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US builds massive air force refueling base in Australia's far north amid China tensions

Experts say north Australia will act as vital logistics hub in event of Taiwan invasion

U.S. fighter pilot in the air in the air during a training exercise in the Indo-Pacific command theater. (Twitter, Ryan Chan photo)

U.S. fighter pilot in the air in the air during a training exercise in the Indo-Pacific command theater. (Twitter, Ryan Chan photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Construction is due to begin on a new fueling station for U.S. fighter jets in Australia’s far north, just 15 kilometers from downtown Darwin.

The military asset, named “East Arm fuel storage facility” will become operational by September next year, expected to be able to store 300 million liters of military jet fuel to support U.S. defense forces throughout the Indo-Pacific region, according to an ABC report. The facility will include a pipeline, 11 giant jet fuel tanks and marine loading arms.

The U.S. has been increasing its training drills with the Australian Royal Air Force (RAAF) in northern Australia. Last November, U.S. F-22 Raptors, F-35 stealth fighters, and B2 stealth bombers flew eastward from a base at Diego Garcia – in the middle of the Indian Ocean — to partake in exercises with the RAAF off the Australian coastline, according to a EurAsian Times report.

The refueling project’s developers describe it as a “forward-deployed strategic storage facility” while the Northern Territory’s Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, said it would contribute to making Darwin a "leading hub for defence and national security”, per ABC.

"We're a very large place with a very small population and we offer Australian defense forces, American defense forces, Japanese, and others, things they simply can't do anywhere else," Gunner said.

The refueling station will sit just adjacent to the Port of Darwin, which is currently being leased to a Chinese company, Landbridge Group. Considering Australia’s spiraling relations with China, the controversial lease has become a hot-button topic, with many experts saying the deal needs to be canceled.

Previously, Peter Jennings, the head of the influential think tank Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has stated the country’s far north will be essential as a logistics hub in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. Jennings has also called on Canberra to end the 99-year lease of Darwin Port, arguing it poses a national security threat to Australia and its allies.

Yet a recent review by Australia’s Department of Defence found no national security risk that justifies terminating the lease. This decision provoked a strong reaction among some of Australia’s China policy experts.

"We have to project forward 10 years and ask ourselves, (in) a period of conflict, what would be the ramifications of having a Chinese company owning our most strategic port," says Clive Hamilton, academic and author of "Silent Invasion" and "Hidden Hand" — two bestsellers about Chinese infiltration in Australian and global politics.

The intensifying geopolitical forces swirling around Australia’s far north (or “Top End” as it is known locally), are making it more crucial to the security of the broader region. Considering its importance to any potential plan to defend Taiwan, the area is likely to attract more attention by Taiwanese defense experts going forward.

Updated : 2022-05-20 05:45 GMT+08:00