Military boost focuses on WA
Military boost focuses on WA

Stealth fighter jets will be able to operate from bases in WA, a new airfield will be built in the Cocos Islands to host unmanned US drones and a port in Rockingham will be modernised to berth new submarines and American warships under a major plan unveiled by the Federal Government.

In a big reshuffle of defence assets and personnel unveiled by Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday, the Government signalled it would boost its military presence in WA to confront shifting power balances in the region.

The Government's so-called Force Posture Review says the small airfield in the Cocos Islands should be upgraded to supported "unrestricted" operations by P-8 patrol aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles.

It was revealed last month that the US was in talks with Canberra to base drones in the Cocos Islands to send spy flights over vital maritime routes through South-East Asia.

The basing of drones and any increased military presence in the islands is likely to anger China and Indonesia, who are both sensitive to any increased US presence in the region.

The review demands a major dredging operation in Cockburn Sound to open a second shipping channel into Garden Island, pointing out that currently warships and submarines have only one route in and out of HMAS Stirling.

It is recommended HMAS Stirling get a big upgrade with the building of new missile loading facilities and wharf capacity for the next generation of Australian submarines.

The review says small airstrips at Learmonth near Exmouth and Curtin near Derby should be "hardened" with aircraft shelters and fuel storage facilities so new F-35 Joint Strike Fighters can launch operations from WA, if needed.

It recommends defence infrastructure in Broome be revamped to ready the holiday town as a possible forward operating base to launch military operations into the Indian Ocean.

Defence Minister Stephen Smith ordered the review last year amid concerns too much of the nation's defence infrastructure was based on the east coast, when so much of Australia's wealth was now being generated in WA. Mr Smith said no decisions had been made on the review's recommendations and admitted many of the options put forward would need billions of dollars in new investment.

The review found there was no need for permanent new army bases in WA, though it floated the idea of a Pilbara regiment being boosted with fly-in, fly-out soldiers from Perth.

It also suggests the FIFO workforce in the north could be tapped to bolster numbers in military units in northern Australia. Did you know? 2200 The range in kilometres of the Boeing P-8 aircraft to be flown from Cocos Islands

The West Australian

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