China military build-up makes Darwin the unsafe harbour of the north

The stakes for war and peace could hardly be higher. The Morrison government and the leadership of our defence, intelligence and security agencies understand these developments.

But it’s one thing to see you are facing a crisis and quite another to know what to do. Strategic trends in the region are lifting the importance of northern Australia. Our north is, in fact, the essential southern rampart of the Indo-Pacific. The outcome is to make the future of the Port of Darwin a central strategic question. This becomes clear by looking at the plans and purposes of Chinese military growth.

There is no more important step the Morrison government could take than to end the 99-year lease of the Port of Darwin to Chinese company Landbridge.

The threadbare excuses that were deployed to justify the lease in 2015 have long been abandoned by government and opposition. Now, when the Prime Minister warns about the priority “to enhance the resilience of Indo-Pacific supply chains”, we must realise that our ports and airports are critical joints in those supply chains.

The Port of Darwin, and the Top End in general, is the place from which Australia can mount efforts to resist Chinese subversion of the Pacific Islands. The Port of Darwin is also the place to which the USA and other partners can disperse and sustain their forces while deterring Chinese aggression.

Six years into the lease of the port the promised development of infrastructure for tourism isn’t happening. The strategic outlook has changed fundamentally. Landbridge’s presence is now a bone in the throat preventing the development of Darwin as a facility for greater engagement by the AUKUS and Quad partners.

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.

With thousands of USA Marines - there are likely more to come

The AUKUS announcement has fuelled more speculation about possible expansion of the marines' presence in the Top End, which Defence Minister Peter Dutton has already said he would like to see.

In an interview with the ABC, the USA's Charges d'Affaires in Australia, Michael Goldman, said talks on the subject were ongoing.

Michael Shoebridge, the director of defence, strategy and national security at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said northern Australia was becoming another staging point for US personnel, logistics and resources in the Asia Pacific.

Under the 2011 agreement, marines will keep returning to Darwin each dry season for 25 years, ending in 2036. The USA Charges d'Affaires, said the deployments were "just a beginning rather than an end" of the US presence in Australia.

Britain’s nuclear submarines to use Australia as base for Indo-Pacific presence

Britain’s nuclear-powered submarines are to use Australia as a base so that they can have a more persistent presence in the Indo-Pacific region under plans discussed by ministers.

Senior government sources said that the AUKUS pact could lead to the Royal Navy’s £1.4 billion Astute-class attack submarines undergoing deep maintenance in the region so they can stay deployed for longer rather than returning to the Faslane naval base in Scotland.

The plans would materialise once the Australians start building their own fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines over the coming years with the help of the British and Americans.

The source said that the trilateral pact announced last week “opens up opportunities” for the UK, adding: “You’ve got another base … if you want to have more of a persistent presence you need access to maintenance.”

James Peddell, a former defence technology attaché in Washington with experience in submarine technology, said that a base in Australia could allow UK submarines with conventional weapons to have a permanent presence in the region, and also enable cost-sharing between the allies.

Marines may scale up Australia rotation under new defense pact, security expert says

A former Australian assistant defense secretary says there might be more Marines in Australia in the wake of a new trilateral defense alliance.

AUKUS, which officials had been talking about for the past 18 months, is about much more than submarines, Babbage said.

“We are going to see larger U.S. forces coming, including U.S. Army forces and air power coming here on rotation,” he said. “It’s quite likely the Marine Corps presence could be scaled up.”

The U.S. Embassy in Canberra and the Australian Defence Department did not respond Friday to questions about the possible effect of the trilateral defense pact on the Marine rotations.