Australian air base upgrade boosts bilateral ties with U.S.

Australian air base upgrade boosts bilateral ties with U.S.

Top Stories | Mar 31, 2020:

Tom Abke

A U.S. $723 million upgrade to an Australian air base will create 300 jobs and enhance the ability of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the United States Air Force to operate within the Indo-Pacific region.

The upgrade to RAAF Base Tindal, an air base in Australia’s Northern Territory near the town of Katherine, will support the joint training and regional engagement objectives of Australia and the U.S. “This is a tangible demonstration of the strength of the alliance and its strong contribution to regional security and cooperation,” an Australian Department of Defence spokeswoman told FORUM.

In addition to boosting bilateral activities, the upgraded base will enhance the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF’s) engagement with other partners in the region, she added, and extend the reach of RAAF capabilities in the Indo-Pacific and provide support for operations such as air combat missions and responses to natural disasters.

Specific upgrades to the 78-year-old air base will include lengthening, strengthening and widening the runway; realigning the parallel taxiway; creating a larger air movements terminal and aircraft parking apron; and building a new aviation fuel farm to support air-to-air refueling.

Other improvements will cover such critical infrastructure as power, water and sewage, as well as 108 new live-in units for ADF personnel.

“This project will also improve accessibility for United States Air Force aircraft under the United States force posture initiatives,” the spokeswoman said.

Such initiatives include enhanced air cooperation, which began in 2017 and includes fifth-generation strike fighters and strategic bombers.

Base Tindal houses the RAAF’s 75 Squadron of F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets, pictured, which support day-to-day operations and function as a forward operating base for RAAF’s E-7 Wedgetail surveillance aircraft. The base’s upgrade parallels that of the squadron. The Hornets are scheduled to be replaced by fifth-generation F-35A aircraft in 2022.

“The F-35A will deliver air power effects through control of the air, land and maritime strike, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of joint forces and combined forces,” the spokeswoman said.

Construction is expected to begin in mid-2020, pending the approval of Australia’s Parliament, with completion scheduled for late 2027.

The spokeswoman described the upgrade as important to regional security. Australia’s recent defense white paper identified Northern Australia as strategically significant for national defense and as a forward base for regional engagement. The white paper expressed a commitment to strengthening ADF presence in Northern Australia.

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.