U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard formally announced on November 16 that the United States will expand its military activity and cooperation with Australia as early as 2012. Washington and Canberra have a long history of military cooperation as well as longstanding, closely aligned geopolitical interests.
This most recent agreement marks a significant step in a broader and more substantial expansion of cooperation between the two countries and within the wider region.
The agreement lays the groundwork for U.S. Marines to make regular use of Australian training grounds (including independent training), with at least occasional rotation of a 2,500-strong Marine Air-Ground Task Force slated to begin in 2016.
Meanwhile, air bases such as Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal could host American combat and support aircraft, including aerial refuelling tankers and strategic bombers.
Ports such as Royal Australian Navy Base HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin, already a regular port of call for American warships, and HMAS Stirling (Fleet Base West) south of Perth could see the forward basing of American aircraft carriers, surface combatants, amphibious ships, auxiliaries and submarines as well as a considerable expansion of logistical, repair and rearmament capacities.
The agreement with Australia is but one, albeit central, element of the reorientation, rebalancing and rationalisation of the American military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, a process that has been under way for more than a decade. The Pentagon has already undertaken a massive effort to expand the military capacity of the island of Guam. Military construction is also under way in South Korea and Japan.
In the Philippines, the sustained presence of U.S. special operations forces and advisers has far outlasted its original justification of confronting Muslim separatist group Abu Sayyaf.
Singapore, already a regular port of call for American warships, is under discussion as the potential homeport for the first foreign forward deployment of one or two of the U.S. Navy’s newest Littoral Combat Ships.
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