A Labor government would look to grow USA military presence in Australia

US FORCES would get the nod from a future federal Labor Government to expand its military footprint in Australia in an apparent reversal of party policy that had seen a cooling in language on the alliance in favour of a greater focus on China.

Two years ago the party’s platform draft at its national conference watered down its foreign policy view of the ANZUS Treaty, significantly dropping references to it being the “bedrock” of regional stability and a national “asset” in favour of strengthening recognition to China’s growth.

Late last year former Labor leader Paul Keating called for Australia to “cut the tag” with the US and focus more on Asia while foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said Donald Trump marked a “change point” that needed to be assessed.

But Labor’s Defence spokesman Richard Marles said yesterday there was room to work with both with America as Australia’s “most important bilateral relationship” and China whose right to rise as a power should be recognised.

The US already has a strong presence in Australia with its annual rotation of 1250 US Marines and a dozen combat aircraft through Darwin in the Northern Territory, joint intelligence facilities in Western Australia and Pine Gap near Alice Springs and regular joint training exercises.

But Mr Marles said there was scope for more and he was not buying in to some defence analysts predicting a US foreign policy “retreat” in the region by the Trump administration although said such deep national alliance debate including Trump’s policy by Tweet was a positive.

“I think the greater American commitment to East Asia, the better,” he said. “I’m absolutely up for a discussion on growing the US relationship in terms of however, whatever, it wants to involve itself with here." #FFS

USAF B-1B Lancers to train with RAAF in Qld

RAAF Base Amberley will host up to two United States Air Force (USAF) B-1B Lancers as part of the United States-Australia Force Posture Initiatives.

The USAF B-1B Lancers are long-range, multi-mission, supersonic conventional bomber aircraft and will be taking part in a training exercise with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during the last week in November and the first week of December this year.

Minister for Defence Senator the Hon Marise Payne said the training will enable RAAF aircrew to meet flying qualifications and give them an opportunity to exercise with one of the world’s most technologically advanced armed forces.

“This training exercise is part of the United States-Australia Force Posture Initiatives Enhanced Air Cooperation (EAC) program, which builds on a range of air exercises and training activities already undertaken between the United States and Australia,” Minister Payne said.

“The EAC program is a practical demonstration of Australia’s support for a strong and engaged US presence in the region.”

EAC activities involve short term rotations of US aircraft through Australia for up to two months at a time. The first EAC activity commenced in February 2017 at RAAF Base Tindal with 12 USAF F-22 Raptors conducting combined training with RAAF F/A-18 Hornets.

This activity will be the fifth and final EAC activity in 2017. The exercise will involve USAF B-1Bs and RAAF aircraft conducting flying training in designated airspace away from RAAF Base Amberley.

US military vehicles & homes vandalized after drunk marine blamed for fatal Okinawa car crash

Dozens of vehicles and apartment buildings affiliated with the US military in Japan were vandalized in Okinawa, shortly after a local man was killed in car crash blamed by authorities on a drunken American marine.

A total of 29 civilian vehicles owned by US personnel in Japan were covered with paint early on Monday in the towns of Ginowan and Chatan in Okinawa, Stars and Stripes, the official US military newspaper, reported.

The cars had the blue-colored English letter ‘Y’ painted on them by unidentified perpetrators, the paper said. The marking may be explained by the fact that ‘Y’ is usually added to the license plates of vehicles owned by those who are covered by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which provides a legal framework to the vast US military presence in Japan.

On Sunday, Japanese law enforcement detained Lance Cpl. Nicholas James-McLean over a fatal road accident. The US marine is said to have ignored a red light, crashing his two-ton military truck into a vehicle driven by a 61-year-old local man, who was later pronounced dead in hospital. According to the results of a breath test, James-McLean’s blood alcohol level was three times over the limit allowed in Japan.

US Marine arrested following fatal Okinawa truck crash

A US service member has been arrested following a deadly vehicle crash on the Japanese island of Okinawa early Sunday morning.

Marine Pvt. First Class Nicholas James-McLean was driving a truck when it collided with another vehicle at 5:25 a.m. in Okinawa's capital of Naha, killing the 61-year-old driver, according to Jun Tamanaha from the Naha police department.

Police said James-McLean's blood alcohol content was three times the legal limit.

Okinawa residents have protested the US military presence on the southern Japanese island for years, in large part due to violent and fatal incidents involving members of the US military.

The case will be sent to the Naha prosecutor's office Tuesday morning, which will investigate and decide whether or not to indict James-McLean, Tamanaha said.

"It is extremely regrettable that this accident happened even though Japanese government has repeatedly asked for the thorough implementation of preventive measures and enforcement of disciplines," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

Japan is demanding that the US military "enforce the strict discipline and take preventive steps and give a sincere response to the bereaved family."

US military personnel and civilian contractors working for American forces have been accused of multiple crimes in Okinawa this year. From January to October 2017, two have been arrested on allegations of robbery, two on allegations of rape and six on allegations of violent offenses, according to the Okinawa Prefecture Police website. Last year, US sailors in Japan were banned from drinking for an 11-day period after a petty officer was accused of driving on the wrong side of the road, hitting two cars and injuring two people, while under the influence of alcohol. In 2016, two incidents in the space of three months prompted widespread public anger -- in March, a US service member was arrested on suspicion of raping a Japanese tourist, and in May, a civilian contractor at a US base in Okinawa was arrested in connection with the death of a 20-year-old woman.

Pine Gap facility essential to USA drone strikes

A group of Christian activists on trial in the Northern Territory Supreme Court for entering the top-secret facility are arguing they did it to defend possible victims of drone strikes.

Timothy Webb, Andrew Paine, Margaret Pestorius and James Dowling are all charged with entering the prohibited area without a permit, while Mr Webb is also charged with filming while on the base, on September 29, 2016.

They have all admitted to climbing through a 1.2-metre high barbed-wire perimeter fence, but are seeking a defence based on self-defence and the defence of others.

The accused face a maximum of seven years in jail if found guilty.

Professor Richard Tanter, from the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability, has written extensively about the secretive base and was called as a witness by the accused.

He told the court Pine Gap was "perhaps the most important US intelligence facility outside the US".

He said Pine Gap was "an essential part" of US drone strikes, as it could intercept signals such as mobile and satellite phones and radio communications, and help locate the source of them.

This information is then passed onto the US National Security Agency (NSA), which can then pass it on to the military or other agencies for possible drone strikes, Professor Tanter said.

The group had plans to enter the base three nights before they were arrested, but were discovered by police when they stopped for a rest outside the perimeter fence.