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Rotational force in Australia’s Northern Territory hits target of 2,500 Marines

Marines on a sixth-month rotation to Darwin, Australia, participated in Talisman Sabre drills Down Under this week.

SETH ROBSON/STARS AND STRIPES

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 24, 2019

BRISBANE, Australia — The U.S. rotational force in Darwin, growing since the first Marines arrived there in 2012, has reached its target strength, Australia’s Defence Ministry announced Thursday.

“The Marine Rotational Force-Darwin reached a major milestone this week with the arrival of additional US Marines in Darwin, bringing the total number of Marines in the Northern Territory to its full strength of 2,500,” the ministry said in a statement.

The number was set by former President Barack Obama when he announced the rotational force’s creation during a visit to Darwin in November 2011.

The force, which trains in Australia for six months during the southern hemisphere summer, has built up slowly since an initial contingent of 250 Marines hit the beach there in 2012.

Members of the force have been participating in this month’s Talisman Sabre exercise, which has included 34,000 U.S. and Australian servicemembers.

The Darwin rotation is being boosted by a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, platoon for the first time, 1st Lt. Colin Kennard, a spokesman for the rotational force, said in an email Thursday.

“These Marines and equipment, from 3rd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment in Okinawa, Japan, will provide MRF-D an extended range precision strike capability that can further shape the battlespace,” he said.

Also added to the rotation is an infantry battalion — 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment — out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, a detachment of Marines from Combat Logistics Battalion 1 based at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and a shock trauma platoon from 3rd Medical Battalion out of Okinawa, Japan, Kennard said.

“Their inclusion in MRF-D 19 affords more U.S. Marines and Sailors a combined training opportunity with our Australian allies and improves interoperability between our forces,” he said.

The 2019 rotation represents the most capable and focused deployment to date, Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said in a statement.

“This milestone demonstrates the enduring nature of the Australia-US alliance and our deep engagement with the Indo-Pacific region,” she said.

“The Marine Rotational Force-Darwin… enhances our ability to work together with regional partners in the interests of stability and security in the Indo-Pacific.”

The 2019 rotation, which runs through until October, features a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, the advanced TPS-80 radar and MV-22 Ospreys and UH/AH-1 helicopters, according to the ministry’s statement.

The U.S. military is not necessarily looking to further increase the number of U.S. personnel in Australia, according to Air Force Col. Raymond Powell, a defense attaché based in Canberra.

“Marines in Darwin have already reached their full numerical goal,” he said in an email Wednesday. “What we continuously seek is opportunities to make our presence here more effective in delivering combat capability, contingency response, and security cooperation throughout the region, especially bilaterally with Australia and multilaterally with our partners and allies.”

In addition to the rotational force another 225 U.S. military personnel are stationed in Australia, Powell said.

“The majority are assigned as exchange and liaison officers with Australian units all around the country. Unsurprisingly, most of these are assigned along the eastern and southern coasts,” Powell said.

Exchange officers are embedded with Australian Defence Force units and headquarters elements and are, generally, completely integrated teammates, he said.

Liaison officers, in contrast, officially represent a U.S. unit or headquarters to an Australian counterpart organization. There are also small elements that provide administrative support to U.S. forces, and a few units conducting missions Down Under such as a U.S. Air Force element at Learmonth Solar Observatory, he said.

“The ability to jointly develop, test and exercise our most sophisticated capabilities together with an ally with whom we share so much … trust, national values, experiences, technical expertise … is priceless,” Powell said.

“Australia is also an extremely important leader in both the Indo-Pacific region and especially the Oceania sub-region, and we rely on them greatly for this leadership.”

U.S. and Australian military personnel are conducting joint testing and development of next-generation weapon systems in both countries, he said.

The Force Posture Initiatives, which includes the Darwin rotation as well as enhanced air force cooperation activities, and a host of other bilateral exercises to include Talisman Sabre are constantly expanding, he said.

robson.seth@stripes.com
Twitter: @SethRobson1

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