As the Australian government attempts to manage the multifaceted crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping the globe, the business of traditional national security planning and operations goes on. How the Australian government will balance the economic, health, and security aspects of COVID-19 against the need to maintain vigilance toward the ongoing threat posed by countries like China is a matter of concern. But make no mistake, the hard power commitment to checking China’s unabated challenges to the regional and global rules-based order will—must—continue despite the unknown future posed by the pandemic.
In that vein, Prime Minister Scott Morrison added further muscle to Australia’s strategic “step up” into the Indo-Pacific region by announcing last month a $1.1 billion Australian dollar upgrade to the existing Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) airbase at Tindal, in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Tindal has served as Australia’s primary northern air-power projection installation for three decades (though it has been in use on and off since 1942). Since Australia’s “shift to the north” for much of its military units and capabilities from the late 1980s, Tindal has been the home to Australia’s first line for its strike and reconnaissance aircraft as well as serving as host to rotational U.S and allied aircraft for joint exercises and steady state operations.
The upgraded base and facilities, once complete, will be the new home to elements of the RAAF’s 72 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (the first of which are now operational) as well as hosting U.S. long-range bombers on a rotational basis, including B-52s. The upgrades will extend existing runways to enable U.S strategic bomber operations and Australian air-to-air refueling aircraft capabilities, build new fuel facilities, and create additional housing for personnel.
Morrison’s announcement is a welcome step toward bettering Australia’s own air-combat capability and toward further interoperability with the United States, as well as for closer operations with emerging allies and partners like Japan and perhaps in time, India and Indonesia or South Korea.
In addition to the already allocated half a billion dollars previously committed to base upgrades (announced in Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper), this new additional investment would bring the Morrison government’s commitment to the base to almost $1.6 billion Australian dollars.
Australia’s main opposition party, the Australian Labor Party, has also endorsed the upgrades, and it too has highlighted both the sovereign and alliance benefits the upgraded facilities will bring for Australia as it seeks to maintain its regional air-combat supremacy in an increasingly fragile regional security environment. And like Morrison, Labor has welcomed the additional economic benefits the new facilities will bring to local business and industry in the Northern Territory—as well as 300 additional local construction jobs. Good policy is always good politics, too.
It is expected works will commence mid-2020 with the facilities and upgrades to be completed by 2027—though no official announcement has been made to the contrary, the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 may interrupt expected starts dates. (end of excerpt)
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