the operation, USS Benfold exited the excessive claim and continued operations in the South China Sea.”

In a statement, the People’s Liberation Army Southern Theater Command complained the transit was a violation of Beijing’s territorial waters around the Paracel chain – called the Xisha Islands by the Chinese.

“The U.S. guided-missile destroyer Benfold illegally broke into China’s Xisha territorial waters without the approval of the Chinese Government, and organized sea and air forces in the southern theater of the People’s Liberation Army Chinese to follow up and monitor and warn them to drive away,” reads the statement from the MoD.
“The U.S. military’s actions have seriously violated China’s sovereignty and security, seriously undermined peace and stability in the South China Sea, and seriously violated international law and norms governing international relations.”

A Chinese sailor aboard the frigate Xianning monitors USS Benfold (DDG-65) sailing past the Paracel Islands on July 13, 2022. PLA Photo

The U.S. denied the claim from the PLA.

“The PLA Southern Theater Command’s statement is the latest in a long string of PRC actions to misrepresent lawful U.S. maritime operations and assert its excessive and illegitimate maritime claims at the expense of its Southeastern Asian neighbors in the South China Sea,” reads the statement from 7th Fleet.

The territorial issue specific to the Paracels is China’s claim to a straight baseline around the island chain and requires foreign ships to ask permission to sail between the islands. The U.S. views the seas between the islands as international waters and denies their ships need permission to sail through the chain.

Benfold has been operating with the Japan-based Reagan Carrier Strike Group that began its latest patrol in May. The destroyer performed a similar transit in January.

On Wednesday, 7th Fleet announced that USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) had entered the South China Sea.

Chinese Carrier Liaoning Strike Group Steaming Near Japan, Says MoD

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) dispatched an eight-ship carrier group, led by the carrier CNS Liaoning (16) and accompanied by five destroyers, a frigate and a replenishment ship, into the Pacific Ocean via transit of the Miyako Strait Monday, marking the first time since December 2021 that the carrier has operated in the area. […]

Chinese ships operate off the coast of Japan on May 2, 2022. Japanese MoD Images

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) dispatched an eight-ship carrier group, led by the carrier CNS Liaoning (16) and accompanied by five destroyers, a frigate and a replenishment ship, into the Pacific Ocean via transit of the Miyako Strait Monday, marking the first time since December 2021 that the carrier has operated in the area.

The Joint Staff Office (JSO) of the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) issued a release Monday on the group’s passage along with photographs of the ships in the group, identifying them by class and pennant number.

Along with Liaoning, the ships in the group are the Type 055 destroyer CNS Nanchang (101), Type 052D destroyers CNS Xining (117), CNS Urumqi (118) and CNS Chengdu (120), Type 052C destroyer CNS Zhengzhou (151), Type 054A frigate CNS Xiangtan (531) and Type 901 fast combat support ship CNS Hulunhu (901).

Liaoning together with Nanchang, Xining, Urumqi, Chengdu and Hulunhu were sighted sailing south in an area 350km west on the uninhabited Danjo Islands in the East China Sea around midnight Sunday, according to the Joint Staff Office’s release. At 6 p.m. Sunday, Xiangtan was sighted sailing eastward in an area 480km northwest of Okinawa. On Monday, Zhengzhou was sighted traveling south, 160km north of Taisho Island. The PLAN ships subsequently sailed south together through the Miyako Strait.

The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) together with JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 4, based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Honshu, and P-3C Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 5, based out of Naha Air Base, Okinawa, conducted monitoring of the PLAN ships, according to the release. Liaoning conducted helicopter operations while in the East China Sea.

Chinese naval spokesperson Gao Xiucheng said the Liaoning group is conducting training in the western Pacific Ocean and that it was a routine training organized by the Chinese navy, according to its annual plan and in line with relevant international law and international practice, China’s Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday.In December last year, Liaoning along with other PLAN ships conducted flight operations in the vicinities of Kita Daito and Oki Daito islands in the Pacific Ocean. Japan now plans to have a mobile radar station based on Kita Daito Island and is considering moving towards permanent radar stations on the Daito Islands to monitor foreign naval activities and transits in the area.

A People’s Liberation Army Navy J-15 carrier fighter takes off from Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning (16) during a December 2021 deployment. PLAN Photo

Littoral Combat Ship USS Jackson (LCS-6) is now in Singapore at Changi Naval Base, arriving on Tuesday to carry out a planned maintenance availability (PMAV) period while in Singapore, according to a 7th Fleet release

“Having Jackson once again using Changi Naval Base as the site for maintenance is a significant milestone and gives operational commanders increased adaptability for maintaining and operating ships,” said Rear Adm. Chris Engdahl, commander, Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) 7/Task Force 76 in the release. “We are thankful for our defense relationship with the Republic of Singapore and their willingness to host our ships as we strive toward a common goal of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Royal Navy Offshore Patrol Vessel HMS Spey (P234) arrived in Singapore Friday at Sembawang Naval Installation to join sister ship HMS Tamar (P233). Both Royal Navy vessels are on a five-year deployment to the Indo-Pacific region as part of an overall UK policy to strengthen its presence in the region.

Marines Stand Up First Marine Littoral Regiment

The Marine Corps this week formally converted its Hawaii-based regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, taking another step in the pursuit of its new island-hopping strategy in the Indo-Pacific. As part of the service’s Force Design 2030 effort, the Marine Corps converted the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in a […]

Marines with 3d Marine Littoral Regiment, 3d Marine Division present arms during the redesignation ceremony of 3d Marines to 3d MLR aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 3, 2022. US Marine Corps Photo

The Marine Corps this week formally converted its Hawaii-based regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, taking another step in the pursuit of its new island-hopping strategy in the Indo-Pacific.

As part of the service’s Force Design 2030 effort, the Marine Corps converted the 3rd Marine Regiment into the 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment in a Thursday ceremony at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

“The concept of this 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment standing up – re-designating 3rd Marine Regiment to 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment – is a visible, physical representation of the Marine Corps’ change to outpace a pacing threat, so that we are in the best position to offer conventional [and] integrated deterrence …. in support of our National Defense Strategy,” Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith told reporters earlier this week.

Military officials describe China as “the pacing threat,” and the Marine Corps’ vision for Force Design includes smaller units that could quickly move between islands and archipelagos, setting up ad-hoc expeditionary advanced bases and firing anti-ship missiles.

Part of the shift to the 3rd MLR construct includes those smaller units – about 75 to 100 Marines in an Expeditionary Advanced Base detachment – that are constantly prepared to deploy to the first and second island chains, as opposed to the historic six-month deployments.

“They are strategically placed via our organic mobility throughout the first and second island chain in order to change an adversary’s calculus,” Smith said. “Again, these units – instead of a captain who’s in charge of 175 Marines, [need] to have a captain or a first lieutenant who’s in charge of 75 Marines with a very specific task.”

Marines with 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment, 3rd Marine Division conduct the redesignation ceremony of 3rd Marines to 3rd MLR aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, March 3, 2022. US Marine Corps

The ACMC listed four capabilities the MLR needs: long-range fires – like the Navy-Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NMESIS) program that features a Naval Strike Missile mounted on an unmanned JLTV chassis; – the MQ-9A Reaper drone for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; radars and communication systems like the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar (G/ATOR); and “organic mobility” with platforms like the Long-Range Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LRUSV) that Marines could employ with the Light Amphibious Warship and other larger amphibious ships.

“The equipment’s going to change over the years. State of the art technology will change in five years or six years, but the MLR will stay as an organization that is purpose-built to deploy immediately in small-task organized units so that its signature is such that it is not easily detectable, and yet it packs enough of a punch that the adversary has to account for it. They have to consider it because that takes pressure off the rest of the joint force,” Smith said.

While the threat will decide where the Marine Corps bases its equipment, Smith said the service also needs to adhere to the environmental and legal mandates, depending on the host nation, before choosing where the equipment will live.

But the Marines have four goals to achieve with the MLR in the Indo-Pacific by the end of Fiscal Year 2023.

US Marine Corps Rouge Fires missile system.

“Those capabilities broadly are additional organic lift – aviation lift and I’m talking KC-130s – into the Indo-Pacific theater, long-range strike into the Indo-Pacific theater. And that means our Navy-Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction system, which was successfully demonstrated at last year’s Large-Scale Exercise,” Smith said.
“We have to show our long-range intelligence, surveillance reconnaissance air platform – the MQ-9 Alpha extended range – we have to introduce that into the theater in ’23. And then we have to stand up the 3rd MLR,” which is what the Marines did this week. “And that represents our ability to live, train and deploy in these small disaggregated units.”

The Marine Corps already has G/ATOR systems in Okinawa, Japan, and has experimented with LRUSV using a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) and will keep testing the use of LRUSV with ships from Metal Shark. The service is also leasing one stern landing vessel through the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab so it can use the platform for testing before 2023.

“We know what we want to do with the vehicle – there’s no doubt about the concept of employment. Now we’re talking about the specifics of beachability and exact size. that’s what the analysis of alternatives for which ship do you procure – that will determine that. But we already have a surrogate that we will lease to use for experimentation,” Smith said. “And we might additionally lease two more for a total of three because we don’t want to wait for the LAW to come online for us to then confirm – not come up with – but confirm our concept of operations.”

Smith said the 2023 timeline stems from the need to show Congress and the Defense Department that the Marine Corps has made progress on Force Design and the service’s obligations to provide capabilities to combatant commanders that can help deter an adversary.

“We can’t wait until the adversary has reached their full potential and then try to divert them, to change them. We have to change that trajectory now, meaning by the end of Fiscal Year ’23,” he said.

Adversaries, according to Smith, don’t like the Marine Corps’ strategy because of the unpredictability and maneuverability a unit like the MLR brings.

“They don’t like the fact that units are highly mobile, that they have a low signature and that they – the adversary – doesn’t know where these things are. Because we’re talking about an organization that’s 75 Marines who have organic mobility, either by air or by surface connector. And once they’re ashore, they have organic mobility in the form of Joint Light Tactical Vehicles and relatively small trucks that are inherently mobile and have capabilities to shut down a network, to strike a capital warship and then fade away and move again,” he said.
“Adversaries hate that because they don’t have effective control over their – the adversary’s – plan. So all of our assessments, wargaming and analysis say that we are on the right track. We are constantly adjusting the exact size of an infantry battalion, the exact number of missiles a unit needs to carry so that it matches our logistics capability, the exact signature that they will put out – that is constantly adjusting based on the adversary’s ability to pick up our signature.”

U.S. Marines with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, currently attached to 4th Marine Regiment, 3d Marine Division, demonstrate expeditionary advanced basing capabilities Oct. 7 to 8, 2020, as part of Exercise Noble Fury, from Okinawa to Ie Shima and across surrounding waters. US Marine Corps Photo

The current plan is for the Marine Corps to have three Marine Littoral Regiments all based in the Indo-Pacific. It will eventually convert the 4th Marine Regiment and the 12th Marine Regiment – both based in Okinawa – into MLRs. The service needs all three MLRs operating by 2030, with Smith estimating a transition for one organization in the 2025-2026 timeline and 2027-2030 for third one.

“By ‘30, we will have all three of them and what we’ll do is we will confirm with this first regiment what is exactly needed. We’ll take our time. That may mean the second MLR to stand up is a little slower than we thought, but it’ll be easier to do because we’ll know exactly what sized unit to put in there – exactly how many master sergeants, exactly how many staff sergeants, exactly how many missiles,” the ACMC said. “So all of them have to be stood up 2030, which is when we would consider the decade of uncertainty beings. You have to be ready because again the pacing threat’s moving.”

Smith acknowledged the 3rd MLR could be a little bigger than previous estimates of 1,800 to 2,000 Marines and sailors, but said the organization will be smaller than the 3rd Marine Regiment. The MLR is slated to include a Littoral Combat Team, Littoral Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion. Smith said the service is still working on the Littoral Anti-Air Battalion, so depending on new technologies that come online, the MLR could require fewer or more Marines and change in size over the next one to three years. But Smith said it’s unclear if that change will be a difference of 50 Marines or 300.

As the Marines perform more exercises and collect more data, the service will have the chance to hone the number.

“Changing the size of the unit every single day – you don’t do that. You might do it annually, or every two years,” Smith said. “But when there’s data sufficient to prove that we need to change, we’ll change again because the pacing threat’s always changing. They’re always moving.”

Destroyer USS Ralph Johnson Performs Taiwan Strait Transit

A U.S. warship passed through the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, irking the Chinese government, which called the move “provocative.” Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) conducted a routine strait transit on Saturday, according to a press release from U.S. 7th Fleet. It operated in accordance with international law. “The ship is transiting through […]

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) pulls alongside the Henry J. Kaiser-class underway replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe (T-AO-200) in preparation for a replenishment-at-sea in the South China Sea on Feb. 10, 2022. US Navy Photo

A U.S. warship passed through the Taiwan Strait over the weekend, irking the Chinese government, which called the move “provocative.”

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG-114) conducted a routine strait transit on Saturday, according to a press release from U.S. 7th Fleet. It operated in accordance with international law.

“The ship is transiting through a corridor in the Strait that is beyond the territorial sea of any coastal State,” according to the 7th Fleet release. “The ship’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the United States’ commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The United States military flies, sails, and operates anywhere international law allows.”

Although 7th Fleet called the transit passage routine, the Chinese government said performing the transit during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was meant to reassure Taiwanese separatists that the U.S. is committed to Taiwan’s security, according to state-run outlet People’s Daily.

Chinese forces monitored Ralph Johnson as it went through the strait, according to the Chinese outlet.

Senior Col. Shi Yi, spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army Eastern Theater Command, told People’s Daily the passage through the strait was provocative and called actions to encourage the Taiwanese separatist forces “futile.”

China routinely protests the U.S. transits through the Taiwan Strait and freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea.

Last month, USS Benfold (DDG-65) performed a FONOP near the Paracel Islands. The U.S. Navy at the time denied a Chinese claim that it expelled Benfold from the waters.