There Are Now 2,500 US Marines in Australia After Years of Buildup

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U.S. Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) arrive as part of the force enhancement for the 2019 rotation at RAAF Base Darwin, Australia, on July 17, 2019.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan E. Gilbert)
U.S. Marines with Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) arrive as part of the force enhancement for the 2019 rotation at RAAF Base Darwin, Australia, on July 17, 2019. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan E. Gilbert)

The U.S. military's pivot to the Pacific to counter China’s rising dominance reached an important milestone this week when the number of Marines deployed to Australia reached 2,500.

After years of buildup, the Marine air-ground task force that spends half a year in Australia's Northern Territory has reached its fully intended size, Aussie officials announced Thursday.

"This milestone demonstrates the enduring nature of the Australia-U.S. alliance and our deep engagement with the Indo-Pacific region," Australian Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said. "The Marine Rotational Force-Darwin improves interoperability between Australian and U.S. defence forces, and enhances our ability to work together with regional partners in the interests of stability and security in the Indo-Pacific."

The U.S. first agreed to send 2,500 Marines Down Under during the Obama administration. The number grew from a 200-person company of Marines that deployed to Darwin in 2012. This spring, the eighth iteration of the Marine Rotational Force was 1,700 strong, including infantry Marines, logistics capabilities and aircraft.

The 800 additional Marines who arrived in Australia this week are based in Hawaii, Japan and California, and include infantry, logistics and medical personnel, Marine Corps Times reported.

Initial plans made between U.S. and Australian officials in 2011 called for reaching this 2,500-size force by 2017. That was later delayed as officials sorted out cost-sharing for housing the Marines and their equipment for half of each year.

The Marines typically arrive in Darwin in April and stay until October. Most stay at Robertson Barracks or the Royal Australian Force Base Darwin in the Northern Territory, though this year a company of Marines stayed about 1,500 miles away at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, Queensland.

The Marines have a High-Mobility Artillery Rocket System, MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, attack helicopters and an advanced TPS-80 radar system, Australian officials said. While Down Under, the Marines train with their Aussie counterparts in and around Australia, as well as with other partners throughout the region.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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