The RAAF Base Tindal will become northern Australia's most important strategic air force base with the Morrison government investing $1.6 billion for upgrades that boost military ties with the United States.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited the remote air force base near the Northern Territory town of Katherine to open the new $495 million Air Combat Capability facility, where he helped dish up breakfast to service personnel.
He announced $1.1 billion in new funding on top of the $495 million spent to "ensure the Australian Defence Force can continue to deliver a potent air combat capability from the Northern Territory".
The improvements will include major runway extensions to accelerate the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter rollout, fuel stockpiles and engineering to support large aircraft like US Air Force B-52 strategic bombers and RAAF KC-30 air-to-air refuellers.
The air-to-air refuellers will boost the capacity of the RAAF and US Air Force to conduct joint operations and training exercises over larger areas in the Indo-Pacific.
There has been a permanent annual rotation of US Marines in Darwin that has increased to about 2000 under a deal signed in 2011 by the Gillard government and Obama administration.
When asked if this was an acknowledgment of concern about China's rise, Mr Morrison cited the 2016 Defence White Paper identifying Northern Australia as strategically important and an "understanding of the world we live and need to ensure we play a positive role in supporting stability and peace in the Indo Pacific".
The funding is seen as a response to warnings last year by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and US Studies Centre that it was not doing enough in defence infrastructure in the north.
Mr Morrison would not say whether US B-52s would be based permanently in the NT.
"What I can say is we're equipping these facilities to be able to have maximum advantage of relationships we have with our alliance partners to conduct exercises routinely with them, this would be an important staging point for those exercises," he told reporters.
"Strategically northern Australia has always been important.
"Northern Australia is incredibly important to Australia's economic future, for that to be realised, for for those improvements of the livelihoods of Australians to be realised that needs to be done off a platform of peace and stability in our region, which is what Tindal is about."
Australian companies involved in Tindal's massive upgrade could then find major projects in Asia where the environment was similar such as helping building Indonesia's new capital city, Mr Morrison said.
He said he was committed to reach a target of two per cent of GDP being spent on the defence forces by next year.
Labor's defence spokesman, deputy leader Richard Marles said he supported the Tindal upgrade, which was a "good step" in keeping America engaged in the region.
The upgrades are expected to creating 300 construction jobs.
and to serve breakfast to service men and women
Australian Associated Press