“So I do have an aspiration to make sure that we can increase the numbers of troops through the rotations. The air capability will be enhanced, our maritime capability enhanced, and certainly the force posture enhanced. And if that includes basing and includes the storage of different ordnances, I think that is in Australia’s best interest, in our national interest, at this point in time.”
With those words Defence Minister Dutton, standing with Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, acknowledged that AUKUS was about more than submarines and technology transfers.
While Dutton spoke of ‘aspirations, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin was more direct: “…that will expand our access and presence in Australia” and while he and Dutton stressed that there was no quid pro quo arrangement, this was about as honest as the claim that AUKUS was not about China.
There are currently about 2000 US troops stationed at Robertson Barracks in Darwin. Recent upgrades and extensions have increased the size of the base to cater for an estimated 4500 troops and further upgrades are already in the pipeline in preparation for the increased troop numbers.
Both Dutton and Austin stated that Force Posture Agreement entered into by the Gillard Government in 2011 would be expanded: this means that there is no reason to believe that US troop deployments will be confined to Darwin, particularly with the aforementioned possibility of HMAS Stirling being upgraded to accommodate lend-lease LA Class SSNs.
Minister Dutton also spoke of hosting “different type of ordnance” in Australia, which is possibly referring to former US Defence Secretary Mark Esper’s comments about hosting weapons in the region. hypersonic weapons but may also be referring to nuclear weapons being based here.
It is worth noting that while all three nations have stressed that AUKUS would not include Australia developing nuclear weapons, not a word was said about Australia not hosting them.
The increasing storage of different types of ordnance, the increased visits of all kinds of aircraft and ships leans us towards the fear that Australia will openly host nuclear weapons in the near future. Currently the US policy of ‘neither confirm nor deny’ the presence of nuclear weapons on its ships and aircrafts is nothing more than an opening for plausible deniability. There is no way that a nuclear military will bring its platforms halfway round the world only to return home if and when they need nuclear weapons: we already allow nuclear weapons to pass through Australia as long as they stay on board US platforms, although we pretend to not know this; openly hosting nuclear and hypersonic weapons takes our engagement with a nuclear armed army one step further.