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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The U.S. is preparing to add aircraft to its military presence in Australia, which will include 2,500 Marines rotating through the northern port of Darwin starting in 2016.
This summer’s rotation has involved about 250 personnel, but that will increase to a 1,150-strong force next year, including an aviation support contingent at Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Darwin, along with four heavy-lift helicopters, according to Australian officials.
More than 300 Marines and sailors, along with 12 F/A-18 Hornets and a KC-130 Hercules from Marine Aircraft Group 12, are training Down Under this month as part of the Southern Frontier 2013 exercise, according to U.S. Marine Corps Pacific.
Now the commander of Pacific Air Forces has signaled plans to rotate fixed-wing aircraft through Darwin and nearby RAAF Base Tindal.
Gen. Herbert "Hawk” Carlisle said the U.S. and Australia are talking about rotating U.S. aircraft to the bases, according to a transcript of comments he made to a group of defense writers July 29.
"The plan would be to rotate fighter and tanker capability initially, and then potentially long term, rotate bomber capability through, probably, Tindal,” he said.
Forces heading to Australia could come from the continental U.S. or include F-16s from Misawa Air Base or F-15s from Kadena Air Base in Japan, he said.
The Air Force has already made a test run with a bomber from Andersen Air Base on Guam, Carlisle said.
"We’ve landed it down at Darwin and turned around and took it off again,” he said. "So we’ve demonstrated it. We’ve brought tankers down there. And we do bring fighters down fairly often into Tindal and Darwin to exercise with the Australians.”
Before the rotations can start, the Air Force needs to invest in ground infrastructure and deploy some equipment, he said.
"I think over the next year, you’ll see it climb a little bit and then … based on budgets, it will start to increase in probably 2015,” Carlisle said.