Here’s one more sign that we’re serious about shifting resources to the Pacific region. The Pentagon is eyeing the Cocos Islands off the coast off northwest Australia (they’re actually closer to Indonesia than Oz) as the next base for RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned spy planes. DoD officials are eying the tiny atoll as a relief valve for America’s overcrowded secret base at Diego Garcia (smack in the center of the Indian Ocean. The Cocos Islands are also a lot closer to all the action in the Southwest Pacific Ocean. Spyplanes operating out of Cocos can easily monitor vital shipping lanes nearby like the Strait of Malacca.
Remember, in the last year we’ve learned that U.S. Marines will be based in Darwin, northern Australia and that Littoral Combat Ships will be based in Singapore. Meanwhile, Washington and the Manilla are working on a plans for an increased American military presence in the Philippines.
Dont get too excited yet, though. Australian officials say any U.S. facility on the island is a long way off.
From Australia’s ABC news:
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has confirmed that officials from Australia and the US have been discussing increased defence cooperation in the region, including possible greater use of the islands.
She did not deny the reports, but said there had “not been any substantial progress” made on many of the matters discussed with the US in November.
“Look, I’m not going to play a rule-in, rule-out game about something that’s been discussed at officials level,” she said.
This morning Defence Minister Stephen Smith told AM that the Cocos airstrip would need to be upgraded to be able to launch the drones and stressed that it was “very much a long-term prospect”.
“It’s not currently ideal because one of the first things that we would have to do, and this has been agreed between me and my counterparts, is a substantial infrastructure upgrade, particularly so far as the airfield is concerned,” he said.
“That’s one of the reasons why this is very much a long-term prospect. So again, I say, people should not get ahead of themselves.”
Mr Smith said US and Australian officials were looking at “three priorities” in the wake of the agreement with Mr Obama.
He said they were: the basing of US Marines in Darwin; greater air traffic through northern Australia; and, in the longer term, American access to the Navy’s HMAS Stirling base in Perth.