June 5, 2013

Prospect of Australian basing of US UAVs and SSNs (submarines).

Route of possible US Global Hawk UAV flight from Darwin or Katherine air bases in Australia via Australia's Cocos Islands, via Diego Garcia to a US base in Yemen (shown) or other US bases nearby in the Middle East.
As Australia in the Indian Ocean reported on November 22, 2011 the US has been contemplating basing or transiting air and naval assets from Australia's Cocos Islands as well as basing US nuclear submarines Australia's Fleet Base West, at Rockingham, Western Australia.

The following article from The Australian, March 28, 2012 may represent a shift in US thinking away from its offer that Australia purchase or lease US nuclear submarines 'floated' several days ago (see the March 26, 2012 article on this blog). The Australian article reports:
'US seeks deeper military ties'
THE expanded US military presence in Australia is likely to include giant unmanned patrol planes using the remote Cocos Islands and aircraft carriers, and nuclear-powered attack submarines based in Perth as part of efforts to refocus American defence resources in the region.   
Top US defence officials are considering Australia's major naval base, HMAS Stirling, south of Perth, as a "sorely needed" place for the US navy to refuel, re-equip and repair its surface warships and submarines in the Indian Ocean.

The US Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, is due to visit the base and facilities in Darwin shortly, and reports suggest Australia might have been encouraging the US to increase its military presence. Mr Mabus told The Washington Post: "It's fair to say that we will always take an interest in what the Australians are doing and want to do."

The Pentagon planners are considering basing manned and unmanned spyplanes in the Cocos Islands - about 2750km northwest of Perth - to carry out patrols far out over the northern oceans.
US and Australian officials quoted in the article say these arrangements are being considered as part of the major expansion of military ties between the two nations discussed in confidential talks over the past year.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Stephen Smith last night confirmed Cocos Islands was a longer-term option for closer Australian-US engagement but not one of the three priority levels of engagement.

They were the rotation of US marines through the Northern Territory; greater use of RAAF bases in northern Australia for US aircraft [possibly including B2s in transit...] ; and, in the longer term, the prospect of enhanced ship and submarine visits through the Indian Ocean Rim through HMAS Stirling. No decisions had been taken, the spokesman said.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard last night confirmed discussions were being held about plans to fly drones from the Cocos Islands but said no "progress" had been made on the issue.

The first company of about 250 US marines is due to arrive in Darwin within days. Over the past year, US and Australian officials have stressed a key focus of the military build-up was to have the necessary resources to provide humanitarian aid for natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Post said while US officials insisted that the "regional pivot" was not aimed at any single country, analysts believed it was a clear response to "a rising China whose growing military strength and assertive territorial claims have pushed other Asian nations to reach out to Washington".

It is not clear what roles aircraft carriers and nuclear-powered submarines would play in humanitarian missions.

The [Washington Post] noted that the content of last year's talks between Ms Gillard and US President Barack Obama reflected how Washington was turning its strategic attention to Asia as it wound down the war in Afghanistan. It said the Pentagon was reviewing the size and distribution of its forces in northeast Asia, where they were concentrated on Cold War-era bases in Japan and South Korea. Its goal was to reduce the US military presence in those countries while increasing it in Southeast Asia, home to the world's busiest shipping lanes and to growing international competition to tap into vast undersea oil and gas fields.

The initial draft of Australia's military force posture review [see January 31, 2012 post on this blog] , released in January, noted that "the South China Sea remains a potential flashpoint in the region".

The Post quoted an unnamed Australian official saying that, in terms of overall US influence in the Asia-Pacific zone, the strategic weight was shifting south. "Australia did not look all that important during the Cold War," the official said. "But Australia looks much more important if your fascination is really with the Southeast Asia archipelago."

The review reportedly urges a "major expansion" of HMAS Stirling, which could be used for "deployments and operations in Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean by the US Navy".

"Specifically, the review suggests that Stirling be upgraded in part so that it could service US aircraft carriers, other large-surface warships and attack submarines," the [Post] said.
US and Australian officials said the remote Australian territory of the Cocos Islands could be an ideal site for manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft, such as the latest version of the ultra long-range Global Hawk, known as the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance drone or BAMS. The Cocos would be well positioned to launch surveillance flights over the South China Sea.

In November, the Prime Minister and Mr Obama announced the deployment of 2500 US marines for training in Australia and indicated more plans were being considered. The first deployment of troops from the Hawaii-based Third Marine Regiment is expected to be based at Darwin's Robertson Barracks.

The marines will spend several months training through the dry season at the Australian Defence Force's Bradshaw and Mount Bundy training areas in the Northern Territory. The force, which will be rotated annually for training, is unlikely to reach its full strength until 2016.

By then the marines will have considerable equipment, including amphibious assault ships similar to the two giant landing helicopter docks being built for the Royal Australian Navy, along with Harrier jump jets and troop-carrying helicopters.
Mr Smith stressed Australia did not have a policy of containing China.

"It is not possible to contain China," he said. "What we do want to ensure is that China, as it emerges as a great power - to use a phrase coined by (World Bank president and former US deputy secretary of state) Bob Zoellick - is a 'responsible stakeholder' or, as the Chinese themselves describe it, 'a harmonious environment'."  Ends
Basing of US SSNs in Australia may serve to make up for the expected decline of around 15 years in Australia submarine capabilities as the Collins submarines are retired by 2020-2025 and the first new Australian built submarines come into service at what now looks like the early 2030s. The future Australian submarine project, known as SEA1000, has been politically unpopular due to the possible acquisition costs for 12 submarines of A$36 Billion and failure of the Collins program. Hence SEA1000 has moved at a snails pace, basically going nowhere for a decade.

However a better scenario might be the US basing its SSNs and building nuclear support facilities at HMAS Stirling and then permitting Australia to lease US built SSNs (probably Virginia SSNs) for at least one services life (20 years) of the subs.

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