The government has decided not to proceed with the 2020 Marine Rotational Force – Darwin (MRF-D) deployment at this time, given ongoing restrictions associated with COVID-19.
Australia will work with the US to devise options for a possible later deployment, subject to conditions improving and the viability of such a deployment proceeding, said Minister of Defence Linda Reynolds in a media release on 30 March.
The MRF-D initiative involves the annual rotation of US Marines through northern Australia for approximately six months during the dry season. While in Australia, the MRF-D undertakes a range of activities including training unilaterally and with the Australian Defence Force and other Indo-Pacific nations.
The MRF-D initiative has grown in size and complexity since the first rotation of 200 US Marines in 2012. The 2019 rotation consists of 2,500 US Marines and is the most capable to date, including a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), advanced TPS-80 radar system and an Aviation Combat Element including MV-22 Ospreys and UH/AH-1 helicopters. This deployment is providing opportunities to further deepen interoperability with the ADF. The MRF-D 2019 rotation also includes an enhanced Command Element headed by a Colonel, a Ground Combat Element and a Logistics Combat Element.
"Any decision in relation to the 2020 MRF-D in no way affects Australia’s commitment to host next year’s, or subsequent, MRF-D rotations," Minister Reynolds said.
"I remain fully engaged with Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner on this matter.
"I have also reiterated to Chief Minister Gunner that the government is committed to supporting Australian defence industry during this difficult time, including businesses in the Northern Territory.
"Australia and the US remain firmly committed to the benefits to regional security that the MRF-D brings.
"Our ability to host such deployments, alongside the unmatched degree of interoperability we enjoy, is clear testimony to the enduring strength and sense of purpose of the Australia-US Alliance."