Marines Face Tougher Swim Training as War Theater Shifts to Indo-Pacific

The U.S. Marine Corps is going to start holding its troops to an "elevated" swimming standard, according to its new training overhaul released on Tuesday.

The 24-page Training and Education 2030 document is one of several guidelines from the Marines over the past several years aimed at "re-imagining the future force," read the report.

"To fully realize our envisioned warfighting advantages, we must make a similar commitment to modernizing our training and education system," read the document.

Marines Will Face Tougher Swimming Training
U.S. Marines take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery on November 11, 2022, in Arlington, Virginia. The Marines released an updated education and training planning document on Tuesday that includes an emphasis on swimming, a sign of the Pentagon shifting its focus to the Indo-Pacific region. Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Among the education updates include finding ways to revise the Marine Corps Water Survival Training Program and the Underwater Egress Training. As the Training and Education 2030 plan reads, the goal is to "strengthen Marines' ability and confidence to operate in a maritime environment."

"All Marines should expect the standards to be elevated and require additional training in the water," read the document.

The emphasis on in-water evaluation for troops comes as the U.S. military is shifting its focus to the Indo-Pacific region in preparation for a potential conflict with China over influence in the region. As Military Times writes, the heavily aquatic environment is a major change from the dry, desert environment of the Middle East and Afghanistan where the military has placed much focus in the past.

"We actually want to build confidence and capability in the water, so they are ready for the Pacific theater," said Lieutenant General Kevin Iiams, commander of the Marines' Training and Education Command, according to the Times report.

While the Pentagon has spent billions on Asia-focused initiatives in the past few years, Politico reported last month that several critics claim the U.S. is far behind its goal to increase its presence in the Indo-Pacific region. Among the points of criticism include the Pentagon temporarily cutting its naval ships and aircraft in the region as it works to replace them with "more modern versions," writes Politico.

The U.S. is also not working alone on its efforts to combat China's growing influence in the region. This month, U.S. defense officials met with their Japanese counterparts to discuss modernizing the U.S.-Japan alliance, which includes Japan increasing its own defense spending to equip the typically conservative military with "counterstrike" capabilities, as Newsweek previously reported.

The Marines have also recently restructured their forces based in Japan's southwestern islands, roughly 70 miles from Taiwan. China, which claims Taiwan is under its jurisdiction, has been increasing its military aircraft presence around the sovereign Indo-Pacific island.

John Schaus, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who focuses on defense and security challenges in Asia, told Newsweek on Wednesday that the U.S. has steadily increased its military activities in the region over the past several years, adding that it's a sign that the "effort for presence is there."

"Where I think the bigger challenge comes is the force isn't sized appropriately to sustain that presence for a long duration," Schaus said when asked about the criticism surrounding the U.S. preparedness in the Indo-Pacific region.

"We see surges of presence for activities and then reductions in presence for periods of time," he added. "And it creates the potential for deterrence or the potential for China to message exactly the kind of stories you're hearing, that the U.S. isn't present enough, that we aren't strong enough, that we aren't a reliable partner.

"I don't think those are true," Schaus said. "But I think China is leveraging the ups and downs in the U.S. presence to make that argument."

Update 1/25/23, 5:51 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with comment from Schaus.