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.

More ships on the way to Darwin as US bolsters Pacific presence

POTENTIALLY thousands of extra American sailors and Marines will flood through the Darwin port in coming years with a US General confirming a greater military presence in the South Pacific.

The head of US Marine Corps Force Command, Lieutenant General John Wissler, said the Pentagon planned to dispatch another three-ship amphibious ready group to the Asia-Pacific region as early as October 2018.

The Marine Corps Times reported that the ships would likely carry an embarked Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

That would see an extra 4000 sailors and Marines in the region.

Lt-Gen Wissler said the goal of the MEU was to augment the number of Marines already coming to the Top End as part of the annual six-month Marine Rotational Force Darwin deployment.

This year, about 1250 Marine are deployed to Darwin, based mostly at Robertson Barracks about 20km from the Darwin CBD.

US and Australian officials hope to boost that number to 2500 by 2020.

“The actual basing (of the extra Marines and sailors) ... and all of those significant details are being worked out,” Lt-Gen Wissler said.

“That’s why it’s a (fiscal) 2019 problem because, as you can imagine, it’s a very complex undertaking.”

The Japan-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit presently conducts two 90-day patrols in the Pacific each year — one in spring and another in autumn — and respond to humanitarian crises in the region throughout the year.

Lt-Gen Wissler said the new arrangement would allow that unit to focus on north eastern Asia while the new ARG/MEU conducted two 90-day patrols in the South Pacific.

He said the Marine Corps has not determined whether the new MEU will come from the continental US, Hawaii or Japan.

Lieutenant Commander Matt Knight from the US Pacific Fleet said it is too soon to say which ships may be assigned to the MEU in fiscal 2019.

Former Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jon Greenert said the amphibious assault ship America was a “prime candidate” to visit Australia as part of such a group.

“They will go into Darwin … and conduct on-load and off-load,” he told Navy Times in March 2015.

He said while the Marines trained in the Top End of Australia, the ships in the ARG could operate and hold exercises in South East Asia.

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.

Osprey fatality in Hawaii

One Marine was killed when an MV-22 Osprey from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit experience a hard-landing mishap while conducting training aboard Marine Corps Training Area – Bellows at approximately 11:40 a.m., Hawaii time.
Twenty-two Marines were aboard at the time, and all other 21 have been transported to local hospitals for assessment and treatment.
The Marines were conducting routine sustainment training at the time. The 15th MEU departed San Diego May 10 on a seven-month deployment to the Pacific Command and Central Command areas of operation.
The cause of the incident is under investigation.

Osprey are due in Darwin this year for the Talisman Sabre (TS15) Wargames.