The annual six-month rotation of Marines to Australia has been delayed as COVID-19 continues to spread, according to U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific.
Nearly 2,500 Marines were slated to participate in this year’s iteration of training in Australia — roughly the same size as last year’s rotation.
Marines were expected to start arriving in Australia in April but a newly implemented overseas travel ban by the Defense Department has sidelined those departure dates.
The Pentagon recently ordered a 60-day stop-movement order that will impact exercises, deployments and permanent change-of-station moves. In all, nearly 90,000 troops will be impacted by the order.
The Corps says its prepared to conduct the deployment later this year. Some limited equipment and supplies are still being delivered to Australia to support future Marine deployments, MARFORPAC said in the release. That equipment will arrive without any personnel.
Deployments and exercises are on hold for up to three months.
COVID-19 is throwing a wrench into America’s pivot towards addressing near-peer rivals like Russia and China. Several large-scale exercises in Europe and now a rotation to Australia that are designed to hone skills for a near-peer fight have been significantly rolled back.
“In cooperation with the Australian government the MRF-D [Marine Rotational Force-Darwin] 2020 rotation is delayed at this time due to concerns over COVID-19, and we agree that force protection must be a top priority for both countries as we continue to fight the virus,” Lt. Gen. Lewis A. Craparotta, the MARFORPAC commander said in a news release.
Marines were expected to undergo a 14-day self-isolation period upon arrival in Australia over COVID-19 concerns.
“The U.S. remains committed to our mutual defense treaty with Australia and to enhancing interoperability and capability between the Marine Corps and the Australian Defense Force, which benefits each country’s security and contributes to regional stability," Craparotta said.