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Australia and the United States Sign a New Force Posture Agreement (FPA)

The United States and Australia have signed a new Force Posture Agreement (FPA), growing the number of Marines rotating through Darwin, building infrastructure for an expanding U.S. Air Force presence, exploring an increase in a U.S. maritime presence in Australia, and looking into cooperative programs in cyber security and ballistic missile defense, some of which U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel expanded upon during a news conference yesterday. Hagel called the FPA “an important document,” saying “it represents another milestone in our relationship.”

The FPA will increase the existing Marine presence of about 1,200, possibly up to a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) of approximately 2,500 personnel. The Marines will exercise and train with the Australian Defense Force in the northern part of the country.

Marine, Australian-AAV7

U.S. Marine Cpl. Kyle Eaton, right, shows Australian Army Pvt. Ted Hanlon controls in the turret of an amphibious assault vehicle during exercise Ssang Yong 2014. Ssang Yong 14 is a combined amphibious exercise, incorporating more than 13,000 U.S. and ROK Navy-Marine and Australian Army forces, which effectively demonstrates the unique abilities of a forward-deployed Marine air-ground task force. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony J. Kirby

“It’s important also, that document, to emphasizing and supporting America’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific in doing what we can to assure our own interests, as well as the interests of Australia and other nations in the Asia-Pacific, to sustain a peaceful and stable order throughout Asia-Pacific,” Hagel said.

“It will expand our regional cooperation here in the Asia-Pacific, from engagement with ASEAN to the trilateral cooperation that we have been working on with Japan, which is an important relationship. We have our own bilateral relationships with Japan. But this enhances and broadens that bilateral relationship we each have with Japan into a trilateral relationship.”

“I think, when you look at the framework of that agreement, it allows us many things. And I think the rotational presence, for example, of U.S. Marines in Darwin and American airmen in Northern Australia is a good example of what the FPA will allow us to do as we work more closely together and cooperate more closely and coordinate more closely in new ways and strengthen some of the older ways we have been able to cooperate over the years.

“It will expand our regional cooperation here in the Asia-Pacific, from engagement with ASEAN to the trilateral cooperation that we have been working on with Japan, which is an important relationship. We have our own bilateral relationships with Japan. But this enhances and broadens that bilateral relationship we each have with Japan into a trilateral relationship.

Australian, U.S.-helicopters

An Australian S-70A-9 Black Hawk, left, and U.S. MH-60 Seahawks fly out to sea to drop a rescue raft during Talisman Saber 2013. The flight was a trial run and served as practice for the participants involved. Talisman Saber is a biennial training activity aimed at improving the combat readiness and interoperability of Australian and U.S. forces. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Anne K. Henry

“The FPA’s long-term commitment provides a solid foundation for our joint capacity building, which we can do more of; our humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, which we have done together for many years; and I think other areas that provide us some opportunities for new initiatives,” Hagel said.

“We have an interest here, the United States,” Hagel concluded. “We’ll continue to have an interest here. We are a Pacific power. We’ve been a Pacific power. So we’re not going anywhere, and our partnerships are here. Our treaty obligations here are important to us. The president has made that case.”

Hagel acknowledged that one part of ongoing discussions is cooperation on ballistic missile defense, which the new Australian air warfare destroyers, equipped with the Aegis system, could be modified to conduct.

“Ballistic missiles – we are going to talk tomorrow, as I noted, in our discussions with the Australians, regarding ballistic missile defense. These are conversations that we started prior. We talked a little bit in our meeting today, the two of us, about this issue. And we think there’s great opportunity and possibilities as we go forward and develop some options,” Hagel said.

Hagel also emphasized the increasing U.S. commitment to the region overall, pointing out that the U.S. has “about 200 ships in our Navy in the Pacific in this area. We have over 360,000 military uniformed personnel and civilians stationed in this part of the world.”

Australian AWD

A computer-generated image of the Australian Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD). The project will deliver three world-class ships and their support systems to the Royal Australian Navy ( RAN). Equipped with Aegis, the destroyers could be modified to conduct ballistic missile defense. Australian DOD image

“This is a part of the world that represents five of America’s seven treaty obligation countries that we are committed to, which we’ve made very clear we’re committed to,” Hagel said.

“Recently, for the first time, we have Marines on a rotational basis here in Australia; 1,2000, I think, is what we currently have. We have an LCS ship in – and we’ll have more on a rotational basis – in Singapore, which is new.

“We have just concluded new arrangements and agreements with the country the Philippines on a rotational basis to use bases there.”

“We have an interest here, the United States,” Hagel concluded. “We’ll continue to have an interest here. We are a Pacific power. We’ve been a Pacific power. So we’re not going anywhere, and our partnerships are here. Our treaty obligations here are important to us. The president has made that case.”