Defence Minister Kevin Andrews’ office has denied a plan to station nuclear-capable US bombers in Australia has anything to do with China.
The denial came after assistant US defence secretary David Shear said the operation was in response to China’s attempt to “assert de facto control over disputed territories”.
“We will be placing additional air force assets in Australia as well as B-1 bombers and surveillance aircraft,” Mr Shear told a US Senate foreign relations committee hearing in Washington DC on Thursday.
Mr Andrews’s office said that, while the aircraft will come to Australia, the US official ‘misspoke’ when he linked them to China. He said the operation is “not directed at any one country”.
“We are aware of the comments made by a US official in Congressional testimony overnight. The US government has contacted us to advise that the official misspoke,” a spokesman for Kevin Andrews said.
Mr Shear told a committee in Washington DC the move that would “back our (US) diplomacy”.
He said the US had noted “a pattern of behaviour that raises concerns China is trying to assert de facto control over disputed territories, and strengthen its military presence in the South China Sea,” AAP reported.
The jet’s placement in Australia is in line with growing militarisation in the region, which includes previously announced moves to bring more troops to Darwin and US bases in the Pacific.
Long-endurance, high-altitude remotely piloted Global Hawk aircraft and F-35 fighter jets will be in Japan, four combat ships in Singapore by 2020, a Virginia-class submarine in Guam, and “significant numbers of marines” in Australia, Hawaii and Guam, AAP reported.
“So we will have a very strong presence, very strong continued posture throughout the region to back our commitments to our allies, to protect and work with our partners and to continue ensuring peace and stability in the region,” Mr Shear said.
Australia has an agreement to host US aircraft for training and exercises, the ABC reported, and has hosted a B-52 bomber under those circumstances.
The force posture agreement with the US mentioned “enhanced aircraft cooperation initiatives”.
The B-1 was designed to carry nuclear weapons but has been used more commonly to carry and drop conventional bombs.
B1 bombers were used in the 2003 Iraq war.