Australia and United States vow to increase military cooperation amid rising Chinese presence in Pacific – ABC News

Australia and United States vow to increase military cooperation amid rising Chinese presence in Pacific
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Australia and the United States have announced plans to increase military cooperation so the nations can be a "force for stability" in maintaining "a free and open Indo-Pacific region". 
The announcement was made as Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles met their US counterparts in Washington DC for Australia-US Ministerial (AUSMIN) talks. 
It is the first AUSMIN meeting since the Albanese government took office earlier this year. 
At a joint press conference after the talks, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the increased military cooperation would result in an "increased rotational presence of US forces in Australia". 
"That includes rotations of bomber task forces, fighters, and future rotations of US Navy and US Army capabilities that will also expand our logistics and sustainment cooperation," he said.
"That will deepen our inter-operability and create more agile and resilient capabilities.
"We'll also continue to find ways to further integrate our defence industrial bases in the years ahead."
In what could be a significant shift in regional relations, Australia and the US also signalled they are looking to increase their military cooperation with Japan. 
"We agreed to enhance trilateral defence cooperation and invite Japan to integrate into our force posture initiatives in Australia," said Mr Austin. 
After their meetings in DC, Mr Marles and Ms Wong will head to Japan for talks. 
"It is a great outcome of today's meeting that we can go to Japan at the end of this week with an invitation for Japan to be participating in more exercises with Australia and the United States," Mr Marles said. 
Mr Austin said China was the greatest threat to stability in the Indo-Pacific region. 
"China's dangerous and coercive actions throughout the Indo-Pacific, including around Taiwan, toward the Pacific island countries and in the East and South China Seas, threaten regional peace and stability," he said. 
Neither Mr Marles nor Senator Wong called out China by name during the press conference. 
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was asked what the US could do in practical terms to help Australia with economic coercion, including tariffs and trade blocks, from China.
"We will not leave Australia alone on the pitch," he said. 
"When it comes to Chinese economic coercion, Australia has done an extraordinary job of standing up to that coercion and coming out in a better and stronger place." 
However, all four representatives acknowledged that Australia's defence forces suffered from a "capability gap". 
"The most important capability that Australia is seeking to pursue right now is, of course, a nuclear-powered submarine capability," Mr Marles said. 
The AUSMIN talks come just months before the Australian government releases the findings of a major review of the nation's defence forces.
The Defence Strategic Review is expected to reveal which type of nuclear-powered submarine Australia will use as part of the AUKUS deal. 
Australia initially planned to spend $35 billion on a deal with France to build a fleet of submarines. 
But in a decision that drew the ire of French President Emmanuel Macron, then-Australian prime minister Scott Morrison abandoned the contract in 2021.
Australia had to spend $868 million in a settlement with France's Naval Group as compensation after announcing plans to build nuclear-powered submarines with US and UK technology instead. 
Mr Marles has said he wants to secure nuclear-powered submarines as soon as possible. But he told the Herald Sun that temporarily basing US submarines in Australia before they arrived was "not the answer".
"Our goal is to design the optimal pathway for Australia to get a nuclear-powered conventionally armed submarines as quickly as possible," Mr Austin said after the AUSMIN talks. 
"We recognise where Australia is and when its capability begins to diminish. And, of course, we will address all of that in that pathway that we create [with AUKUS]. 
"We will not allow Australia to have a capability gap going forward." 
Meanwhile, one of the most powerful Republicans in the United States Congress has ruled out the possibility that Australia could buy several US-made submarines. 
"There's been a lot of talk about, well, the Australians would just buy a US submarine. That's not going to happen," said Virginia congressman Rob Wittman, who is the most senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee's seapower subcommittee.
In an interview with US military news website Breaking Defense, he said the US could not afford to interrupt its own submarine production to make way for Australia. 
"I just don't see how we're going to build a submarine and sell it to Australia during that time," he said. 
However, Mr Wittman did say he could see an arrangement working where the US built a submarine that operated in Australia's area of responsibility and was manned by a "dual crew" of sailors from both nations. 
"It won't belong to Australia, but it'll still be an asset that they have that element of control with. And I think that we can do that," he said. 
"It may be that the US needs to have 51 per cent control and command and Australia has 49 per cent.
"Listen, in an emergency, it will come back to the United States. But if it's an emergency, the Australians are probably going to want the United States to be able to have that."
While US-made nuclear submarines may be off the table, there is mounting speculation that Australia may put an order in for the nation's newest nuclear-capable stealth bomber
The B-21 Raider is the first new American bomber aircraft in more than 30 years, designed to carry both conventional and nuclear weapons, with each plane believed to cost around $1 billion.
Little is known about the aircraft's capabilities because the program to develop it was conducted in secret.
But the United States Air Force plans to build 100 of the B-21 Raiders to replace the ageing B-1 and B-2 aircraft.
The bomber could eventually be used with or without a human crew, and it is painted with a special coating that makes it harder to detect
Chief of the Royal Australian Air Force Air Marshal Robert Chipman attended an unveiling ceremony for the new aircraft in California last week.
He described the event as "an awesome display of US innovation and industrial power".
However, Mr Marles said after the AUSMIN talks there were no immediate plans for Australia to put in an order for a B-21 — yet. 
"I think we've got to give America a little bit of a break on that. Lloyd has literally just unveiled that early this week," Mr Marles said.
"That said, it is a very cool-looking aircraft.
"But I think what it does actually for me is give a sense of confidence about American pre-eminence in military technology and information technology."
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