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Wednesday, 26 September 2012 12:46

by Charles Strathdee & Usman Ansari

  • ASIA-PAC MARINES ARE ‘TIP OF SPEAR’
  • LASER WEAPONS SOUGHT BY ONR
  • NORTHERN EAGLE NAVAL EXERCISE
  • AUSTRALIA WILL NOT BE A CVN BASE

ASIA-PAC MARINES ARE ‘TIP OF SPEAR’

The US Marines Corps is to commit 22,000 troops west of the International Date Line (IDL), with a significant proportion of them deployed aboard amphibious warfare vessels. Marine Corps Commandant General James F. Amos provided a major outline of the new focus for the USMC, which sees a dramatic switch towards ship-based operations. Almost a decade ago the USMC sent heavy divisions - including tanks and ground-based aviation - to spearhead the blitzkrieg on Baghdad and since 2001 has been engaged in fighting Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in landlocked Afghanistan. That era is over. For today’s young marines, General Amos said, those wars have been the proving ground, the same way Khe Sanh or Da Nang in Vietnam were for their fathers. “For all the young kids who joined the Marine Corps in the past ten years, I go out and visit them in Afghanistan and ask how many of you have been in the Western Pacific? The only ones who raise their hands are the old master gunnery sergeants, the sergeant major and the battalion commander. All the others have never been there before.” While there is a major rebalancing towards amphibious accented operations across the vast Asia-Pacific area, Amos maintained the Corps would still retain an ability to fight across the spectrum wherever the USA chooses to send it. Speaking in Washington D.C. General Amos said that even with the USA’s strategic tilt towards Asia, the USMC will remain America’s crisis response force. “We have the capability to do our nation’s bidding [elsewhere] while we’re doing [the Pacific strategy],” the general explained. “This doesn’t have to be a singular focus for the Marine Corps.” General Amos stressed that the Marine Corps is not restricted to one domain in terms of operational capabilities either. “The Navy has the water, the Army has ground and the Air Force has air and space,” he said. “As I talk to my fellow service chiefs, I tell them, the Marine Corps is not interested in poaching in your domain, but we have a lane [a means and need to gain access] that appears as a result of a crisis.” He went on: “We appear, we do our nation’s bidding, and then our lane disappears and we cooperate and operate well with our joint partners.” Part of the new US defence strategy, which sees 60 per cent of US Navy forces in the Asia-Pacific region, also calls for 22,000 marines west of the IDL. This includes just over 10,000 marines stationed on Okinawa, a draw down of 4,000. “We’re comfortable with that,” said Amos. The number of marines in Iwakuni, Japan, will grow as C-130s transport aircraft, Command HQ assets, and other units transfer. “Guam right now is looking at probably 4,500 marines. Predominately, those forces will be rotational forces,” observed the general. An agreement between the United States and Australia also calls for a rotational force of about 2,500 marines, operating out of Darwin. “Our two nations will set the pace on that. Right now, we have about 200 marines in Darwin and they will come out [depart] next month [Sept],” he said. The USMC is keen to build deeper relations with other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including India, Vietnam and Indonesia. During a recent trip to the Philippines, General Amos told reporters he explored expanding USMC exercises with the Philippine armed forces. Marines currently train in Thailand, Singapore and South Korea as well as in other countries. During a visit to Okinawa, General Amos made it clear that the US Marines of the Asia-Pacific-based III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) are now on point in the nation’s vanguard. “There is nobody further west, there is nobody more engaged,” said the general, later adding: “This really is the tip of the war-fighting spear.”

 

LASER WEAPONS SOUGHT BY ONR

The Office of Naval Research (ONR) in the USA is seeking industry proposals for an affordable solid-state laser weapon for use against small Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) and surface vessels. The invite is part of the ONR’s Solid-State Laser Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) programme and builds upon its developments of kilowatt scale lasers. In a Maritime Laser Demonstration they destroyed a simulated small surface vessel threat. Work has continued in this area with trials having taken place in the first week of August onboard a USN destroyer. The results of these tests will help towards the potential development of a naval laser weapon system.

 

NORTHERN EAGLE NAVAL EXERCISE

Ships from the Norwegian, Russian and American navies had carried out joint drills, including anti surface ship and anti-air combat training. Staged in the Norwegian Sea, the Northern Eagle exercise involved live firing by the Norwegian OPV Nordkapp, the Russian destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and the destroyer Farragut. The Farragut is part of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower CSG. In July she had conducted a ‘passing exercise’ in the Med with the Italian submarine Scire and destroyer Luigi Durand de la Penne, in conjunction with the USN cruiser Hue City.

 

AUSTRALIA WILL NOT BE A CVN BASE

Australian authorities have rejected reports that the US Navy may base a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) at HMAS Stirling, near Perth, in Western Australia. The Washington-based Centre discussed the proposal in a report for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which had been commissioned by the US Department of Defense (US DoD) to study military posture in the Asia-Pacific region. The report was submitted to Congress, with the Australia-based CSG proposal one of several considered. Though the USN will likely have increased access to HMAS Stirling, formal forward-basing arrangements are not likely to be agreed upon. However, the Australians have been at pains to dispel the notion that a recent decision to allow the US Marine Corps to train around Darwin is such an arrangement.

Another proposal in the CSIS report did highlight the possibility of expanding the USMC presence in Northern Australia to a full air ground task force entailing the arrival of thousands of more troops. The speculation on US military forward basing in Australia comes at a time when Japan is keen to have the US reduce its military footprint on its sovereign territory. The Americans are currently pressing ahead with expanded bases on Guam and elsewhere.

 
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