Australia will invest $580 million to upgrade four of its northern military bases and expand “war gaming” exercises with the United States, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Wednesday.
“Our focus is on pursuing peace, stability, and a free and open Indo-Pacific, with a world order that favors freedom,” Morrison told Australia’s Daily Telegraph newspaper on April 28.
“Working with the United States, our allies, and Indo-Pacific neighbors, we will continue to advance Australia’s interests by investing in the Australian Defence Force, particularly across Northern Australia,” the prime minister said.
Canberra’s $580 million investment will expand training facilities for the Australian Defense Forces in Australia’s Northern Territory “with a focus on better integrating Australian troops’ training with key allies including the U.S.,” the Daily Telegraph reported. The funds will provide for “upgraded firing ranges, weapons training simulation, combat and urban shooting ranges, aviation facilities, support facilities, and accommodation.”
An airstrip in Australia’s Northern Territory will also be lengthened to support larger aircraft as part of the upgrades, Morrison said Wednesday.
The enhancements — slated to begin later this year and finish by 2026 — will allow “Australian troops to conduct simulated and reality-based war games and military training exercises with major allies, especially the U.S.,” according to the newspaper.
“The funds are part of an Australian defense plan that will see Canberra spend $270 billion in the next decade to improve Canberra’s long-range strike capabilities,” Reuters reported on Tuesday. “Morrison said last year the funding was needed as the Asia-Pacific region was experiencing the greatest level of economic and strategic uncertainty since World War II.”
“Our objective is a free and open Indo-Pacific, to ensure a peaceful region, one that, at the same time, Australia is in a position to always protect its interests,” Morrison told reporters in Darwin, Australia, on Wednesday.
Australia’s new military focus on maintaining a “free” Indo-Pacific region comes amid ongoing diplomatic and trade tension between Canberra and Beijing. Though Morrison did not explicitly name China as a regional threat on Wednesday, both Australia and China have increasingly vied for influence in the Indo-Pacific in recent years.
Diplomatic relations between Canberra and Beijing took a nosedive last year after Morrison publicly supported an international call to investigate the true origins of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, which China’s ruling Communist Party has been accused of purposefully obfuscating. Morrison’s endorsement of the independent probe drew ire from the CCP, which launched an ongoing trade war with Australia in retaliation.