Top general: As possible conflict with China looms, Marines might need to...

Top general: As possible conflict with China looms, Marines might need to island-hop again

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A working model of the Marine Corps' most likely next amphibious vehicle (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

WASHINGTON — The Marines built much of their modern reputation during World War II by hopping across the Pacific Ocean, storming onto island after island, to be poised for a closing strike on Japan.

More than 70 years later — in order to prepare for a possible face-off with peer competitor China — everything old may be new again for the Corps, the Pentagon’s top military officer said  Thursday.

Going ashore island by island.

Gen. Joe Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Navy’s goal of 38 amphibious vessels is critical to the Pentagon’s vision of one possible conflict in the Pacific.

That would be with China, although Dunford — a Marine — did not name the adversary.

Currently the Navy has 32 amphibious vehicles; Marine Corps funding is part of the Navy’s budget.

Dunford said amphibious vessels are key “to being able to project power….and to see advance naval bases.” He said going from island chain to island chain is one way for the U.S. military to project that power.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked if the ships were so critical, why were they not sought in previous budgets. Dunford said it was “an issue of sequencing” with other needs having “a higher platform.”

Pentagon officials have expressed ongoing concerns about China’s increased militarization of islands in the South China and East China Seas. If the U.S. would need to strike the islands the options beyond bombing would include an amphibious landing, Pentagon officials have said in interviews.

Island-hopping, also known as leapfrogging during World War II, initially targeted Pacific islands not as strongly defended by the Japanese. The U.S military took control of those islands, built bases and landing strips, then went on to attack other islands from the bases they had established, drawing closer to Japan with each new island capture.

Last May, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the joint staff and also a Marine, told reporters during a briefing that the U.S. military “has a lot of experience taking down small islands” when asked if the U.S. has the firepower to blow apart the man-made islands China is arming.

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