More U.S. Training Planned Down Under
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, Aug. 1, 1996 Thousands of U.S. Marines and other American forces will head into northern Australia's outback next year, according to American and Australian defense officials.
During meetings here July 26 and 27, government officials from both nations agreed to hold larger and more frequent U.S. training exercises at a range south of Darwin. They also agreed to expand shared intelligence operations, close an existing base and expand another to house a U.S. space-based, ballistic missile early warning program.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Defense Secretary William Perry met with Australian counterparts to strengthen and advance the U.S.-Australia alliance, expand military-to-military cooperation and discuss regional and global issues. Army Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Navy Adm. Joseph Prueher, commander in chief of U.S. Pacific Command, also attended the Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations.
"For almost half a century, the United States and Australia have stood together as treaty allies to safeguard the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region," Christopher said, following the first day's meetings. "Our alliance is no less important in the post-Cold War world."
The risk of regional conflict has been reduced, Christopher said, but emerging threats include the spread of weapons of mass destruction, international crime and drugs, and damage to the environment. Current regional concerns focus on relations with North Korea and China. In the last two years, the United States placed forces in South Korea on alert when tension arose over North Korea's nuclear program. Earlier this year, a U.S. carrier battle group sailed to the region when China conducted intense training exercises off Taiwan's shores.
Australia is the "southern anchor of the U.S. network of alliances" in the region, Christopher said. Its "leadership is crucial, from supporting the freeze and eventual dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program to promoting reconciliation and reconstruction in Cambodia."
Perry called the U.S.-Australian defense relationship a model for the rest of the world. "We have fought side by side in five wars to protect our values and our freedom," he said. "Today, we are partners in peace, promoting stability and democracy in the Asia Pacific region."
The United States intends to remain fully engaged and forward deployed as an Asia-Pacific power, Perry said. About 100,000 U.S. troops are stationed in the region for that purpose, he said.
U.S. forces normally conduct three company-sized exercises in Australia each year. This will now jump to seven in fiscal 1997. Several small-scale exercises of less than 150 U.S. Marines will be held as will at least two larger annual exercises involving up to about 2,500 U.S. Marines.
DoD officials welcome the chance to train at the Australian range, roughly the size of Rhode Island, because training space in the Pacific theater is limited, a senior DoD official said. U.S. Marines lost training space a few years ago when the United States withdrew from Philippine bases, and training in Japan is constrained by artillery fire restrictions.
Amphibious and expeditionary training requires "large amounts of space to do operational maneuvers, and what that part of northern Australia offers is wide open spaces where the Marines can train with their Australian counterparts," the official said.
The outback range has two seasons -- very wet and very dry, according to Australian navy Cmdr. Martin Campbell, who was assigned to the northern territory for two years. Temperatures average about 90 degrees, and rainfall averages about 24 inches a year, he said.
Campbell said the area has a rugged beauty. It ranges from arid bush country to tropical wetlands. Kangaroos, wild boar, buffalo, parrots and sea eagles are among the abundance of wildlife in the area. Offshore waters are home to crocodiles, sharks and jellyfish.
U.S. forces will not be permanently based in Australia. Only a small cadre of about 20 U.S. Marines will eventually be stationed there to support exercises. They will maintain a small amount of equipment including tents, small vehicles and logistics equipment.
In addition to more frequent U.S. training, defense officials announced a major joint and combined exercise in March in Australia's central Queensland. About 17,000 American and about 5,000 Australian service members will be involved in Tandem Thrust 1997. U.S. Pacific Command will sponsor the joint exercise. Australian maritime, land and air command units will train with their American counterparts at the Shoalwater Bay training area.
"The Tandem Thrust exercise is scheduled every two years to provide training in crisis action planning and execution for contingency response operations in the Pacific area," Australian defense officials said. "But this will be the first time it will be run as a combined exercise." The exercise demonstrates the significance both countries give to the capacity to train together, the officials said.
During the meetings, the United States and Australia also extended a 25-year intelligence-sharing agreement for another 10 years. Slated to end in 1998, it will now continue until 2008.
Under the agreement, the United States will set up a relay ground station for the space-based ballistic missile early warning program at a facility at Pine Gap near Alice Spring. A defense facility at Nurrungar, used for 25 years, will close by about 2000 when the new station is operational.
The two nations have shared intelligence for many years, Perry said. The effort "provides strategic intelligence of enormous benefit to both Australia and the United States," he said. It also provides invaluable information for the verification of a range of arms control treaties, he said.
U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region underwrites security and has been a driving force of economic growth and prosperity, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said. "In the 46 years since the signing of the ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States) treaty, the Australia-United States alliance relationship has stood the test of time," Downer said
A recent poll indicated 88 percent of Australians thought the ANZUS alliance was important to national security, Australian officials said. Three years earlier, 77 percent thought it was important. If Australia were threatened, 80 percent of those polled said they were positive the United States would come to Australia's aid. This was a jump from 68 percent in 1993.