Work begins on $270m US fuel storage facility on Darwin's outskirts

300 million litres of American-owned jet fuel will soon be stored on the outskirts of Darwin, increasing speculation the USA is preparing to expand its military presence in the Northern Territory.

On the back of the announcement of AUKUS, an alliance between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, the US charges d'affaires to Australia flagged a "bigger, more integrated, more ambitious" Marine Corps deployment.

Celebrating expanded defence cooperation

The USFPI are an extension of Australia’s existing Defence relationship with the US and support the common interest of promoting regional security and stability.

The MRF-D has grown in size and complexity since the first rotation of US Marines through Darwin in 2012. In 2019, the goal of 2500 US Marines training with the ADF stationed in Darwin was reached.

The structure of MRF-D continues to evolve in response to the changing environment and advances in technology, with the focus shifting to capability rather than numbers. Highly complex joint training scenarios are now being executed, which continue to challenge our forces and better prepare us to rapidly respond in the region, if and when called upon to do so.

This year, about 2200 US Marines and sailors conducted a comprehensive range of training activities, including humanitarian assistance, security operations and high-end, live-fire exercises – exercises that develop enhanced interoperability between the ADF and US Marines and key partners.

At AUSMIN in September 2021, Australia and the USA announced the agreement to enhance force posture cooperation in four key areas to: establish an integrated logistics capability, expand existing enhanced air cooperation, enhance maritime sustainment cooperation, evolve bilateral and multilateral operations and exercises.

AUKUS security pact to boost US presence in the Top End

The US military plans a dramatic and comprehensive ramping-up of its defence presence in the Northern Territory to counter the rising threat of China – measures which experts say will, for the first time, involve all four branches of the American armed services.

Senior US and Australian defence officials and analysts, speaking on background, confirmed to the Defence Special Report that while “final details were getting worked out”, the measures envisaged big increases in joint US air exercises, troop deployments, pre positioning of equipment, and the use of more sophisticated weapons systems across the Northern Territory’s key training ranges.

Spurred by growing perceptions of a rising Chinese threat, last month’s announcement of the AUKUS trilateral defence agreement will see the transformation of the Top End from a very convenient military training area for the ADF and its allies to a vital southern US defence anchor encompassing a vast area of the Pacific, linking Guam to the north and Hawaii to the east.

These are bigger consequences and will have a bigger, more immediate, impact to the region.

American Submarines Could Sail From Australia

It wouldn’t be shocking if, in coming years, attack submarines from the U.S. Navy, Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy all sailed from the same base just 2,500 miles from the Chinese fleet’s main haunt in the South China Sea.

Australia is moving to acquire nuclear-powered submarines while also expanding a naval base on its northern coast that could shorten the distance the boats might have to sail in order to reach a combat zone.

And now there are signs that American and British subs might join the Aussie boats. It wouldn’t be shocking if, in coming years, attack submarines from the U.S. Navy, Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy all sailed from the same base just 2,500 miles from the Chinese fleet’s main haunt in the South China Sea.

The RAN already has a base in Darwin, but it’s a small one that at present accommodates just nine small patrol boats. The Australian defense ministry in 2019 launched a $200 million project aimed at expanding the Darwin base with additional fuel storage and another wharf so that it can support large surface vessels and submarines.

NT could host proposed joint military exercises

THE Territory could be considered to host new military exercises with Australian and US troops, given its current relationship with the ally and multimillion-dollar defence upgrades announced earlier this year.

Australia and the US are in discussions about plans for new exercises in Australia, including joint training with American army soldiers.

The proposed exercises would be modelled on Darwin’s annual Marine Rotational Force and would use a variety of military training areas, according to The Australian.

It is not known yet what training areas are of interest but the Northern Territory is a likely candidate given its long history with the US.

Queensland is another candidate.