30 April 2023

Bases covered: Australian Defence Force’s northern sites targeted for funding boost

| Andrew McLaughlin
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RAAF planes

RAAF F-35A fighters over Tindal in the Northern territory. Photo: ADF.

In the wake of the release of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR), the Federal Government has wasted little time in announcing a series of upgrades to some of the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) key bases in the country’s north.

The DSR identified the need to strengthen Australia’s northern bases in the face of emerging threats in the Indo-Pacific region. These upgrades will include lengthened runways and larger aircraft parking aprons, more resilient fuel storage and supply, and better base accommodation and security.

READ ALSO Defence Strategic Review shifts focus to deterrence

Over the next four years, some $3.8 billion has been committed to the projects, including $2bn for upgrades to air bases in northern Queensland, the Northern Territory, northwest Western Australia and the Cocos Islands.

A further $1bn has been allocated to land and joint estate capabilities upgrades, including training ranges and the facilities at the army’s Robertson Barracks in Darwin and Lavarack Barracks in Townsville.

Some $600m will be spent on upgrades to the naval bases at HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin and HMAS Cairns, and to the Harold E Holt Naval Communications Station near Exmouth in Western Australia. A further $200m will be allocated to the acceleration of future projects.

navy vessel

HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin. Photo: ADF.

“As the Defence Strategic Review rightly observes, our northern bases are a huge asset and critical to Australia’s ability to project,” Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles said in a 28 April statement.

“Our immediate investment in these bases will ensure our Defence Force is able to operate from them effectively.

“This is an important opportunity which will ensure the ADF has the infrastructure and capabilities it needs into the future.”

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy added: “We are investing in the north as we reshape and modernise Defence, building the capabilities Australia needs for the future. This will mean more opportunities for defence industry in northern Australia, which will mean more jobs in communities across the north.”

stealth bombers

Two USAF B-2A Stealth Bombers overfly RAAF Base Curtin near Derby in WA, accompanied by two RAAF F-35A fighters. Photo: ADF.

The Commonwealth’s announcement comes just days after the US Department of Defense issued a tender for the construction of a dedicated US Air Force aircraft maintenance facility at RAAF Base Tindal, near Katherine in the NT.

The tender calls for administration, briefing and training spaces for support personnel, with the work to be completed within 400 days of the contract being awarded.

READ ALSO US Air Force unveils new Stealth Bomber

The facilities will support the deployment of US Air Force aircraft to Tindal as part of an increased US military presence on Australian soil.

Previously, US and other allied fighter aircraft visiting Tindal have utilised a dedicated visiting squadron area of the base with its own taxiways, aprons, shelters and maintenance facilities, but these are not suitable for larger aircraft such as B-52H, B-2A or the new B-21 bombers, reconnaissance aircraft like the RC-135 and the uncrewed Global Hawk, or KC-46 and KC-135 refuelling aircraft.

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