The United States is reportedly preparing to deploy up to six nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in northern Australia, prompting China to accuse the US of undermining regional peace and stability.
The US is preparing to build dedicated facilities for the long-range bombers at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal in the Northern Territory, the ABC’s Four Corners reports.
Tindal is south of Darwin, where thousands of US Marines Corps troops have spent about half of each year since 2012 under a deal struck between then-US president Barack Obama and then-prime minister Julia Gillard.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese did not directly respond when asked at a news conference on Monday if the US was preparing to deploy bombers in Australia.
“We engage with our friends in the United States alliance from time to time,” Albanese said.
“There are visits to Australia, including in Darwin, that has US Marines on a rotating basis stationed there.”
The US Air Force told the ABC the ability to deploy US bombers to Australia “sends a strong message to adversaries about our ability to project lethal air power”.
Asked about US nuclear bombers being positioned in Australia, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said defence and security cooperation between countries should “not target any third parties or harm the interests of third parties”.
“The relevant US behaviours have increased regional tensions, seriously undermined regional peace and stability, and may trigger an arms race in the region,” Zhao told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing.
“China urges the parties concerned to abandon the outdated Cold War and zero-sum mentality and narrow-minded geopolitical thinking, and to do something conducive to regional peace and stability and enhancing mutual trust between the countries.”
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who was defence minister under the Morrison government, welcomed the prospect of B-52 bombers having a regular presence in Australia.
“It would be fantastic to have them cycling through more regularly,” Dutton said.
“It bolsters our security position in an uncertain time.”
While in office, Dutton said he had discussed with US authorities rotating all aspects of the US Air Force through northern Australia.
“To defend that (northern Australia) and to deter anybody from taking action against us is absolutely essential,” Dutton said.
“We have a vulnerability and it’s important for us to have a very strong relationship with the United States … and all of our allies.”
US tender documents showed the US Defence Department is planning to build an aircraft parking apron at Tindal to accommodate six B-52s, the ABC reported.
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There were detailed designs for the construction of a US Force “squadron operations facility” at Tindal as well as a maintenance centre, jet fuel storage tanks and an ammunition bunker, the broadcaster said
“The RAAF’s ability to host USAF bombers, as well as train alongside them, demonstrates how integrated our two air forces are,” the US Defence Department told the ABC.
The ABC did not provide a timeframe for the Tindal upgrade.