An expanded Royal Australian Air Force base in the Northern Territory will have space for up to six American nuclear-capable B-52 aircraft as part of a US-funded project that is likely to fuel tensions with China.
Officials in Canberra confirmed that the US-funded aircraft parking apron at RAAF Base Tindal, 320km south-east of Darwin, would be capable of accommodating up to six B-52 aircraft, but said it could also house other aircraft types.
They said the project was currently in the design phase, and played down the significance of the development, saying US bomber aircraft had been visiting Australia since the early 1980s and conducting training in Australia since 2005.
But the detailed plans – first reported by the ABC on Monday – suggest the new Labor government has locked in plans initiated under the former Coalition government to expand visits to Australia by US aircraft.
The B-52 is a long-range, heavy bomber that can carry out ocean surveillance and anti-ship operations and “can carry nuclear or precision guided conventional ordnance”, according to a US government summary.
Four Corners reported the US Department of Defence had budgeted $US14.4m ($A22.5m) for squadron operations and maintenance facilities at Tindal.
It cited US documents as saying: “The [squadron operations] facility is required to support strategic operations and to run multiple 15-day training exercises during the Northern Territory dry season for deployed B-52 squadrons.”
The minister for defence personnel, Matt Keogh, said Australia must remain “vigilant” amid regional tensions, but he did not think the B-52 rotation plans would inflame tensions with China.
“I don’t think so at all,” he told reporters in Hobart.
“I think what’s really important here is that the more we are able to build interoperability with the Americans, growing on that very strong alliance.”
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