13 Marine Aircraft to Deploy to Australia

The Marine Corps this spring is sending its largest aircraft element to date -- four tilt-rotor Ospreys and five Super Cobra and four Huey helicopters, all out of Hawaii -- to the next $25 million rotation of Marines to northern Australia as the Corps continues to redistribute its forces around the Pacific.

The Marines are moving to four major forward areas of operation over the next decade -- Japan, Guam, Hawaii and Australia -- as part of a "distributed laydown" that seeks to deter growing threats in the vast Asia-Pacific region, particularly from from China and North Korea.

The Osprey, with its long range and speed, is seen as a key connector for the Marine Corps in its new island-hopping strategy.

In November 2011, President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that U.S. Marines would be sent on six-month rotational deployments to train with the Australian Defence Force in Darwin and elsewhere in the Northern Territory. The move puts the Marines closer to Southeast Asia and allows Australia, a key ally, to bolster its defense.

The presence was to grow to a 2,500-member Marine Air-Ground Task Force during the 2016-2017 time frame, but officials said the sixth iteration of the deployment will remain at 1,250 Marines who are expected to arrive in Australia in April.

Most of the Marines will be from the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, out of Camp Pendleton in California, Marine Corps Forces Pacific said.

According to Australia's Department of Defence, 200 Marines deployed in 2012, 250 in 2013, 1,150 in 2014, 1,150 in 2015 and 1,250 in 2016.

But the deployment number is stuck at 1,250 for the time being as funding problems continue to be worked out for the full Marine Air-Ground Task Force of 2,500 with aircraft, vehicles and other equipment.

"The Marine Corps position to date has been that we will not grow the force beyond 1,250 Marines in Australia until we get some top-line (overall Marine Corps budget) relief for funding for military construction," Craig Whelden, executive director of Marine Corps Forces Pacific at Camp H.M. Smith, said at a recent Chamber of Commerce Hawaii event.

Whelden added that "we've essentially tapped out what we can use of existing facilities and for sustainment." The deployment of 1,250 Marines costs about $25 million, he said. Marine Corps Forces Pacific is the tasking authority for the units participating in the rotations.

Australia and the United States in October agreed to a more than $1.5 billion cost-sharing agreement to improve infrastructure in northern Australia as well as pay for ongoing costs over the 25-year pact -- ending a disagreement over who would pay the tab, The Australian newspaper reported.

Australian media also said the Marine Corps rotational force is expected to double to its full strength of 2,500 by 2020.

The four Hawaii MV-22 Ospreys scheduled to make the deployment are from Marine Medium Tilt Rotor Squadron 268 (VMM-268), while the five AH-1W Super Cobra and four UH-1Y Venom helicopters are part of Marine Light Attack Attack Helicopter Squadron 367 (HMLA-367). The Aviation Combat Element of 13 aircraft will be hosted at Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin.

By comparison, the Marines sent four UH-1Y helicopters for the rotational deployment in 2016 and four big CH-53E Super Stallions in 2015, according to Australia's Defence Department.

Whelden called the next contingent to deploy "a more diversified, a more capable force than we've had previously."

The "distributed laydown" in the Pacific, which dovetails with the Marine Corps' expeditionary nature and ability to rapidly move forces from one place to another, calls for moving more than 4,000 Marines from Okinawa, Japan, to Guam. Whelden said hundreds of millions of dollars already have been invested on Guam, with wharves to support amphibious ready group ships already completed and ramp and hangar work ongoing for Ospreys and the new F-35B Lightning II, which the Corps called the "world's first operational supersonic short takeoff and vertical landing fighter." "We aren't basing F-35s in Guam, but we train on Guam a lot," Whelden said. Ten of the stealth fighters this week were sent to Iwakuni, Japan, with six more expected to arrive this summer. Whelden said the relocation of about 2,700 Marines from Okinawa to Hawaii is about 10 years away.

American B-52 bomber crashes in Guam - BBC News

A B-52 bomber has crashed shortly after take-off at a US base in Guam, the US Air Force says.

It says all seven crew members safely left the aircraft after the incident at 08:30 local time (22:30 GMT Wednesday) at Andersen Air Force Base.

Images on social media showed plumes of smoke rising from the wreckage.

The bomber was deployed to the US island territory from North Dakota as part of the military's continuous presence in the Pacific.

Local news site Kuam quoted the Guam governor's office as saying: "We assure the public this does not appear to be an attack."

the Air Force says steps are being taken to minimise the environmental impact, without providing further details.

Japan to pay $3.1 billion to relocate Okinawa Marines to Guam

The United States and Japan said Thursday Tokyo would pay a third of the cost of Washington pulling thousands of Marines out of Japan as it reduces its heavy military presence on Okinawa.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera signed the protocol amending the 2009 Guam International Agreement, as part of a meeting on the two countries’ alliance.

Changes include “clarifying that Japan will contribute up to $3.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2012 US dollars in direct cash contributions to develop facilities and infrastructure in Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands”, the state department said.

It accounts for 36 percent of the projected $8.6 billion cost of the relocation.

In a 2012 agreement, the United States said it would pull 9,000 Marines out of Okinawa — 4,000 of whom would go to Guam and 5,000 to Hawaii and on rotations to Australia — as it seeks to ease a long-running standoff over the future of its huge military presence in one of its top Asian allies.

USA to base nuclear capable bombers in Australia, doubles Marines in Darwin

The US is beefing up its military assets across Asia, with Australian bases soon to host some of its most formidable strategic weapons.

A US defence official said American B-1 bombers were bound for Australia as a deterrent to what they described as China's "destabilising effect" in the region.

The move is part of the Obama administration's plans to "assert freedom of navigation" in the South China Sea.

Assistant US defence secretary David Shear confirmed the move.

"We will be placing additional air force assets in Australia as well as B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft," he said.

China's foreign ministry expressed "serious concern".

The US air force said the B-1 bomber was the back bone of its long-range bomber force

Mr Shear told a special congressional hearing on the South China Sea the deployment of air assets to Australia was in addition to the doubling of US marines bound for Darwin, leaving their current base in Japan. "We will be moving significant numbers of Marines to Hawaii, Guam and Australia," he said. "So we will have a very strong presence, very strong continued posture throughout the region to back our commitments to our allies, to protect and work with our partners and to continue ensuring peace and stability in the region.

US Marines begin arriving in Darwin in fourth rotation as part of US 'pivot' to the Asia-Pacific

The Marines will be stationed in Darwin for training for the six months of the Top End's dry season. They are the fourth rotation since former prime minister Julia Gillard and US president Barack Obama struck a deal in 2011 to gradually increase the number of US Marines rotating through Darwin to 2,500 troops by 2017. A small ceremony was held at Darwin Airport with America Galaxy C5 as aircraft carrying CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Guam in Central America touched down. "We're coming from all over the globe," Lieutenant Colonel Eric Dougherty of the US Marine Corp said. He described the rotation in which US Marines will live and train at the Australian Defence Force's Robertson Barracks as "unique". "Most places we go to a different country and have our own base there. We're operating inside the base," he said. "But here we're going to be living inside the barracks. "You guys have opened up your homes to us. We're living in your guest house." Lt Col Dougherty said the training opportunities in the Northern Territory were a big drawcard. "You have some world-class training facilities here," he said. "Bradshaw training area (south-west of Darwin) is three times the size of anything we have in the States. "The outback truly is out back, with vast wide open spaces. "There's things we can do here we cannot do back in the States."

The rotation follows speculation the growing US military presence in Darwin could cause tensions with China. Lt Col Dougherty would not comment on what impact another rotation of US Marines would have on relations with China. Last year for the first time Chinese soldiers trained on Australian soil with the Australian Army and US Marines, but Lt Col Dougherty said no training was planned with China on this rotation. He said the Marines were keen to start sporting teams, including trying their hand at rugby union.