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Blue Chromite in Japan: How the USA is Bracing for Naval Base Seizures

Between October 30 and November 11, the US Navy, US Marine Corps along and Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are conducting the joint Keen Sword exercises off the coast of Guam. As many as 25,000 American and 11,000 Japanese military are taking part in the drill.

These large-scale maneuvers have been widely covered by the press, but alongside the better known drill, from October 29 to November 4, there was another one held quietly in Okinawa. The annual Blue Chromite exercise was initiated by US Navy and US Marine Corps three years ago and is unknown to the general public.

No Place for Strangers Here

Protesters raise placards reading Anger was over the limit during a rally against the U.S. military presence on the island and a series of crimes and other incidents involving U.S. soldiers and base workers, at a park in the prefectural capital Naha on Japan's southern island of Okinawa, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo June 19, 2016 - Sputnik International
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Blue Chromite exercise was held in Okinawa by US military forces only, without the participation of Japanese Self-Defense Forces or other US allies. This year the 3rd Marine Division took part in the drills, as well as MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which practiced a landing 400 marines on the coast.

The goal of this year's exercise was to train seizing naval bases and coastal fortified settlements from an opposing force; coordination of forces at sea, on land and in the air to ensure the safe landing of Marines ashore and maneuvering on land including rapid evacuation practice.

The scenario involves fast multiple raids of marines from ships and aircraft to the coast without deploying permanent basing points, so that the landed units are not be involved in a prolonged standoff.

What do the Generals Say?

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"Compared to operations in World War II the Marines now have the challenge of hiding their location from an enemy both physically and electronically," 3rd Marine Division Commanding General Major General Richard Simcock told USNI News on November 1 talking about Blue Chromite.

“As our adversaries developed capabilities out here, those large bases may not be as secure. So we’re looking at doing disaggregated, distributed operations both at sea and around the littorals in the land that supports that sea space in ways that we haven’t normally done it,” he added. The General called it “back to the future.”

Before the drills kicked off, the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert Neller visited the US Marine base in Okinawa and told his forces that they are likely see more training in the future for biological, chemical and nuclear attacks. Neller added that the Marine Corps is supportive of US efforts to recapitalize its nuclear capabilities as a deterrent.

The commandant also told marines they must adapt to face new adversaries as the United States shifts from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan to preparations for potential future foes like North Korea, China, Russia and Iran.

New Purposes, New Concepts

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At the end of September an update of US Marine Corps Operating Concepts was released. The new edition begins with the admission that “today’s force is not organized, trained and equipped to succeed in a future operating environment where terrains and their populations are complex, technology has proliferated, information is used as a weapon, detecting enemy signatures and managing the Marines’ own signatures is paramount, and the maritime domain is increasingly contested.”

The new Marine Corps Operating Concepts puts a focus on the Pacific battle ground and its populous littoral cities. China and Russia are implied as the most probable potential adversaries, although it is not openly stated.

In fact, the US Marine Corps are actively preparing for operations which would allow the US to wage war in conditions of so-called Area Denial Systems (A2/AD, Anti-Access), when the range of technologically advanced enemy’s radars and missiles does not allow US forces to operate at sea and in the air unchallenged.

In the case of the outbreak of hostilities, marines are to parachute to the shore and destroy an enemy’s area denial systems. The recent Blue Chromite exercise in Okinawa was an element of practical training to fulfill that task.

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