US bid for multi-billion dollar nuclear aircraft carrier strike group in Perth

By Nick O’Malley

A report for the US military contains a recommendation to expand America’s defense presence in Australia by massively expanding a base in Perth for a US aircraft carrier and supporting fleet.

The plan is included as part of one of four options set out in a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), commissioned by the Department of Defense.

The report’s authors will give testimony before Congress’s Armed Services Committee on Wednesday in the US.

The CSIS was directed to consider how the US military could undertake the “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region announced by President Barack Obama last year in response to China’s increasing influence.

The third option in the report – formally titled US Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment – details moving a US carrier strike group to the HMAS Stirling base in Perth.

The strike group would include a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, a carrier air wing of up to nine squadrons, one or two guided missile cruisers, two or three guided missile destroyers, one or two nuclear powered submarines and a supply ship.

“Australia’s geography, political stability, and existing defence capabilities and infrastructure offer strategic depth and other significant military advantages to the United States in light of the growing range of Chinese weapons systems, US efforts to achieve a more distributed force posture, and the increasing strategic importance of south-east Asia and the Indian Ocean,” says the report.

“Enhanced US Navy access to Her Majesty’s Australian Ship Stirling (submarines and surface vessels) is a possible next phase of enhanced access arrangements with Australia,” it says.

“HMAS Stirling offers advantages including direct blue-water access to the Indian Ocean and to the extensive offshore West Australian Exercise Area and Underwater Tracking Range, submarine facilities including a heavyweight torpedo maintenance centre and the only submarine escape training facility in the southern hemisphere, and space for expanded surface ship facilities, including potentially a dock capable of supporting aircraft carriers.”

The report suggests the US could also consider building airport facilities to support “bombers and other aircraft”.

It suggests other initiatives could include “increased US support for Australia’s ailing Collins class submarine replacement project” and “full Australian participation in US theatre missile defence”.

The other options consider how the US military could direct its “force posture” to the region with different levels of military power.

Option one lays out a plan for using existing forces where they are now stationed. Option two describes how the military could operate given the increases already planned for. Option three, which includes the build-up in Australia, presumes an increased force, and option four lays out plans for a decreased force.

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