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3-star: Navy amphibs can expect stops in Australia

Jul. 31, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
Talisman Saber 2013
Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Jeffrey Maulupe fires a rifle aboard the aircraft carrier George Washington on July 22 while the ship participated in Talisman Saber 2013. More sailors will soon be heading to Australia, the 7th Fleet commander says. (MC3 Paolo Bayas / Navy)
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A three-star has given the strongest assertion yet that more sailors will be heading Down Under.

Sailors assigned to amphibious assault ships in 7th Fleet will be spending more time near Darwin, a port city on Australia’s northern shore, said Vice Adm. Scott Swift in a July 22 interview with Navy Times. The sailors will support the growing number of Marines training in the city. Greenside will need ships to transport them around and to practice amphibious landing techniques, Swift said.

The additional port stops will not equate to sending more ships, Swift said, but will instead divert resources from other areas in 7th Fleet.

“We’ve got the same number of ships, but ... they’ll be operating more around Darwin than they have in the past,” Swift said. “But that means they wouldn’t be operating in areas that they might have operated in before. Unless I was to receive more ships, which I don’t think is the plan, then it’s just a different way that we employ ships in the region.”

Next summer, more than 1,000 Marines will rotate through Darwin to train alongside Aussie troops and teach them tactics aboard amphibious ships. The number of Marines is expected to grow to 2,500 by 2016. Brig. Gen. Richard Simcock, deputy commander of Marine Corps Forces Pacific, announced the expansion of forces in Australia in June at a Pentagon news conference.

Officials in the Navy, thus far, are speaking only in general terms about stops in Darwin. Navy officials have said littoral combat ships could travel there, too.

The visits will undoubtedly partner U.S. sailors with their Aussie counterparts.

“What they see [are] the capabilities that they want,” Swift said. “They don’t have a marine corps; they have an army. And they want to know how to put ground forces on amphibious ships and drive them around the Pacific like we do.”

Tip of the 'Saber'

Swift recently arrived in Australia as thousands of U.S. and Australian troops convened July 20 for the start of Talisman Saber 2013.

The exercise, held every other year, aims to increase cooperation between U.S. and Australian troops.

The focus of this year’s exercise is on the later stages of military aide and how to transition control back to a government after a national emergency or disaster, Swift said.

The George Washington Carrier Strike Group and the Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group are among the U.S. Navy participants.

The exercise involves 30,000 service members and civilians.

“The civil side is so large and brings challenges ... because they have some real concerns about some of the military operations that might be conducted that are counterproductive to the later stages of a crisis, when we get into the stabilization and transition to the local government,” Swift said.

Sailors also log a lot of sea time. The captain of an Australian supply ship told Swift that in the first 40 hours of the exercise, the ship had delivered more fuel and supplies than it had in all of 2011 and 2012 combined.

“The magnitude and scope really allows us to stretch our legs on a tactical and operational level,” Swift said.

Though the exercise wraps on Aug. 5, officials are already planning Talisman Saber 2015. Swift steps down July 31 and will move to Washington as the director of Navy staff in the office of the chief of naval operations. The Navy announced in May that Rear Adm. Robert Thomas Jr. would earn a third star and lead 7th Fleet.

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