On September 15, 2021, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States signed the AUKUS Treaty against “potential threats to the rule of law, including intractable territorial disputes, terrorism and organized crime.” The French hijacked the finer points of the pact in high decibels over the cancellation of the Australia – French Submarine deal and the provision of nuclear submarines to Australia. There is another potential controversy forming over the AUKUS deal.
On Wednesday, the Russian Permanent Representative to Vienna-based international organizations, Mikhail Ulyanov, expressed concern over reports that Australia is ready to provide its airdromes for US warplanes under the AUKUS pact.
“We noted public statements of Australian officials that within the framework of AUKUS, their country stands ready to provide its airfields for ANY types of US combat aircraft. Worrisome. According to the START Treaty, strategic bombers can’t be deployed beyond national territory,” Mikhail Ulyanov wrote on his Twitter account.
If open sources are believed, Australia is reconstructing the Air Force bases in Richmond and Amberley to receive American strategic bombers. In addition, several more airfields are planned for the US Air Force in unnamed locations in southern Australia.
Australia and Russia flight distance
To understand the threat posed by the US strategic bombers, we have to understand the distance and time factors. On December 5, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that two Tu-95MS strategic missile-carrying bombers and two Il-76MD military transport aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces paid an international visit to Indonesia. The planes took off from an airfield in the Amur Region and landed in Biak, Indonesia. On December 7, the Russian aircraft returned to their home site, conducting an eight-hour patrol in the neutral waters of the Pacific Ocean. Long-range aviation of the Russian Federation regularly performs patrol flights over the neutral waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic, Black and Caspian Seas, and the Pacific Ocean.
The United States attempts to base strategic aircraft overseas
The United States plans to increase the number of strategic aviation air bases where nuclear weapons are located by 2030 from two to five, as per the Federation of American Scientists.
Currently, the US Air Force strategic bombers B-52H Stratofortress, B-2 Spirit and B-1B Lancer are stationed at Minot ( North Dakota ), Whiteman ( Missouri ), Barksdale ( Louisiana ), Ellsworth ( South Dakota ) and Dyess ( Texas ).
Storage facilities for nuclear bombs and nuclear warhead cruise missiles are located only at Minot and Whiteman airbases, where strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons, B-52H Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit, are based.
The increase in the number of such airbases is associated with the entry into service of the US Air Force of the new B-21 Raider strategic bombers, which will be deployed at Ellsworth, Dyess and Whiteman airbases. There will be storage facilities for nuclear bombs and cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.
According to the Pentagon, the first B-21s will be deployed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.
As Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Procurement, Technology and Logistics Darlene Costello said at a Congressional hearing this year, the United States has already built the first two B-21 Raiders. According to her, all aircraft systems are currently being tested. Flight tests will begin next year.
The B-21 Raider, a new-generation strategic bomber being developed by Northrop Grumman for the US Air Force, has a significant bomb load and stealth and can carry conventional ammunition and nuclear weapons. The new strategic bomber is expected to enter service in 2026-2027. It is intended to replenish the existing fleet of American strategic bombers B-1 Lancer, B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress, and in the future – to replace them. The US Air Force plans to receive at least 100 B-21 Raider aircraft with a total value of $ 80 billion.
In early February, US European Command announced that it would deploy B-1Bs for the first time on the territory of its NATO ally, Norway. Russia naturally opposed the move.
History of US / UK bases in Australia
There is a lot of history between Australia, the US and the UK on military cooperation. The most important post-WW II cooperation events include:
The huge Woomera test site, the construction of which began on April 1, 1947. Practically all the ballistic and cruise strategic nuclear missiles, anti-aircraft and anti-submarine missiles of Great Britain were tested here. British Black Arrow rockets were tested and launched from the same test site since November 29, 1967.
In 1963, the Australian government signed an agreement with the United States on basing American nuclear submarines in two ports in Australia.
The top-secret American base Pye Gap is located 17 km southwest of Alice Springs (Central Australia). It is the centre for global espionage. Thirty-eight huge radars operate a constellation of several dozen reconnaissance satellites and support American space assets’ to intercept communications from Russian and Chinese artificial satellites.
In 1961, the United States deployed its Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft at the airfield in Sale, Victoria. Curiously, these U-2s spied not on the USSR or the PRC but on the US-NATO ally France, which was conducting atomic tests on the island of Mururoa. The French had to transfer a squadron of high-altitude fighter-interceptors there.
Since 2003, Canberra has been participating in the US missile defense program. From September 2017 to May 2020, the Australian Navy included three Hobart-class destroyers with a displacement of 6,250 tons. They are equipped with an Mk-41 vertical launch unit with 48 cells, capable of launching SM-3 missile defense missiles of the Aegis complex or Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The Navy has six Collins-class submarines (3051/3353 tons) equipped with Harpoon missiles.
On September 16, 2021, Australia announced the construction of eight nuclear submarines in Australia. All eight of these boats will enter the Australian Navy only by 2036. However, before that, the Australians may receive several “second-hand” American nuclear submarines.
A similar event took place in the early 1970s. At the same time, the Americans were producing 24 long-range F-111 bombers for Australia; the US donated 24 American F-4E Phantom fighters to the Australians.
Eight nuclear submarines are to be equipped with American Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of 2,400 km or more advanced cruise missiles.
Nuclear Submarines, Strategic Bombers and Missiles for Australia
Since a handful of nuclear-powered submarines will not be enough to monitor all approaches to Australia, the US plans to sell medium-range missiles and base strategic bombers in Australia.
When asked by journalists about the possibility of deploying medium-range missiles in Australia, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken refused to answer, saying that this is a sovereign business of Canberra. The medium-range missiles deployed in Australia can hit targets in South and Central China.
Nevertheless, the deployment of such missiles in Australia will seriously facilitate the task of the governments of Japan and European countries to persuade their parliaments to deploy American medium-range missiles.