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Australia-US-Japan defence exercises expected to increase following China-Solomon Islands agreement

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 17/05/2022
Military training exercises, like the one in Queensland this week, could become more frequent.  (ABC Capricornia: Jasmine Hines) © Provided by ABC NEWS Military training exercises, like the one in Queensland this week, could become more frequent.  (ABC Capricornia: Jasmine Hines)

Military exercises between Australia, the United States, and Japan could become more frequent following the new security deal between China and the Solomon Islands, according to national security analysts.

More than 600 soldiers from the three nations are at Shoalwater Bay in central Queensland for the ninth annual Southern Jackaroo exercise. 

The group is practising arms and infantry live fire, as well as tank manoeuvres and setting up camp.

Peter Dean, director of the University of Western Australia's Defence and Security Institute, said as the international environment changed the emphasis on high-end military operations like Southern Jackaroo would grow.

"I think Shoalwater Bay's a microcosm of a bigger picture," Professor Dean said.

"We're in a phase, I think we can honestly say, of competition with China. We don't have the same views about how the regional order should work.

"I think the bigger picture is [that] these exercises wouldn't stop the agreement [between China and the Solomon Islands] from happening.

"[But] what it does show is a level of resolve between the three countries and a level commitment to maintaining a rules-based international order.

"Maintaining a free and open Indo Pacific … is one small part of that broader narrative."

On the ground at the exercise on Tuesday, the executive officer for the US Marine rotational force in Darwin, Lieutenant Colonel Duncan French, said the partnership was equally important to his team.

"If called to fight we're not going be able to do it alone. We've got to pair up with our partner nations" Lieutenant Colonel French said.

"This is our opportunity to train safely and to ensure success down the road."

More work needed with closer neighbours

Sam Roggeveen, Director of the Lowy Institute's International Security Program, in part agreed that training programs like Southern Jackaroo were more important than ever.

He said Russia's invasion of Ukraine was an example of a poorly trained military, with British intelligence assessments reporting Russia has lost a third of its forces deployed in February.

Mr Roggeveen said as well as upskilling the defence forces, training exercises also sent a message to the world that the countries involved were united — but only to an extent.

"In the case of confrontation with China, Japan has pretty strict limits on what it can do in that in that sort of event" Mr Roggeveen said.

He said he would prefer more investment into partnerships closer to Australia. 

"I would very much like to see defence relationships particularly with Indonesia, but with other South-East Asian countries as well, increased," he said.

"Those are the countries that directly share Australia's strategic interests.

"Japan's a long way away. Despite being a fellow democracy and a close traditional partner of Australia, it is still a long way away."

Shoalwater Bay prime location

Professor Dean also emphasised how important Shoalwater Bay was in terms of defence infrastructure.

"[It's] one of the few areas where you can do combined arms operations and joint operations," he said.

At the training exercise, commanding officer of 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Niessl, agreed the location was ideal, especially as it was a large area and covered diverse terrain.

"We have the road system through the training area, but we've also got a wide variety of different landscapes, from jungle through to more open areas" Lieutenant Colonel Niessl said.

"We've got an urban facility … we've got these sorts of ranges, and of course we've got the coastline so we can conduct amphibious operations.

"We need a large training area to be able to achieve our mission and to practice our drills and practice our procedures.

"Shoalwater Bay, along with a few other training areas like Townsville, Mount Bundey, [and] Cultana, are large enough that we can actually conduct high level, combined arms battle group and brigade-level training."


Video: China has ‘changed’ to adopt an ‘aggressive approach’: Dutton (Sky News Australia)

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