BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA -- The United States and Australia will deepen their military ties after reaching an agreement that expands their military cooperation as both countries work to deter China's growing influence and territorial claims in the western Pacific.
The agreements were announced following an annual meeting of the U.S. Defense Secretary and Secretary of State with their Australian counterparts, held this year in Brisbane, Australia.
The agreement will see an increased American rotational presence in Australia to include frequent U.S. submarine visits to a base in western Australia, more U.S. access to airbases in northern and western Australia, increased cooperation between both countries in space, speeding up efforts for Australia to develop its own guided missile production capability and working to establish deeper security relationships with other countries in the region -- most notably Japan.
"All of us have felt that the alliance has never been in better shape than it is right now," Richard Marles, Australia's Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister, said at a news conference held after Saturday's meetings.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called the U.S. a "vital ally," adding "It is our closest global partner; our closest strategic partner" and that recent meetings with their American counterparts have been about "operationalizing the alliance in order to ensure peace, stability, and order."
Appearing at the same news conference Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken affirmed that both nations are focused on maintaining stability and security in the region which is being threatened by China.
"Our two countries are defending the international rules based order, which has underwritten peace and security for decades, and which ensures that each country can make its own sovereign decisions free from any coercion," said Blinken who described China's destabilizing actions in the South China Sea and towards Taiwan.
"The results of today's discussions represent yet another major step for our alliance as we work together to enhance stability and deterrence in the region," said Austin.
That deterrence capability will become more visible as the U.S. gains access to more bases in Australia that will build upon the the rotational U.S. Marine rotational training presence in Darwin, located in far northern Australia, that has been operating there for the last decade.
Under the new agreement the U.S. will gain access to two more airbases in that part of Australia and another base in southeastern Australia where humanitarian supplies that could be used for disaster relief in the South Pacific region and will be pre-positioned.
A more visible presence will be the arrival of "regular and longer" visits by U.S. Navy submarines to HMAS Stirling naval base in western Australia.
"These visits would help build Australia's capacity in preparation for Submarine Rotational Force-West, an important milestone for the AUKUS Optimal Pathway that would commence as early as 2027," according to the joint statement released by both nations.
AUKUS refers to the strategic security agreement between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States and will help Australia in acquiring nuclear-powered submarines that could be operational beginning in 2035. Until that time the U.S. will provide three Virginia-class attack submarines to Australia to complement its six diesel submarines.
A senior U.S. defense official described the force posture agreements disclosed on Saturday as "a big deal" that will improve regional deterrence by having both countries work together across multiple domains, including space.
"We agreed that space cooperation would now form a key part of what we do in our military and defense cooperation, and this is a critical step forward," said Marles.
"It's actually pretty natural that as space evolves as a domain of human context that it becomes one of the key areas of force posture initiatives," said Marles though he did not provide specifics.
Space cooperation has already been visible in the ongoing Talisman Sabre exercise taking place in Australia with more than 30,000 military personnel from 13 countries. In the exercise, U.S. Space Command has provided a Counter Communications System that can counter an adversary's satellite communications.
The Talisman Sabre exercise was paused on Saturday as the U.S. and Australian militaries carried out search and rescue operations for the four Australian service members aboard an Australian military helicopter that crashed into the waters off of northeastern Australia.
The joint U.S.-Australia agreement is committed to helping Australia develop its own defense industry, an Australian initiative known as Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise (GWEO).
The U.S. committed to aiding that program by helping to co-produce Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) in Australia by 2025. Under the agreement Australia could also be involved in the future production of 155mm artillery shells that are currently in high demand with their constant use by Ukrainian forces against Russia.