The Newport Class landing ship is also able to drop Marines and armored vehicles via a 100m-long retractable bridge or a 34m-long retractable bridge if the vessel has trouble docking during combat.
In addition to combat missions, the Marines also monitor airspace on behalf of the navy. The Marines can spot aircraft approaching bases from more than 30km away and can track 64 different objects at the same time.
For years the Marines were renowned for their Amphibious Reconnaissance and Patrol Unit (ARPU) and Special Service Company (SSC). However, in October 1999, the SSC was brought under the ARPU's command.
Marines special force members, most of whom are Aboriginal, are career soldiers. A special force member must be between 170cm and 180cm in height, weigh between 60kg and 80kg, have an IQ of 110 or above and not need to wear glasses. In addition, the ARPU does not allow its member to sport tattoos.
The special forces' daily physical training regimen involves swimming in full combat gear and a lengthy run. In addition, every member is a qualified martial-arts practitioner who is also trained in special combat skills such as demolitions, lock-picking, scuba diving, combat tactics, weapons training and jump training.
At the same time, team members must have a basic knowledge of how to operate different modes of transport, including vehicles, aircraft and ships.
In addition to weapons used by the Marines, the ARPU is also equipped with Uzi submachine guns, M733 rifles, Glock 17 pistols, SSG-2000 sniper rifles, night-vision gear and GPS navigation systems.
However, attempts to change the military into a "high-tech" force led to reforms in basic physical training -- except for the ARPU -- which worries a number of people in the military.
"If the government decides to send our Marines to join the US in Iraq, it would suggest to me that the government really hasn't got any idea what's going on. Could our Marines survive in the desert? I really doubt it," retired Vice Admiral Lan Ning-li (
Lan said that before 1991, the period of compulsory military service for those in the navy, air force or Marines was three years. Back in that era, he said, even retired Marines would be asked to march at least 70km during regular recalls.
"There is a school of thought that says these new, easier regulations are weakening our forces somewhat," Lan said. "That is why I am worried that our Marines may let us down if we send them to the battlefield now."
Lan said the real problem was that the Marines do not receive the attention they deserve.
"For instance, they do not have state-of-the-art weapons. Many of their weapons are actually leftovers from World War II," he said. "In addition, constant government cutbacks to marine numbers is making the problem go from bad to worse."
Responding to Lan's complaints, Marines headquarters said there was still a daily physical training program, including a 3km run, for all Marines, and that the reduced physical training did not make a significant difference to the force.
"Honor is the most important thing for soldiers, especially for Marines," said one senior marine at the headquarters, who wished to remain anonymous.