21 November 2011

China SignPost™ (洞察中国) #50–New Access for U.S. Forces in Australia: Is it driven by China?

Gabe Collins and Andrew Erickson, “New Access for U.S. Forces in Australia: Is it driven by China?,” China SignPost™ (洞察中国), No. 50 (14 November 2011).

China SignPost™ 洞察中国–“Clear, high-impact China analysis.”©

What is happening?

A substantial enhancement in US-Australia military ties first referred to approximately one year ago now appears to be materializing.  A range of media outlets report that President Obama’s upcoming visit to Australia will feature an announcement of an agreement that gives US Navy and Marine Corps personnel “permanent and constant access” to existing facilities in Darwin (The Australian). They would be hosted at the Robertson Barracks, a major Australian Army base near Darwin (The Sydney Morning Herald).

According to Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith, the agreement will also allow pre-positioning of U.S. supplies and equipment for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance (Australian Dep. of Defense). Defense Minister Smith also has noted that he expects (from the U.S. military) “more troops in, troops out, more ships in, ships out and more planes in and planes out. And the Territory is an obvious prospect with some of the Defence facilities that we have here, both in and around Darwin, but in the [Northern] Territory generally.” A higher tempo of visits by U.S. forces will further enhance the already substantial interoperability of the U.S. and Australian armed forces.

It bears noting that the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF), considers RAAF Darwin to be one of its “main forward operating bases.” In addition, there is a possibility that the precedent set by access to Darwin opens the door for greater U.S. access to RAAF Tindal, a key F/A-18 base located in the Northern Territory, as well as other facilities. The RAAF’s heavy use of U.S.-made aircraft means that RAAF bases already have the necessary maintenance infrastructure to service a range of key U.S. platforms that could pass through, including the C-17, F/A-18C, and F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. Putting Marines at Robertson Barracks also raises the possibility of building on the existing joint training center at Bradshaw Field via increased reciprocal Australian access to U.S. base facilities for training and other purposes. …