Location, location: Northern Australia requires urgent upgrade
April 24, 2023
Photo: Defence Connect
Australia’s northern military bases need to be urgently and comprehensively remediated, according to the Defence Strategic Review made available by the Australian government.
The Defence Strategic Review (DSR) was unveiled by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Defence Minister Richard Marles, and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy on Monday, 24 April.
The report outlines that Australia has significant strategic depth as a large island country in the age of long-range precision strike technology and the need for depth in force posture is essential.
Australia’s northern maritime approaches after a key line of forward deployment for the Australian Defence Force, the report said. The network of bases, ports, and barracks stretched across Australian territory from Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the northwest, through RAAF bases Learmonth, Curtin, Darwin, Tindal, Scherger, and Townsville are integral to sovereign Australian posture and require urgent, comprehensive remediation.
It highlighted that the government had adopted recommendations from the 2012 Force Posture Review and 2013 Defence White Paper, allocated resources and then failed to implement those recommendations to northern bases.
“The defence posture that we have had for the last few decades has served our nation well. But in the circumstances that we now face that defensive posture is no longer fit for purpose,” Defence Minister Marles said.
“(Our focus is) to deter, through denial, any adversary that seeks to project power against Australia or our interests through our northern approaches.
The ADF will protect Australia’s economic connection to the region and the world, while advocating for the collective security of the Indo Pacific beyond the nation’s shores, according to Minister Marles.
“We need to have a defence force which has the capacity to engage in impactful projection through the full spectrum of proportionate response,” he said.
The DSR recommended that northern airbases be viewed as a holistic capability system and managed by the Chief of Air Force.
As a priority, work should be undertaken for hardening and dispersal, runway and apron capacity, fuel storage and supply, aviation fuel supply, accommodation and security. A productive and predictable supply must also be made for fuel distribution in the north and northwest.
It also recommends that work can be achieved by leveraging capabilities offered by civil minerals and petroleum resources infrastructure.
There are already well-established bases and facilities in the south-east of Australia, access to the Indian Ocean with the naval base at HMAS Stirling in Perth and RAAF Pearce in the south-west, while sites between Adelaide to Brisbane provide a level of depth to the national support base.
The report also recommended that an east coast nuclear-powered submarine facility be established but did not detail where that would be located. That facility would need to provide redundancy, distribution, and increase speed of transit to key east coast operational areas for the existing Collins Class fleet of submarines and future nuclear-powered submarines.
Infrastructure development should commence immediately at the Osborne shipyard in South Australia and HMAS Stirling in Perth to enable the Nuclear-Powered Submarine Pathway and support nuclear-powered submarine operations respectively, according to the report.
Industry consolidation options should also be examined for the Henderson shipyard as a matter of urgency.