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In a move that has the potential to change the strategic picture in the Asia Pacific region, Australia and the US agreed in November 2011 to begin basing US Marines in the north Australian port of Darwin. It was confirmed in January 2012 that an initial contingent of 250 Marines would start amphibious training with Australian forces before the end of 2012. The US force in Darwin will rise to 2,500 Marines by 2016.
While the US deployment in Australia was in some ways relatively modest, a base in Australia is significant from a strategic standpoint as it enables US forces to pivot between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is also a key part of Washington's plan to increase its strategic focus on the Asia Pacific region, with bases in Singapore and perhaps the Philippines also planned. Both the US and Australia went to great lengths to try to reassure China that it is not the target of the strategic realignment. Such efforts are especially important for Australia: with its most important strategic ally, the US, and its biggest trading partner, China, becoming ever greater geopolitical rivals, Australia could find itself in an awkward position. Reconciling this paradoxical state of affairs will preoccupy Australian diplomacy for many years to come.
In January 2012 the Department of Defence (DoD) issued a progress report on its forthcoming Defence Force Posture Review, which said the final report would be published at the end of March 2012. The review will assess the changes that need to be made to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in light of the shifting strategic picture in the Asia Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region. The review will also help to prepare the ground for Australia's next defence white paper, due in 2014.
One important decision that plays into the ADF's future posture is the question of whether to press ahead with the procurement of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. Project delays and cost overruns have dampened Australian enthusiasm for the aircraft. In September 2011 defence minister Stephen Smith warned that Canberra had only committed to buying 14 F-35s and may opt instead to procure additional F/A-18 Super Hornets. In February, the air force then announced that it planned to sign a contract for just two F-35s in Q3 2012, suggesting that it was planning to postpone the purchase of the next 12 aircraft (though it appears contractually committed to acquiring these aircraft at some stage). Australia originally planned to procure 100 F-35s, but a procurement of that size is now in doubt.
In December Smith announced that a major land forces procurement was progressing, with the selection of Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles and Thales Australia to fulfil two requirements for new vehicles under the Project Overlander programme that aims to replace the army's vehicle inventory. Rheinmettal is to supply 2,700 medium and heavy vehicles from its HX truck series in a deal worth upwards of US$3bn, while Thales Australia will provide up to 1,300 4x4 Hawkei light armoured vehicles under the terms of a US$1.5bn contract. Second-pass approval for the orders is expected in 2013; final approval would then follow in 2015, with production potentially starting in 2016.
The DoD also announced in December that it was planning to procure two additional Boeing CH-47D helicopters, which are likely to be ex-US Army aircraft. Australia currently operates five Chinooks, having lost one aircraft in Afghanistan in May 2011. It will later replace all seven D-models with newer F-model Chinooks, which are due for delivery starting in 2016.
Click for Report details:Australia Defence and Security Report Q2 2012