- Associated Press - Friday, February 6, 2015

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (AP) - The U.S. Navy’s top officer said Friday he is on his way to northern Australia to check out a port that U.S. amphibious ships are expected to use.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, said the Navy expects to deploy amphibious ships to Darwin with U.S. Marines by the end of the decade.

“In order to put ships in and out of there, we got to check the port and see what that’s like,” Greenert told sailors during stop in Pearl Harbor. Greenert also plans to meet with officials in Canberra and visit New Zealand during his trip.

The amphibious ships will join exercises with U.S. and Australian forces.

The U.S. began deploying Marines to Darwin on a rotational basis in 2012, a year after President Barack Obama announced the U.S. would establish a Marine presence there. The site is not regarded as a Marine base, however, because the troops are rotated through rather than permanently posted.

A detachment of 200 Marines deployed on the first rotation. Last year, About 1,100 Marines traveled Down Under. The U.S. plans to eventually deploy as many as 2,500 Marines there at a time.

The U.S. points to the Marine presence in Australia as part of a larger rebalance of U.S. attention to the Asia-Pacific region. The Navy is also deploying small vessels called littoral combat ships to Singapore as part of this effort.

Greenert told reporters he’s going to New Zealand to learn more about the strategy of his New Zealand counterpart, Rear Adm. Jack Steer, who is the country’s chief of navy.

He noted New Zealand participated in last year’s Rim of the Pacific exercises in Hawaii and has supported U.S. operations in the Middle East.

“I’ve wanted to understand his maritime strategy and what his long-range plan is for the navy,” he said.

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