The United States Marine Corps is to ditch its tanks and slash troop numbers as it prepares to fight Second World War style island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific amid rising tensions with China.
A ten-year reform programme announced this week comes follow warnings that Chinese advances in drone and missile technology have drastically eroded the West's military dominance in the Western Pacific.
China has poured resources into developing a fleet of hypersonic missiles and long-range drones designed to project power deep into the Western Pacific and prevent US carrier groups from intervening in what it regards as its neighbourhood.
In September last year China used the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the People's Republic to showcase a range of new weapons including a hypersonic, manoeuverable ballistic missile designed to evade all modern defence systems.
The parade was widely viewed as a message to the United States and its regional allies that China now possesses and advanced military capability that will allow it to challenge American military primacy in the region.
The changes announced this week will see the corps reduce troop numbers from 189,000 to 170,000, ditch all seven of its tank companies, and cut back on infantry, conventional artillery batteries, and helicopter squadrons.
It would expand the number of rocket and missile batteries, drone squadrons, and C-130 transport squadrons.
The goal of the reform is to make the corps better able to "to support naval expeditionary warfare, and built to facilitate distributed and Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations," the US military said.
“[This will] allow the Navy and Marine Corps to restore the strategic initiative and to define the future of maritime conflict by capitalising on new capabilities to deter conflict and dominate inside the enemy's weapon engagement zone."
The rapid military modernisation programme has closed the gap with Western armies in key areas and could make it much more costly for the United States to defend its allies in the event of conflict such as a Chinese invasion of Taiwan.
China's assertive defence and foreign policy in the western Pacific, which has included lavishing investment on small island nations, has been greeted with alarm by regional western allies including Australia and Japan.
The United States adopted a National Defence Strategy that identified the “reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” with China and Russia as central priorities in 2018.
The document, approved by former defence secretary Jim Mattis, said the goal of China’s military modernisation strategy was “Indo-Pacific regional hegemony the near-term and displacement of the United States to achieve global preeminence in the future.”
“China, in terms of military capability, is the pacing threat,” Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, told the Wall Street Journal. “If we did nothing, we would be passed.”