The US Marine Corps’ plans to make its forces in the Pacific region faster and lighter are a threat to China’s People’s Liberation Army , military experts have warned. The Marine Corps Combat Development Command this week laid out a 10-year plan to axe 12,000 personnel and give up most of its artillery cannon battalions to allow the corps to focus on developing light mobility options to get around the region’s island chains. Unmanned systems and mobile anti-ship missiles are at the heart of the new strategy, which has been developed specifically to address possible conflicts with the PLA in the region’s coastal waters. Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, said consideration of conflicts with the Chinese military around the disputed islands and reefs in the East and South China seas were a likely part of the US consideration. “Such a plan will help the Marines to meet the new requirements of modern battles involved in multi-domain [in the air, ground, maritime, space and cyberspace] in both competition and armed conflict, which will definitely cause great threats to Chinese navy and air force,” he said. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Marine Corps commandant General David Berger said the plan, which he started designing last summer, had been inspired by a rising China. “China, in terms of military capability, is the pacing threat,” Berger reportedly said. “If we did nothing, we would be passed.” Chinese naval planes conduct anti-submarine drills in South China Sea The PLA embarked an unprecedented military overhaul – including a reduction of 300,000 personnel – in 2015 but its marine corps is estimated to expand from two brigades to eight, with a total of about 40,000 troops, according to US-based think tank the Jamestown Foundation. Under Berger’s plan, the US Marines Corps will cut about 7 per cent of its existing 182,000 troops by 2030, with the number of infantry battalions reduced from 24 to 21. Artillery cannon batteries will shrink from 21 to five and amphibious vehicle companies from six to four. There will also be fewer MV-22 Osprey heavy transport aircraft. The Marine Corps said it wanted a 300 per cent increase in anti-ship rocket artillery equipped with High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HMARS) launchers, as well as more joint operations and logistic support with other service units. Berger said the planned changes in the Pacific would help support the marines against other challenges across the globe. US Army aiming to counter Chinese ‘threat’ with Indo-Pacific security plan Beijing-based military expert Zhou Chenming said the Marines’ plan not only targeted a rising China, but also sought to further consolidate the force’s competitive edge against its changing adversaries. “As the special force of a superpower, the US Marines has adjusted its operational system since the Gulf war in the early 1990s, with heavy armoured vehicles such as the M1A1 main battle tanks being deployed to Middle East battlefields,” Zhou said. “Now they really need to trim the sizes of both weapon and combat units if they are going to fight as littoral forces under multi-domain operations.” Chinese warplanes to get new coatings to make them harder to detect The ultimate goal of the reform plan is to redesign the US Marines to match the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific strategy to contain a rising China, according to Taipei-based military observer Chi Le-yi. “The Marines were mainly focused on anti-terrorism over the past decades in the aftermath of the 911 attack [in 2001], and now they are retreating to their inherent mission as Washington is ramping up the Indo-Pacific strategy,” Chi said. “The US military has strong crisis awareness; it will not let its key rival, the PLA, have any chance to get any advantages … That’s why it is so powerful.” Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.