Australia will pour more than half a billion dollars into four military bases in the country's Northern Territory, which will allow for bigger training exercises between Aussies and the U.S. as concerns about China's actions in the Asia-Pacific region build.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced plans Wednesday to invest about $582 million into four military training and weapon ranges. The upgrades, Defence Minister Peter Dutton said, will provide opportunity for "world class training," including with Marine Rotational Force-Darwin, a 2,500-person unit that spends six months out of every year training Down Under.
"This investment is critical to ensuring that our [training areas are] equipped with the cutting-edge technology it will require to maintain our competitive advantage," Dutton said.
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The upgrades will be made over the next five years at Robertson Barracks, an army base in Darwin; the Kangaroo Flats field firing range; and the Mount Bundey and Bradfield Shaw training areas. Upgrades, Morrison said, will include training simulators and medical facilities.
Members of Marine Rotational Force-Darwin are typically housed at Robertson Barracks, where they also conduct training. Marines have also participated in exercises at Kangaroo Flats and Mount Bundey.
Morrison stopped short of citing China when announcing the need to invest heavily in the training areas.
"It's a significant investment ... in what is a very uncertain world and can be a very uncertain region, a region in which there are many pressures," he said. "This is another significant step forward ... to ensure that our defense forces are always ready and that they have access to the best training facilities of anywhere in the world, and they can work with our allies and partners, as we are here with the United States Marines."
Morrison's announcement was made amid an "increasingly bitter diplomatic and trade spat" between Australia and China, Reuters reported. China in 2015 secured a controversial 99-year lease of a port in the Northern Territory, which leaders have said should be reviewed. That was around the same time the U.S. Defense Department was studying the possibility of basing warships Down Under.
Marines have been rotating through Darwin in the Northern Territory since 2012. It started as a small 200-person, company-sized rotation during the Obama administration and hit the 2,500-person air-ground task force in 2019. The rotation includes ground forces, aircraft and logistics capabilities.
Morrison said the upgrades will provide Aussie troops, Marines and other partners "access to the best training facilities of anywhere in the world."
"Our objective here in this part of the world is a free and open Indo Pacific," the prime minister said. "Our objective here is to ensure a peaceful region, but one that, at the same time, Australia is in a position to always protect its interests."
-- Gina Harkins can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.
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