The first of roughly 1,250 Marines making up the latest rotation of Marine Rotational Force–Darwin began arriving in Australia on Wednesday.
Most of the Marines are from 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, out of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, said Chuck Little a spokesman for U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific. They will be housed at Robertson Barracks.
This rotation to Australia also includes an aviation combat element consisting of four UH-1Y Venom helicopters from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, which will be housed at Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin, Little said.
Over the next six months, the Marines will conduct bilateral training exercises with Australian forces and “may also deploy to other countries to participate in multilateral security cooperation activities,” Little said in an email.
The deployments to Darwin are a demonstration of U.S. commitment to Australia and other allies in the region, he said. The Marines will work with the Australians to improve their ability to respond to disasters and other crises in the region.
“In past rotations, MRF-D forces have participated in exercises in the Northern Territories such as Kowari, a trilateral environmental survival training event hosted by the Australian army which includes forces from Australia, China and the United States,” Little said. “They have also participated in various iterations of Exercise CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training) throughout the Southeast Asia region, and Exercise Talisman Sabre, also held in Australia.”
The Marines are also expected to perform community service in Darwin, Little said.
“In 2015, volunteers from MRF-D held mentorship sessions, taught leadership classes, ran health and fitness programs, and assisted with garden work at Moulden, Gray and Alawa Primary Schools, as well as Roseberry Middle School,” he said. “Marines and sailors also took part in various civic ceremonies and sporting events in the community throughout the deployment.”
Then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced in November 2011 that the U.S. will eventually rotate a full Marine air-ground task force of 2,500 Marines to Darwin. It has been widely reported that the entire task force was expected to arrive in Australia this year.
“The intent over coming years is to establish a six-month rotational presence (not before 2016) of an up to 2,500 person Marine Air Ground Task Force, rotating into northern Australia in the six month northern dry season,” a June 14, 2013, news release from Australian government officials said.
It was not immediately clear on Wednesday when all 2,500 Marines are expected to rotate through Darwin. Decisions on the size of rotations to Australia are made based on a number of variables including cost, billeting space, what type of aircraft are available and logistical support requirements, Little said.
"We are still building up towards that 2,500 number in Australia," Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, deputy commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, told lawmakers on Wednesday.
The rotations to Australia are part of the Marine Corps' efforts to re-balance its forces in the Pacific, including eventually moving Marines from Okinawa to Guam, Walsh said at the Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee hearing.
"In past years, we've been focused very much on the Korean peninsula versus up in Japan," he said. "One the pieces as we look at that landscape of where we need to be was trying to put more presence down further south. So you're seeing us do more training exercises with countries like the Philippines down in that area, and part of it also is continuing our partnership with the Australians."