Brendan Nicholson, The Australian, Feb 11
U.S. Marines training in Darwin could carry out joint military operations with the Australian Defence Force in any sudden regional crisis.
In an interview with The Australian, the U.S. Navy chief, Jonathan Greenert, stressed the marines would not have a permanent base in Darwin and would remain on a six-month rotation.
However, he revealed that if a “hot spot” emerged in the region, they would be used in military action if Australia agreed.
“I would see that as more of an ad hoc thing rather than, ‘We’re going to gather in Darwin and we’re going to march forward’,” Admiral Greenert said.
The U.S. Chief of Naval Operations also warned that the world must be prepared for a long campaign – at least three years – against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “This is a long campaign going on. There will be an element of patience needed.”
Admiral Greenert is visiting Australia for talks with his Australian counterpart Tim Barrett about close co-operation between U.S. and Australian submarines on -operations.
While he steered clear of the debate over the choice of Australia’s new submarine, Admiral Greenert said it was very important to the U.S. for its “high-end” ally to have a strong submarine force.
He was in Darwin on Monday to see if the port could accommodate the 40,0000-tonne helicopter carriers used by the U.S. Marine Rotational Force.
Admiral Greenert said the U.S. intended to send about 2000 marines with aircraft, some light armoured vehicles and the ability to “do what we call joint forcible entry from the sea” to the Northern Territory by about 2020.
The ships would be in port for only days at a time during the dry season and for the rest of the time they would be out exercising.
During the wet season, they would head home to the U.S.
Asked if the U.S. might launch military operations as well as humanitarian missions from Darwin, Admiral Greenert said it was feasible. “Once they’re on the ship, they bring the team together and they get underway; if all of a sudden you have a hot spot, and our two nations agree that’s something we are going to respond to with military operations then, yes, I could foresee that,” he said.
The Americans were looking at where they could bring their ships and what support they would need, he said.
“Do we need to provide maybe military construction or things of that nature? What does the port have to support? What do we need to do to make sure we are co-operating with the Northern Territory and the citizens of Darwin as we move ahead into the rest of the decade? We have about five years to do that, but time goes fast.
“In Darwin, what we envisage is a pier where we can pull up the amphibious ship to offload for operations ashore with the Australians. It’s not about basing or home-porting ships there.
“It’s rotating for six months of the year; during the dry months we would come down, load and offload here and maybe plan our exercises, but then move around Southeast Asia to do exercises with some of our partners.”
Those countries were likely to include The Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia.
On the Middle East, Admiral Greenert said when U.S. President Barack Obama launched the campaign against Islamic State, he said it would take at least three years and that it was Iraq’s war.
“We’re just getting started on building the coalition and helping to train that coalition of folks so that they can stand up and do the job on the ground.”
Admiral Greenert said the U.S. was comfortable with the disruption of Islamic State supply lines by airstrikes and the terror group’s forces were being pushed back in specific areas, to protect refugees, prevent atrocities or recover key installations.
He thought it was too soon for a ground campaign to roll back Islamic State. “There will have to be ground operations and our intention is to enable the Iraqis to do that,” he said.
He said the commitment of a self-contained RAAF strike force and commando instructors to the battle against Islamic State showed Australia’s reach, commitment and proficiency.
Australia’s Collins-class submarine was probably the world’s fastest conventional submarine and had the same sensors, torpedoes and fire control systems as the U.S. nuclear subs, he said
“When they are manned, out and operating, they are very proficient at what they do,” he said.
“So an Australian conventional submarine, by virtue of its technical advancement and its proficient sailors, is as good as a nuclear submarine. Australia has a legacy of undersea operations and a strong undersea force, so from that point of view it would be unfortunate to lose a partner with that kind of capability.”
He said many regional nations were building up their submarine forces.