US air power is growing alongside Marine Corps in Australia’s Northern Territory

The Enhanced Air Cooperation initiative focused this year on fifth-generation fighter integration, aero-medical evacuation and aircraft maintenance.

Thousands of U.S. Marines on an Australian Army base this summer might be the most visible example of America’s growing military presence Down Under. But the nations’ air forces are growing equally close under a lesser-known program known as Enhanced Air Cooperation, or EAC.

The initiative, which kicked off in 2017, focused this year on fifth-generation fighter integration, aero-medical evacuation and aircraft maintenance. It involved U.S. F-22 Raptor, F-35B Lightning II, F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle fighters, B-52 strategic bombers and C-130J Super Hercules transports.

The Air Force’s activities in the Northern Territory, along with those of the Marines, are being supported with $2 billion worth of new military infrastructure funded by the U.S. and Australia, according to the Australian Defence Force.

At RAAF Darwin, for example, $88.65 million worth of projects have been awarded to build fuel tanks, expand the airfield and erect maintenance facilities.

These and other projects at RAAF Darwin are scheduled to be accomplished by 2023

“The major motivator for U.S. force restructure and redeployment on the western Pacific rim is China. It’s as simple as that”

USA makes $300m push to expand naval facilities in the NT

The United States military is preparing to spend more than a quarter of a billion dollars on naval construction in the Northern Territory, in a move that could raise tensions with China.

the Defence Department says it is still too early to comment on what the US military may have planned in the Northern Territory.

"The referenced document is the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorises (but does not appropriate) Defence initiatives," the Department said in a statement.

"It is still progressing through the US Congress and must be reconciled with the House version before it is finalised. It is not yet approved.

"We expect the US Department of Defense will provide details of the funding in accordance with its processes and timelines following consideration and approval within the United States Government."

The draft US legislation also outlines several other proposed spending projects in the Northern Territory including $US50 million for a "new airport parking apron for the Navy", and $US70.6 million for the Air Force at Tindall.

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.

Fish ban 'too late' for Aboriginal families at contaminated Darwin creek

A Larrakia man says Aboriginal people have been fishing in Darwin's Rapid Creek unaware there were concerns about contamination.

The Northern Territory Health Department yesterday issued a warning advising people not to eat fish or crabs caught in Rapid or Ludmilla Creeks.

It came weeks after tests by the NT Environment Protection Authority confirmed the presence of the perflourinate chemicals historically used in fire-fighting foam at Defence bases around the country.

"It's a bit of a problem when you hear that there's poison, potential poison coming down from the airport," said local resident and Larrakia man Keith Risk.

A Senate inquiry recommended blood tests for workers on Defence bases and residents potentially affected by contamination.

USAF to expand bomber presence in NT

The US Air Force (USAF) is studying options for new bomber and tanker aircraft rotations through Australia, according to a senior US military official.

The United States has reached an agreement with Australia on a "force posture initiative", General Lori Robinson, commander of the USAF's Pacific Air Forces (PACAF), said during a 18 November Defense Writers' Group breakfast in Washington, DC.

"The idea is much like what we do in Guam - rotation of tankers and bombers to do training and working with Australian allies … as well as training our pilots and aircrew - to help them understand the vastness of that region," said Gen Robinson.

The bombers and tankers would rotate through Australia's RAAF Base Tindal, but details about numbers of aircraft and timings are still being negotiated. "So that's all part of the conversations that we're having now," she added.

The new Northrop Grumman Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) could also be involved in that effort once it is deployed, the general said.

"Our ability to power project through the theatre would be one of the capabilities that we would want to have because … that shows a commitment to the theatre," said Gen Robinson.

"As we go forward it will probably … do continuous bomber presence just like we're doing now and provide that stability," she added.

The United States has reached an agreement with Australia to conduct bomber and tanker rotatations through Australia's RAAF Base Tindal. In addition to legacy bombers, the new LRS-B could also be involved in the effort once it is deployed.