How the Marines captured a Philippine airfield in a show against China

How the Marines captured a Philippine airfield in a show against China

The Marines were just over 100 miles from the southern tip of Taiwan when they occupied the airstrip. They were operating in northern Luzon and the Batanes Islands, a Philippine territory north of the mainland, a key area of ​​potential conflict with China.

The mission, known as the Maritime Critical Terrain Security Operation (MKTSO), was training for that conflict, but it also had real-world implications. It was a show of force led by units of the Marine Corps’ newest Pacific-oriented unit, the Marine Coastal Regiment (MLR).

On April 30, three joint coastal reconnaissance teams consisting of about 30 U.S. troops and Philippine Marines boarded Army Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters and departed from a naval base off the mainland’s north coast to enter the remote island.

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Their aim was not only to scout territory through sensors and unmanned systems, but also to engage with local communities to lay the groundwork with partners in the Philippines, where civilian maritime trade is increasingly encroaching from China.

These units were joined by rifle companies, also joint national elements, capable of occupying and defending critical terrain in the event of conflict. It was the first time that Marines from the 3rd MLR, a unit deployed in the region, had gone to Mabris, the northernmost island in the Philippines, where the force is stationed.

“When you move away from the mainland to demonstrate capability, you have the ability to fly and sustain yourself. That’s an important demonstration of capability on both the air side and the ground side,” said Robert Patterson, commander of the squadron. Major said. The commander who led his unit in the air raid on the Philippines’ northernmost islands told in an interview on Monday.

The exercise marks a step in the Marine Corps’ ideological shift after two decades of war in the Middle East, in which it has faced an insurgent enemy that is less equipped and better organized than China, the current “pacing challenge.” It became a step forward.

Lt. Col. Mark Renzi, a battalion commander with the 3rd Littoral Combat Wing, told that this is not only a change in the environment, but also a recognition of the increased risks of conventional warfare.

Long-range missile attacks, loitering weapons and enhanced detection capabilities are just “some of the things that have proliferated in the years since,” Renzi said. “To break the enemy targeting cycle, we must modify our tactics and mindset to avoid being detected by these weapons in the first place, and to avoid being targeted by the enemy if we are detected. ”

Renzi is the commander of the Littoral Combat Team, one of the key set pieces of the MLR. Accompanied by anti-aircraft and logistics battalions within the MLR, a total of nearly 2,000 Marines are uniquely equipped for the fight in the Pacific.

Its equipment includes naval attack missiles, unmanned aerial systems, and radar, assets to support the agile and distributed nature of the force. These characteristics are exemplified in missions like MKTSO, where Marines are sent alone to remote locations in the Pacific with only the equipment they need to survive.

“The strategic importance is the ability to place combat-capable forces where they are needed, to deter the enemy or engage in combat with few restrictions on withdrawing the enemy,” Renzi said. Stated.

Marines participating in the mission brought limited supplies to the islands, but the difficult logistics balance was made even more difficult by the humid climate. They filled their packs with water and carried a Platoon Water Purification System (PWPS), a device that allows him to produce up to 15 gallons of water per hour from water sources present in the environment.

Patterson said water efforts are “tremendous,” adding that fuel and food are priorities related to mission planning. The latter was partially supported by the local community. Dependence on the surrounding environment is part of the expeditionary nature of the MLR.

Marine Corps distributed operations are not new, but the environment is. In 2022, after the establishment of the MLR, the Philippines’ alliance with the United States is reinvigorated in light of the threat of China, which uses its multiple islands, tropical jungles, and coast guard to disrupt local security. He was sent to a country known for what he did. Fishery commerce.

Military personnel now find themselves regularly deployed to the Philippines as part of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, a plan between the United States and the Philippines that gives American forces access to nine military bases in the Philippines. .

But in this case, the MKTSO mission sent Marines to the most remote islands off the Philippine coast, close to Taiwan and China.

A key part of these operations involves incorporating Philippine forces into operations as a way to leverage topographical knowledge, legitimize interactions with island communities, and prepare for potential joint warfare.

These efforts were often led by Marine corporals and sergeants. Patterson said that through his squad leaders, he was able to understand the community and environment based on their information and relationship building.

“They recognized that they were part of the first US military presence on these islands, especially on Itbayat Island, which is one of the islands not far from Taiwan,” he said. “So, [they felt] So proud and so excited to do what we do. ”

related: US troops return to sleepy, remote Philippine town to counter Chinese threat

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