America’s military presence is growing in Australia. That might not be a good thing.

THE US is strengthening a network of secretive military bases across Australia that could be used for waging wars against our interests, it was claimed at a weekend summit.

Instead of fostering crucial relationships, we are allowing the US to create enemies for us with its growing strategic presence on our soil, say the academics, politicians and campaigners who gathered for the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) conference attended by in Alice Springs this weekend.
Under a burning hot sun in the red centre, experts and citizens shared their fears over what is happening in the most remote parts of the country. These mysterious bases may be invisible to the majority of us living in the most populated regions along the coast, but could threaten the fabric of all our lives. Here’s what you need to know:

Perhaps the most frightening of all the bases, North West Cape is at the cutting edge of warfare — in space.
The monstrous structure sits on the northwest coast of Australia, where kilometres of wire surround a soaring central tower and others fanning off it, sucking up huge amounts of electricity.

In 2011, President Barack Obama visited Darwin to announce US troops would begin making regular visits to the Northern Territory as part of the country’s “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region.
The Gillard government agreed to the “permanent rotation of US marines and US air force aircraft”, meaning we have a constant flow of US soldiers on the ground in Australia. There are currently 1500, but this could rise to 2500.
It was this development that triggered the establishment of IPAN in 2012 as onlookers became alarmed at the move from “the invasion of nerd and computer freaks” to actual “troops in uniform with rifles”

Pine Gap was established in Alice Springs in 1966 when the CIA came up with the idea of putting satellites 36,000 kilometres above the earth’s surface. These had giant antennae that could listen to very weak signals from Soviet missiles testing, allowing the agency to work out the capability of enemy weapons.
The spy base was placed in isolated Alice in the NT because at the time, the massive amount of data had to be collected over 130km of land.

The Defence Satellite Communication Station at Geraldton in Western Australia, along with Kojarena 20km inland, was one of Australia’s spy bases. It is now shared with two large American operational military communication systems that pull down information on Indonesian and Chinese satellites from the sky. This is part of the Five Eyes surveillance system used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kojarena is creating “battlefield conditions”, says Mr Doherty, providing data a soldier in Iraq can use to ascertain what’s behind a hill — the visual, weather and so on — making it “an American war fighting base”.
Australia paid $800 million for one of the satellites used by this system. But if America does not approve of an operation the Australian Defence Force requests, for example in Timor, it can turn off our access, says Prof Tanter.

So why is the US using our bases a problem? Well, we aren’t just passive bystanders. “Australia is very, very deeply involved,” says Prof Tanter. “At least we’re not locked out the way we were before, but with that comes culpability. The government seems to lack the ability to ask the question, ‘When do Australian and American interests coincide, and when do they not?’”

Obamas NT Asia pivot locked in

Barack Obama’s grand plan of using US marine exercises in the Northern Territory as a basis for a new military “pivot in Asia” has been finalised and locked in ahead of the Presidential elections next month.

Australia’s role in providing seasonal training base for 2,500 Marines — the original plan agreed to by President Obama and Julia Gillard in 2011 — was under threat from a dispute over cost sharing for facilities in the Northern Territory.

The dispute about shared costs was limiting the original plan to half the annual intake of 2,500 marines and undermining the effectiveness of the joint training scheme.

The end of Mr Obama’s Presidency, Donald Trump’s strident isolationism and threats from the new Philippines’ President Rodrgio Durtete to end US Marine exercises after this year and “break off” with the United States made finalisation of the original plan urgent.

Julie Bishop and Marise Payne were trying to organise an urgent meeting of US and Australian Foreign and Defence Ministers — Ausmin — in Sydney this month with US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Defence Secretary, Ash Carter, to seal the deal before the election.

Malcolm Turnbull said on his trip to Washington DC two weeks ago, after meeting Mr Carter, that agreement would be reached but left the detail to the Defence Minister and Australian Defence Secretary, Dennis Richardson.

Senator Payne has been in Washington this week meeting Mr Carter and senior US Defence officials to discuss “the bilateral defence relationship and regional security and stability”.

Christopher Pyne, Defence Industry Minister, has also been in Washington this week in discussions over defence purchases and agreements.

A formal announcement of the final agreement is expected soon outside the auspices of an Ausmin meeting.

The US is facing increased pressure in South East Asia to withdraw troops from the Asia-Pacific realm and Australia’s role as the effective host to a battalion of US marines, who could be readily deployed to crises in the region, was even more crucial.

There were also fears that should Mr Trump become President, or even Hillary Clinton, a new administration would baulk at the costs and refuse to finalise the agreement stalling it at half its original strength and even going backwards.

Such a step would be a major strategic reversal in the region and deprive Australia of the opportunity to be a regional base for US military preparedness as well as cutting off millions of dollars from the Northern Territory economy.

As this stage the US Marine commitment for this year, the fifth rotation of US troops since the agreement began, of 1,250 troops is still only half the target President Obama and Ms Gillard envisaged in 2011.

The Abbott Government ratified the first stage of the agreement in 2014 and there were a scheduled 2,500 US Marines expected to be exercising near Darwin by 2016-17.

But because of an argument over cost sharing the troop rotation has stalled at half the target level. The fifth rotation of US marines for six months’ combined training with Australian and other forces in April this year was 1,250, half the final target after four previous rotations of less than half.

The Foreign Minister was confident an agreement would be reached in time soon after a series of meetings she had in Washington DC two weeks ago.

A formal national analysis of the “Force Posture” agreement found failure to implement it would “undermine Australia’s longstanding alliance with the US” — a view endorsed by the Parliamentary Treaties committee last year.

Although the training rotations at the Roberston Barracks in Darwin, which also involve aircraft and pre-positioned military hardware for a rapid deployment force, have begun the fight over the cost of deploying the Marines stalled the increase in numbers.

In April this year the fifth rotation began at Darwin Airport with the arrival of a US Galaxy C5 aircraft carrying CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Hawaii and the first of this year’s 1,250 US Marines.

US defence officials described the rotation as “part of the US rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region” and said it was not known when the target of 2,500 troops would be reached.

The officials said it was “not immediately clear when all 2,500 Marines are expected to rotate through Darwin” and that the decisions are made based on a number of variables including cost.

Mr Turnbull said on his arrival in New York for the UN General assembly the negotiations on cost-sharing for the rotation of up to 2,500 marines a year through Darwin was an ongoing negotiation. “I expect them to be resolved,” he said. “These are negotiations that are going on between officials.”

Base camp plan

THERE are fears the Katherine township may not receive the full economic boost it hoped for from the half-billion dollar upgrade to the Tindal RAAF base.

The planned construction of a worker’s camp at the base, to house between 140-200 people, has caught some people by surprise.

Project documents say the “transit accommodation” to house hundreds of workers will be a permanent construction to be used by RAAF personnel after the upgrade work is finished.

“I don’t want Tindal to become like a US military base where they have their own shops and services so people don’t need to come to town,” Katherine MP Sandra Nelson said.

Ms Nelson said she was surprised to learn of the accommodation camp and had expected that most of the project’s workers would be housed in Katherine.

The Defence Department expects to spend between $400-$500 million upgrading Tindal as it prepares for the arrival of Australia’s new jet fighter planes, the F-35a Joint Strike Fighter, or Lightning II.

Some of the senior project managers for one of the chief contractors on the project, Lend Lease, will be employed on a fly in, fly out basis.

“Defence anticipates that much of the construction workforce will come from outside the Katherine area,” information for the Air Combat Facilties Project states.

“Accordingly, as an efficiency measure and to minimise the impact of the project on the availability of housing in the area, Defence proposes to develop a construction accommodation facility for the workforce.

“Long term benefits will be realised by resolving the existing shortfall of transit accommodation on base by refurbishing and retaining the construction accommodation once construction is complete,” project documents state.

Katherine Town Council chief executive Robert Jennings said it was still proposed to house a large number of the upgrade staff in Katherine.

“We have raised the issue of accommodation but we have been reassured the contractors are keen to get the local content high,” Mr Jennings said.

“There have been a number of meetings and a lot of energy has already gone into engaging with Katherine on this project.”

Ms Nelson said the opportunity for “make a noise” on the accommodation facility was likely gone.

“There is scope for this community to push harder on the later stages, it’s not too late, and we don’t want to miss out.”

Katherine Chamber of Commerce president Kevin Gray said Katherine was “extremely lucky” to have Tindal on its doorstep.

“I don’t want Tindal to become like a US military base where they have their own shops and services so people don’t need to come to town,” Katherine MP Sandra Nelson said.

Shhh ... we’re not really supposed to know about this

IT’S the top secret military facility in Central Australia that plays a key role in US intelligence and military operations around the world.

But rather than protecting us from a potential enemy attack, Pine Gap’s very existence makes us an ideal target.
That’s the view of Richard Tanter, a professor in the School of Political and Social Studies at the University of Melbourne, who told the level of data collected from Pine Gap was beyond staggering.
Prof Tanter has conducted years of research into the facility with ANU colleague and leading authority on Pine Gap, Desmond Ball, and will next week deliver a keynote speech on the potential danger it brings to Australia.
Pine Gap will be just one of several topics discussed at the independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) national conference in Alice Springs on Saturday week.
Peace activists, academics and antimilitarism groups will all travel to the red centre to mark the 50th Anniversary of Pine Gap, aiming to illustrate the huge role it plays in US military activity.
Prof Tanter, a researcher with the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, said Pine Gap remains one of the most important intelligence facilities outside of the United States today.

According to Prof Tanter, its importance to the US military is enough to make Australia a target in any major war our American ally is involved in.
He said Pine Gap allows access to satellites that could spy on every continent — except the Americas and Antarctica.

The data collected is used for drone attacks in places where Australia was not even at war, he said.
Pine Gap also plays a vital role in collecting a wide range of signals intelligence as well as providing information on early warning of ballistic missile launches.
Intelligence gathered here could be used to target nuclear weapons and is also used to support US and Japanese missile defence.

“In the centre of Australia we have Uluru and nearby its ‘evil twin’.”

Chinese bomber planes from South China Sea and future missiles could threaten Australia

Chinese bombers will be able to strike Australia from new artificial islands in the South China Sea as part of a major military modernisation that has also prompted calls for Australia to develop a ballistic missile shield.

Chinese H-6K long-range bombers can more easily target bases in the Northern Territory and even installations such as Pine Gap and Harold E. Holt naval communications station outside Exmouth by flying from 3000-metre runways being built in the Spratly Islands, senior analysts warn.

Fears will be heightened further after Chinese air force chief Ma Xiaotian​ announced on Friday China is developing a long-range bomber that will improve its ability to strike far from home.

Former national security adviser Andrew Shearer said China's rapidly improving ballistic missiles bolstered the case for Australia to "get much more serious" about missile defence, including a land-based shield similar to US Patriot missiles or the high-altitude systems being used by Japan and South Korea.


"The strategic purpose of the ADF for the future will be to protect Australia as a base for long-range allied operations," Dr Fruehling said.

Alan Dupont, chief executive of the security consultancy the Cognoscenti Group, said: "We are a redoubt or a sanctuary if you like for the US. China's strategy, I have no doubt, is to prevent any increased use of Australian facilities by the US."

Dr Davis agreed: "China is not going to permit this without responding."

Former Defence official and now head of Strategy International, Ross Babbage, said the US had limited basing options in Asia. "As a consequence, the Chinese know damned well they can target these facilities and do a lot of damage in the early hours of a clash. That could include, and many people think would include, some places in Australia."