US to Step Up Military Presence Across Asia, into Indian Ocean

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The Sydney Morning Herald

US to Step Up Military Presence Across Asia, into Indian Ocean

US Sets Eyes on Southern Defense Outposts

by
Hamish McDonald

In the closed-door talks in Government House, Melbourne, Mrs Clinton and Mr Gates will outline a stepped-up American military presence across Asia into the Indian Ocean. This will involve more frequent patrols and port-calls by US Navy ships and other units, including to Australian bases. (Photo: AFP)

THE United States military will store equipment and supplies in Australia as part of a new regional posture to respond faster to natural disasters and other contingencies, and conduct more intensive training with Australian forces.

The two militaries will also build a new space-monitoring facility in Western Australia, as previously reported in the Herald, to extend tracking of space activity, including missiles from rogue states like North Korea and orbiting debris.

Washington and Canberra will also step up co-operation in cyber security and warfare to counter what Defence analysts see as an ''emerging area of strategic risk'' as foreign states and individual hackers try to break into government data banks and control infrastructure systems.

The initiatives are expected to emerge from Monday's annual bilateral ministerial talks on defence and foreign affairs, involving the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, and the Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, and their Australian counterparts, Kevin Rudd and Stephen Smith.

In the closed-door talks in Government House, Melbourne, Mrs Clinton and Mr Gates will outline a stepped-up American military presence across Asia into the Indian Ocean. This will involve more frequent patrols and port-calls by US Navy ships and other units, including to Australian bases.

The shift reflects an ongoing ''global posture review'' designed to counter a recent trend of deploying forces directly from bases in the United States or its external territories, and maintain a more ''visible and effective'' presence in key regions.

There will be more American cruises through south-east Asia and more exercises with Australian and other regional forces, including those of Indonesia and Singapore, as well as joint aid efforts like a recent school construction effort in East Timor by US Navy engineers working from the amphibious landing ship HMAS Tobruk.

South-east Asia is seen as the nexus between the Pacific and the Indian oceans. Washington is showing greater interest in the Indian Ocean region and India itself (the US President, Barack Obama, is about to visit), as well as greater awareness of the region's strategic connection with the Pacific.

The ''pre-positioning'' of US military stores in places like Darwin and Townsville would allow faster aid in disasters and help with logistical problems in joint training. But it is likely to include large amounts of combat equipment for the typical US Marine taskforce involved in the bigger amphibious exercises.

The new space facility likely to be added to the Northwest Cape joint communications base is designed to enhance ''space situational awareness'' in the southern hemisphere, where coverage is relatively thinner than over the north.

It will track missiles, warheads, satellites and debris, and would be a passive monitoring facility rather than an advance into space warfare, which is restricted by international treaty.

But more than helping space stations and satellites dodge collisions, it will have a defence role, as threats like the North Korean ballistic missile program have made US and Australian defence agencies more concerned about the ''southern trajectory''.

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