Australia increases military activity in Indo-Pacific

Australia increases military activity in Indo-Pacific

Tom Abke

Australia has joined the United States in expanding its military activity in the Indo-Pacific region. Citing the region’s security and a dedication to the continued effective functioning of the rules-based global order, Australian defense officials are increasing deployments and joint regional exercises with the U.S. and other regional partners.

Moreover, Australian defense officials welcomed the announcement of an increase in U.S. troop presence in Indo-Pacific.

“Australia’s alliance with the United States is our most important defense relationship and remains central to Australia’s strategic and security arrangements in the Indo-Pacific region,” Australia’s Department of Defense (DOD) told FORUM. “At the same time as Australia is increasing our engagement in the region, we welcome the U.S. enhancing its presence, including through exercises with key partners.”

The U.S. plans to deploy up to 10,000 additional troops to the Indo-Pacific for ongoing rotations, Gen. Robert Brown, commander of U.S. Army forces in the Pacific, told reporters in March 2019. The newly deployed troops will be rotated into locations to suit the needs and capabilities of regional partners, said Brown, with the agility to redeploy to other locations as conditions and needs dictate.

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) embarked on March 11, 2019, on one of its largest-ever peacetime deployments, Indo-Pacific Endeavour 2019. More than 1,000 ADF personnel were transported on four vessels to take part in engagement activities and military training exercises during port visits in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, Australia’s DOD reported.

In April 2019, military personnel from the U.S. and Australia cooperated in the eighth rotation of the Marine Rotational Force-Darwin (MRF-D), an element of the United States Force Posture Initiatives (USFPI) program, the Australian DOD statement said. MRF-D involves the rotation of U.S. Marines through northern Australia during the dry season to train both unilaterally and with the ADF and other Indo-Pacific nations’ forces.  (Pictured: U.S. Marines deplane a Boeing 777 at the Royal Australian Air Force base in Darwin, Australia, on April 12, 2019, for the eighth rotation of the Marine Rotational Force– Darwin.)

“This year’s rotation will see the number of U.S. Marines in Darwin reach 2,500,” the Australian statement said. “This milestone demonstrates the growing strength and enduring nature of the U.S.-Australia alliance and our strong and deepening engagement in the Indo-Pacific.”

MRF-D enhances the interoperability and combat capabilities of the ADF and U.S. forces through increased combined training and exercises, the statement said.

Another USFPI element, the Enhanced Air Cooperation program, active since 2017, aims to bolster bilateral collaboration and interoperability among the air elements of the countries’ forces through “joint and combined warfighting effects, operational maneuver, integrating enabling capabilities, and strategic logistics.”

Australia and the U.S. affirmed their shared commitment to keeping the Indo-Pacific “open, inclusive, prosperous and rules-based,” at the Australia-U.S. Ministerial Consultations in July 2018, the statement said. There, defense and foreign affairs officials resolved to increase joint engagement in the Pacific for the benefit of all nations in the region through such measures as enhanced regional information sharing and maritime security and domain awareness, as well as capacity-building, academic exchanges, sustainable infrastructure investments, and strengthening support for humanitarian and disaster responses.

“Australia strongly supports the continuation of robust United States leadership in the Indo-Pacific and deepened engagement with key partners in the region,” the Australian DOD statement said. “The presence of U.S. military forces plays a vital role in ensuring security across the Indo-Pacific. The global strategic and economic weight of the United States is essential to the continued effective functioning of the rules-based global order.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.