US military’s footprint is expanding in northern Australia to meet a rising China

Major construction, funded by the U.S. and Australian governments, is underway in Australia’s Northern Territory for facilities that will be used by the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

The facilities will support U.S. and Australian forces training to defend chains of small islands that would likely be an arena for any future conflict with China, according to former Australian assistant defense secretary Ross Babbage.

The allies are learning to conduct dispersed operations and deploy anti-ship missiles to island chains in the Western Pacific “to make it extremely difficult and dangerous for Chinese operations in a crisis,” including a conflict over Taiwan, he said by phone Wednesday.

The Australian government will likely announce more initiatives in the northern Australia before the year is over, Babbage said.

warfighting exercise across the Top End

US Marines of the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) and members of the Australian Defence Force from Australian Army’s 1st and 13th Brigade, and Royal Australian Air Force’s 36th, 37th and 75th Squadrons have commenced Exercise Koolendong this week across the Top End.

The three week warfighting exercise is being held at Defence training areas in the Northern Territory and for the first time, in Western Australia to simulate a response to a regional security crisis.

“We are deploying significant forces by land, air and sea to training areas in both WA and the NT including Mount Bundy Training Area, RAAF Base Curtin & Yampi Sound Training Area,” Colonel Steele said.

SECNAV Visits Innovative Forward-Deployed Marines and Sailors with MRF-D 22

The Honorable Carlos Del Toro, the 78th Secretary of the Navy, visited Marines and Sailors with the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D) on June 18.

“We have a solemn responsibility to be prepared to fight and win wars. I’m so proud to have the Marine Corps here in Australia,” said SECNAV to the Marines and Sailors with the MRF-D aviation combat element, following an update on emerging capabilities of the partnered MAGTF. “This is an advanced capability that is real, and real powerful.”

“You are at the pointy end of the spear out here doing great work.”

“Part of our journey is to train and certify a sea-combat capable headquarters that will integrate naval and joint effects on the adversary in the contested littoral environment,” said the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, Major General Roger B. Turner Jr.

New Darwin port could help replace US Pearl Harbour naval facility

Experts say a new port could replace the US military’s main fuelling station in the Pacific region after the closure of a storage facility at Pearl Harbour in Hawaii.

The federal budget allocated $1.5 billion to build “new port infrastructure, such as a wharf, an offloading facility and dredging of the shipping channel” in the Northern Territory.

Mr Dutton said in November that stability in the Indo-Pacific “requires the United States to be completely engaged in the region”. He indicated in June he was open to increasing the US marine presence in Darwin and said it was in both countries’ interest for the US to expand its presence in the region.

The federal budget allocated an extra $2 billion to the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility and expanded its remit to include the Commonwealth territory of Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The Defence Department announced in 2020 it was upgrading the Cocos Island runway to accommodate surveillance and response aircraft.

The government is also investing $300 million in an industry precinct at Darwin for gas, hydrogen and critical minerals.

“Additional fuel storage, additional logistics, support and port facilities will enable greater flow through of American units, and conceivably stationing on a longer-term basis. Not basing, but possibly stationing at least for periods of time.

Defence must secure northern Australia amid gravest risk since WWII

In 2021 the AUSMIN communiqué agreed to ‘establish a combined logistics, sustainment, and maintenance enterprise to support high-end warfighting and combined military operations in the region’. The location wasn’t specified, but look at a map. It won’t be Hobart.

Just south of Darwin the US is installing a fuel farm planned by September 2023 to hold over 300 million litres of military jet fuel. Although the government is reluctant to say what is in prospect, it’s obvious the Americans are going to be here in much larger numbers soon.

This all points to a need for a radical rethink about Darwin’s role in the defence of Australia and what we need to do to rebuild our threadbare military infrastructure across the north. The PLA threat is pushing south, and we need a response to it.

I understand the prime minister doesn’t want a new defence white paper or a national security strategy. There’s a view that written policies constrain freewheeling decision-making. So be it, but something must be done to instil a disciplined focus around Defence’s strategic planning, jolting it away from its fantasies about the late 2030s and towards the tough realities of today.

When there’s no time left to change the structure of the military, the need is to look instead at force posture