Marines disembark from an MV-22 Osprey after landing at Camp Rocky in Rockhampton, Queensland, during the buildup to the Talisman Saber exercise in 2013.

Marines disembark from an MV-22 Osprey after landing at Camp Rocky in Rockhampton, Queensland, during the buildup to the Talisman Saber exercise in 2013. (Todd Austin/U.S. Marine Corps)

Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft are heading Down Under to help move Marines around the Outback during their annual deployment to Australia.

The aircraft, which take off and land like helicopters but can fly like planes, will help 1,250 California-based Marines traverse the vast Northern Territory.

“The Northern Territory will be a great environment for [the Osprey] because of its speed and the distance it can operate in,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Emborsky, the officer in charge of the forward coordination for Marine Rotational Force — Darwin.

The Marine Corps has been deploying annually to Darwin on six-month rotations since 2012. The number of troops going south is the same as last year; however, there will be more aircraft supporting them, including four MV-22 Ospreys, five AH-1W Super Cobras and four UH-1Y Venoms out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Emborsky said.

Last year, the Marines were supported by just four Huey helicopters.

Ospreys have gone to Australia for past Talisman Saber drills, but this is the first time they have joined the annual Marine rotation. They will be based at Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin.

The aircraft, which are flying to Australia via Wake Island and Guam with the help of KC-130 refuelers, are well suited for operations in the Outback, Emborsky said.

“The Osprey shrunk the [area of operations] in Afghanistan and we think it will do that in Australia too,” he said.

Bradshaw Field Training Area, where the Marines drill, is an eight-hour drive from Darwin.

“The Osprey can get there in an hour,” Emborsky said.

The Marines heading to Darwin are from 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms, Calif. They will be supported by Marines from the 7th Engineer Support Battalion out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., he said.

During this summer’s Talisman Saber — joint biennial drills between the U.S. and Australia — Marines will participate in a field-training exercise alongside the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

They will also train with Japanese troops during an exercise called Southern Jackaroo and head to the nearby island of New Caledonia to train with French forces, Emborsky said.

Australia has acquired a pair of landing helicopter dock ships and is building its own amphibious capability, but those forces haven’t factored in the Marines’ training Down Under, Emborsky said.

“Our mission is being amphibious,” he said. “We do see a great opportunity in the future to continue to enhance that Australian capability.”

The Marines will also conduct complex day and night live-fire training with their Australian counterparts, Emborsky said.

“When you partner up with the Australians and do a live-fire there, it really is varsity-level stuff,” he said. “The rotations get better every time.”

Australian national security consultant Ross Babbage said the Marine rotations were supposed to be twice as large as they are by now, but the growth of the mission stalled in recent years amid U.S. budget shortfalls.

Those issues have been resolved, although there are ongoing negotiations over facilities for U.S. aircraft and ships visiting Australia, he said.

The original goal of rotating 2,500 Marines to Darwin should be back on track, he said.

“Within two-to-three years we should be in the ballpark of what we originally projected if Washington wants to sustain that, and I think they will,” he said. Twitter: @SethRobson1

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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