Parking Lot B-52: does the escalation of US troops and installations make Australia a bigger target?

by Callum Foote | Dec 5, 2022 | Government, Latest Posts

The Department of Defence is refusing to confirm how many American troops are stationed in Australia, who pays for it, or even why. The rising deployment of troops and B-52 bombers however, and Pine Gap, make Australia a target in event of war between China and the US. Callum Foote reports.

The Department of Defence has refused to reply to inquiries into how many US military personnel are currently stationed in Australia. It’s not just soldiers, it’s weapons too.

An ABC Four Corners investigation recently revealed that the US is preparing to develop the Tindal air base near Katherine, 320kms south of Darwin, to host up to six nuclear-capable B-52 bombers. Today it was revealed the US is trying to sell Australia the latest American bomber, the B-21 Raider, and rotate the aircraft through Australia. 

Experts fear that the stockpiling of US weaponry in the Northern Territory would make Australia a target in the event of war between China and the US.

Despite the escalating presence of US troops and military hardware on Australian soil however, the Department of Defence has refused to reply to inquiries into how many US military personnel are currently stationed in Australia. Refused to reply full-stop.

We don’t even know who is funding it.

And as Chinese satellites could pick up the deployment of troops and US military installations, the secrecy is unwarranted.

B-52s here for the long haul

According to independent think tank Lowy Institute, B-52s have been deployed in the Northern Territory since at least the 1970s and military personnel training regularly in Australia since 2005. 

The federal government has yet been unclear about the purpose of the deployment of the bombers in Australia. However, experts believe that the rising tensions between China and the US in the South China Sea is cause for alarm.

Alison Broinowski, the president of Australians for War Powers Reform, an anti-war advocacy group, says her network is concerned about the rising militarisation of the Northern Territory.

“We’re all very concerned about this,’’ Broinowski told MWM. ‘’It’s not new of course – the signs of it being planned go back for years. But we are particularly concerned about what’s going on now and the speed with what’s going on now. As well as about how little we know or are being told.”

Broinowski is a former diplomat, academic and author. A significant amount of her opposition to the militarisation of the NT comes down to secrecy.

“The very fact that it was undertaken in secret and would remain secret were it not for revelations from journalists we still wouldn’t know because they are doing this in secret,’’ Broinowski said.

If they were proud of what they’re doing, and if they were to say these are the reasons we are doing it and this is how it makes Australia safer they would say so. But they don’t say so, in other words, they know that there will be resistance to this, that there will be suspicions about it that people don’t trust it and that many people are actually afraid of the implications of what’s going on in the Northern Territory, what’s going on in the Tindal Air Base and elsewhere.

Political commentator and former diplomat Bruce Haigh suspects the oft-cited number of 2500 rotating US troops stationed in Australia doesn’t paint the full picture.

“They give the official figure at 2500 and say that they rotate but I understood that those troops are becoming more permanent.”

To the purpose of the thousands of US marines stationed in Darwin, Haigh says, officially, it’s for joint training exercises with the Australian Defence Force but we don’t know”.

A lot of money being spent on upgrading these bases hasn’t yet gone through the parliamentary committee system so we don’t know where in the Defence budget this money is coming from.

Flaps up and blinkers on: politicians happy with the unknown unknowns of fighting war

Between Pine Gap, Tindal Air Force Base and thousands of US marines deployed in Darwin the exact figure is unknown. The US also has access to almost all Australian military bases with US naval personnel also coming in and out of the Stirling Naval Base in Fremantle, according to Haigh.

Then there is the matter of what is a base, when is a base a base, and whether Australian authorities are kept in the dark about what their US allies are doing.

Broinowski says the government has little oversight of many of the facilities that the US has interested in “although we call them Australia joint facilities they are for all intents and purposes American bases. About which our government knows as little as it used to know in the olden days about Pine Gap”.

While defence specialist Paul Dibb says nuclear weapons are unlikely to be based at RAAF Tindal base and B-52 bombers more likely to be launched at China from Guam or Alaska, detractors of the Australia-US military relationship say that it still puts Australia at risk.

Australia first sought the protection of US forces in 1942, as Japan waged war in the Pacific.

US forces serve on Australian soil under the provisions of the ANZUS alliance, signed by the two nations and New Zealand in 1951.

Proponents of the arrangement argue that the US defence umbrella both protects Australia and keeps our costs down.

While the budget papers read that “Australia has committed to maintaining a defence budget at over 2% of GDP” or $50 billion in 2022, the US spends roughly 4% of its budget, or just over $750 billion, on its military.

For Australia, total self-reliance in defence would likely involve an increase in military spending and compulsory military service, for males at least.

According to former submariner and senator, Rex Patrick, government is captured by the Defence Department which is in turn captured by the US. The post-AUKUS treaty decision to jettison the French submarine deal and agree to a bigger program to buy submarines from the US or UK reflects an Australian subsidy for the struggling submarine industries in those countries.

“If our objective is to be a deputy sheriff to the US, as the 51st state of the Union, then eight nuclear submarines is the answer.

“If our objective is ‘‘defence of Australia’’, with the ability to forward deploy boats to operating bases in Singapore, Malaysia, Guam or Japan, in support of our allies and friends, then 20 AIP boats is the answer.”

AUKUS was a tough sell already, and now it seems local industry will miss out


Callum Foote was a reporter for Michael West Media for four years.

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