US Marines commence next rotational deployment to Australia

An US Marine deployed under Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) provides security in a training scenario during Exercise ‘Talisman Sabre’ in Queensland, Australia, in July 2021. USMC/Australian Defence Force engagement under the MRF-D forward-deployment concept contributes to security across the Indo-Pacific theatre. (Credit: US Marine Corps)

US Marine Corps (USMC) forces have commenced the Corps’ latest forward deployment to Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, it was announced on 22 March.

Up to 2,500 marines have been deployed until October 2023, as the twelfth cycle of the Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) forward-deployment concept.

“The rotation will enhance the capabilities, interoperability, and readiness of the Australian Defence Force [ADF] and the USMC, and is a significant part of the United States Force Posture Initiatives, a hallmark of Australia’s alliance with the US,” a media release from the office of Australia’s defence minister/deputy prime minister the Hon Richard Marles MP said.

The USMC’s rotational deployments have been taking place since 2011. “The MRF has expanded from an initial 200 marines to now ten times that size each year,” the statement added.

Under the MRF-D programme, USMC and ADF forces exercise together and with regional partners, with such engagement designed to build deterrence effect and maintain security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. During the current rotation, and demonstrating the range of effects the integrated force can deliver, USMC/ADF exercises will include humanitarian assistance, security operations, and high-end live fire training.

“The United States is our most vital security partner, and the strength of our alliance highlights our joint commitment to promoting a secure, stable, and inclusive Indo-Pacific,” Marles said, in the statement. “Our co-operation with the US has been instrumental to enhance the capability and interoperability of both countries through joint exercises and activities.”

The latest rotation has commenced at an important time for Australia-US co-operation. Together with the United Kingdom, the partners have committed to co-operate on submarine build and submarine operations, under the AUKUS agreement. In build terms, this includes using a UK design enhanced with US technology to deliver a nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) capability for Australia. On 13 March, the three countries’ leaders came together in San Diego to reveal details of the development process for the SSN programme. In operations terms, US Navy SSNs will begin rotating through the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Base West at HMAS Stirling, Perth in 2027.

by Dr. Lee Willett, London