Having brought their personnel numbers in Australia up from an initial 200 in 2012 to 1250 in 2016,and planning to double this to 2500 by 2020,the US Marines are now more than tripling the number of combat aircraft accompanying their troops from four in 2016 up to 13 in 2017.This year,the complement of aircraft will include:
four MV-22 Ospreys,whose long range and speed make them ideal for Asia-Pacific island-hopping;
five AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters;
and four UH-1Y Venom helicopters.
This Aviation Combat Element will be hosted at RAAF Darwin.It is being described by the Marines as being more diverse and capable than previous deployments.All of the aircraft will be drawn from units in Hawaii.The next six-month rotation begins in April 2017,with most of the Marines coming from 3rd Battalion,4th Marine Regiment,out of Camp Pendleton,California. *
The US has used Australia as a base for many decades and in many different respects,explains Australian Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne,whether it's cyber security information gathering,the Marines in Darwin and the Air Force.Australia has real capability in maintaining and sustaining our aircraft and American aircraft.The Americans know that if they send their aircraft to Australia and they need to be maintained or sustained in some particular way,it can be done here.*
In October,the US and Australia reached a cost-sharing agreement for the 25-year long pact that will improve the Northern Territory infrastructure and pay for ongoing costs,settling a squabble over just how the Marine Corps rotations will be funded.The rotational programme furthers the US aim of rebalancing its forces to the Asia-Pacific,while bolstering Australia's defence against a growing menace from China and North Korea.*
When the Marines reach 2500 troops,they will have a full Marine Air-Ground Task Force with all of its aircraft,vehicles and other equipment in Australia's remote Northern Territory.The pact for this rotational force was signed in 2011 by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and former President Barack Obama.*
Overall,the Marines are in the process of redistributing their forces to four major Forward Areas of Operation:Japan;Guam;Hawaii;and Australia.This is their part of the new US strategy of rebalancing the military to the Asia-Pacific region.