Agreement Expands Military Cooperation
The United States and Australia have reached an agreement to deepen their military ties in response to China’s growing influence and territorial claims in the western Pacific. The announcement was made following an annual meeting of top U.S. and Australian defense and diplomatic officials held in Brisbane, Australia.
Enhanced Presence and Access
The agreement will lead to an increased American rotational presence in Australia, including more frequent U.S. submarine visits to a base in western Australia and expanded access to airbases in northern and western Australia. Both nations will also cooperate in space-related activities, accelerate Australia’s development of guided missile production capability, and establish deeper security relationships with other countries in the region, particularly Japan.
Strengthening the Alliance
“All of us have felt that the alliance has never been in better shape than it is right now,” said Richard Marles, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, during a news conference after the meetings. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong emphasized the significance of the U.S. as a “vital ally” and a “closest global partner” in ensuring peace, stability, and order.
Focusing on Stability and Security
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed that both countries are committed to maintaining stability and security in the Indo-Pacific region. They stressed that their efforts aim to defend the international rules-based order, uphold peace, and allow sovereign decision-making free from coercion, while addressing China’s destabilizing actions in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan.
Increased Bases and Humanitarian Supplies
The new agreement will grant the U.S. access to two additional airbases in far northern Australia and another base in southeastern Australia. These bases will not only enhance deterrence but also enable pre-positioning of humanitarian supplies for disaster relief in the South Pacific region.
Submarine Rotational Force-West
A significant aspect of the agreement is the plan for “regular and longer” visits by U.S. Navy submarines to the HMAS Stirling naval base in western Australia. These visits will help Australia build its capacity in preparation for the AUKUS Optimal Pathway, which could begin as early as 2027. AUKUS, a strategic security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, will assist Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, expected to be operational by 2035.
Emphasizing Space Cooperation
Space cooperation is becoming a key part of the military and defense cooperation between the U.S. and Australia. This includes the ongoing Talisman Sabre exercise, where the U.S. Space Command provided a Counter Communications System to counter an adversary’s satellite communications. Space cooperation is seen as a critical area of force posture initiatives for both nations.
A Joint Commitment to Defense Industry Development
The U.S. is committed to supporting Australia’s defense industry development through the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise (GWEO) initiative. As part of this commitment, the U.S. will aid in co-producing Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) in Australia by 2025. There is also potential for Australia’s involvement in the future production of 155mm artillery shells, which are in high demand due to their use by Ukrainian forces against Russia.
Talisman Sabre Exercise Disrupted
The Talisman Sabre exercise was momentarily paused as the U.S. and Australian militaries conducted search and rescue operations for four Australian service members involved in a helicopter crash off the northeastern coast of Australia.
The deepening of military ties between the United States and Australia comes as both countries aim to counter China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. The strengthened alliance seeks to promote stability, deterrence, and cooperation across various domains, including space, while enhancing Australia’s defense capabilities.
Sources: Author’s coverage, Joint U.S.-Australia Statement