Marines train for littoral combat in the scorching Australian Outback
MOUNT BUNDEY TRAINING AREA, Australia – There’s plenty of sun but little shade in the sparse outback of Australia’s Northern Territory, where U.S. Marines and sailors hone their amphibious warfare skills with troops of three other nations.
Sunday, Sgt. Steven Wilson, 28, of Huntingtown, Maryland, led six Navy snipers and two Australian forward observers into the 290,000-acre Mount Bundey training area, a former ranching station.
They arrived in buggy-style tactical vehicles, drove an additional two miles and set up an observation post, Wilson said Wednesday. They searched for opposing forces and were suffocated by heat that reached 102 degrees in three days, Wilson said. But they only spotted wallabies and dingoes.
“In this area there are a million trees and no shade,” he said. “We were burning there.”
Exercise Predator’s Run, which began August 19 and will run until Sunday, pits the multinational force of Marines and Indonesian and Filipino troops from the Australian Army’s 1st Brigade against other Australian troops playing the role of the enemy.
The Marines, from 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment from Twentynine Palms, Calif., have been in Australia with Marine Rotational Force – Darwin since March.
The battalion includes more than 800 Marines and sailors, two rifle companies, a battery of M-777 howitzers and a weapons company armed with Javelin missiles, Mark-19 grenade launchers, machine guns and snipers. .50 caliber, the unit commander, Lt. Colonel Tyler Holt, 41, told Stars and Stripes in the training area on Wednesday.
Marines there shooed away flies, warned of wild dingoes and sought shade under the sparse gum trees that grow in the dusty red landscape.
Australian troops made an amphibious landing near Darwin to simulate how they would join the fight in a coastal battlespace, Holt said as he held a rifle as his troops ducked amidst the gums.
Disputes with China
Amphibious forces could be the key to victory in any conflict in the Western Pacific, where China is aggressively expanding its territory by occupying small islets, reclaiming land and building military installations in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei and Malaysia have territorial disputes with China in these waters.
The newly formed 3rd Marine Littoral Regiment conducted amphibious training in the Philippines during the annual Balikatan exercises in April.
Australia sent an infantry company and Malaysia sent observers to Exercise Super Garuda Shield involving 2,000 US troops, including Marines, and 2,000 Indonesian military personnel in Indonesia earlier this month.
In recent years, the Royal Australian Navy has commissioned its largest warships, the amphibious landing helicopters HMAS Canberra and HMAS Adelaide. During this time, the Australian Army, with the help of US Marines, learned to launch forces from these ships.
The Marines and the Australian Army have conducted a wide range of amphibious training together, including during the biennial Talisman Saber exercises in Queensland last summer.
Australia will seek to increase training with other nations’ amphibious forces, 1st Brigade Commander Brigadier Nick Foxall said in an Australian Army press release Aug. 16.
“The 1st brigade will lead the army’s thinking on setting up the littoral formation,” he said.
At Mount Bundey, the multinational force, which includes platoons from the Philippines and Malaysia and battalions from the Marines and Australian Army, trains to face a capable adversary equipped with drones and armored vehicles.
“We make it as realistic as possible,” said Holt, a veteran of counterinsurgency campaigns in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2005 and Helmand province, Afghanistan, in 2011.
The Marines are used to training in the desert at Twentynine Palms, he said.
“The big difference here is the vegetation.” he said. “We can’t see that far or shoot that far.”
When Marines spot enemy drones, they take cover and notify other units that a threat is over their heads, Holt said.
The Marines have their own SkyRaider and RQ-20 Puma drones that seek out the opposing force, he said.
A Marine at Mount Bundey Wednesday, Sgt. Carter Sampson, 24, from Brisbane, Australia, has dual Australian-American citizenship.
For six years in uniform, he served in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait and Okinawa before returning on rotation to his native country.
When he’s not searching for the enemy in a tactical vehicle, Sampson teaches his comrades about Australian culture. For example, he showed them how to dribble an oval-shaped rugby ball, Australian rules football style, and introduced them to local delicacies such as crocodile meat, at a restaurant in Darwin, he said. .
“Everyone I took there loved it,” he said.