The West

Australia and the US will fast-track the deployment of a multimillion-dollar radar system to WA's north as part of efforts to keep track of the growing amount of junk floating in orbit around the Earth.

And the Americans could build another, bigger telescope somewhere in the State as part of efforts to spot space debris and keep watch on the satellites of rival nations.

Speaking after the conclusion of the AUSMIN talks in Perth, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said a so-called C-band radar would be relocated from the US to Exmouth in 2014. The radar, to be jointly run by Australian and US military personnel, would be built at the top-secret Harold E. Holt submarine communications centre.

It was not clear exactly where the telescope would be placed, but Mr Smith said it would likely be somewhere in the north of WA.

It is estimated there are now about 22,000 pieces of space junk in orbit around the Earth, left behind from old satellites and rockets. Some pieces are as big as a bus and others are only a few centimetres wide.

All are orbiting the Earth at great speed and have the potential to destroy satellites or spacecraft if they collide. The C-band radar will allow the military to plot the junk, then guide working satellites out of danger.

The radar and the telescope could also allow the military to accurately track objects launched into orbit by China or Russia.

It was also revealed yesterday that the US and Australia would begin a study to look at giving US warships greater access to HMAS Stirling at Rockingham and possibly other naval ports around Australia.

US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, who visited Special Air Service Regiment soldiers in Swanbourne yesterday, said Mr Smith had flagged with him the idea that Australian special forces troops would be willing to stay on in Afghanistan after 2014 when most Western troops had withdrawn.

"I believe that is worth considering," Mr Panetta said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there had been "a lot of conversation" among the NATO allies about the email investigation into US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, but no concerns had been expressed among the coalition members about the potential for an adverse effect on the course of the war.

Mrs Clinton said the US welcomed the peaceful rise of China, but also wanted to see Beijing become fairer and more transparent.

"The Pacific is big enough for all of us and we stand to benefit from increased co- operation across the Asia- Pacific region as long as theirs is a level playing field and everybody knows what the rules are and everybody is held to the same standards," she said.

Mrs Clinton and Mr Panetta leave Perth today. <div class="endnote">


The West Australian

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