Defence to spend up to $18 billion on 'hardening' northern Australia's bases

The federal funding boost will upgrade bases in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and North Queensland during the coming decade, as part of Defence's pivot towards the Indo-Pacific.

Darwin's Larrakeyah Defence Precinct will be upgraded to berth submarines, but Mr Conroy said Australia's future nuclear submarine fleet would not be based in the Top End.

He said the government was focused on "hardening and developing" bases in the Northern Territory, as well as other installations in northern Western Australia and North Queensland.

"The NT is critical to the defence of the nation, not just in defending Australia but projecting power out into our region against any potential adversary," Mr Conroy said. He said the funding would go towards projects such as surveillance aircraft based at RAAF Tindal, near Katherine, and the purchasing and training of crew for new amphibious landing craft based in Darwin.

Defence Strategic Review reveals key role for Northern Australia

The national significance of key Northern Territory infrastructure assets has been singled-out in a crucial new defence review released on Monday.

The Defence Strategic Review found recent severe flooding which closed the Stuart Highway and Alice Springs to Darwin railway this year had “highlighted the importance” of well-maintained resilient civil infrastructure, including ports and roads that support the network.

The future role of Robertson Barracks, home to the 1st Brigade, in our ongoing defence is unclear, but could potentially be beefed up.

The report forecasts “significant changes to army force posture and structure”, saying army combat brigades “may be re-roled and select capabilities postured in Northern Australia”.

One of six key recommendations is to improve the Australian Defence Force’s capacity to operate from Australia’s northern bases.

Time for a more honest conversation about foreign basing in Australia

Australia needs to have a more honest conversation, with itself and its main ally, about the b-word. As a straight-talking country that prides itself on its closeness to the United States, Australia finds it curiously difficult to talk in plain terms about foreign military basing on its territory, at least in public. It’s an interesting kink in the country’s strategic psyche—and one that needs straightening out sooner rather than later.

As the defence strategic review announcement and AUKUS submarine decision are pending, Canberra should develop clear, plain language that eschews euphemism when talking about the US’s forward posture and associated basing arrangements in Australia.

US to Increase Military Presence in Australia in Buildup Aimed at China

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that the US will increase its military presence in Australia in a buildup aimed at China.

In a joint press conference with Australia’s defense minister and foreign minister, Austin said that the US will increase its rotational forces in Australia. “That includes rotations of bomber task forces, fighters, and future rotations of US Navy and US Army capabilities,” Austin said.

Many countries in the region are not eager to get on board with the US’s confrontational approach to China. The prime minister of Papua New Guinea said this week that his country can’t afford to get caught between the US and China and said he told the US your “enemy is not my enemy.”

Indonesia’s president expressed similar concerns during a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in November, saying the ASEAN must not let the region turn into a frontline for a new Cold War.

Details on the rotational deployments aren’t clear, but they will likely focus on the Australian city of Darwin in the Northern Territory, where US Marines have been rotating through for years.

Sending a signal to China, USA deploys B-52s to Tindal

The USA Air Force is planning to deploy up to six nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to Tindal air base near Darwin, as fears grow that China is preparing for an assault on Taiwan. 

"It's a great expansion of Australian commitment to the United States' war plan with China," says Richard Tanter, a senior research associate at the Nautilus Institute and a long-time, anti-nuclear activist.

"It's very hard to think of a more open commitment that we could make. A more open signal to the Chinese that we are going along with American planning for a war with China," Mr Tanter says.

Pine Gap is also undergoing a major upgrade