Australia Agrees to Host Key US Space Surveillance Systems

Posted November 14th, 2012 at 5:50 am (UTC-5)
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The United States has reached an agreement to station a powerful radar and space telescope in Australia, providing what U.S. officials say is a key ability to monitor the skies of the Asia-Pacific.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the agreement reached Wednesday at an annual security summit in Australia is a “major leap forward” and an “important new frontier” in the United States' rebalance to the Asia-Pacific.

The deal calls for a ground-based U.S. Air Force radar to be based in northwest Australia beginning in 2014. A Defense Department statement says it will help track “high-interest space launches in Asia.”

Australia also agreed to host a new high-tech space surveillance telescope designed to track debris and other objects that could threaten satellites.

The deal was announced as annual defense talks ended Wednesday in Perth, Australia. The talks, which also included Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were the first since the Obama administration announced its strategic “pivot” toward Asia last year.

Defense Secretary Panetta said continued cooperation with Australia is a pivotal part of U.S. policy for the region.

“We've made it clear that one of our key focuses is to rebalance to the Pacific. We simply would not be able to do that effectively without allies like Australia.”

Hundreds of U.S. troops have already begun deploying to northern Australia as part of the U.S. rebalance. Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith welcomed the arrival of the forces, and said talks are underway to give the U.S. more access to Australian ports.

But officials were careful to again stress that the expanded defense ties were not directed at China, as many in Beijing have suspected. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the dialogue included “no language of containment” regarding China and that both “welcome China's role as a responsible member of the international community.”

U.S. officials insist that China should not be concerned about the “pivot,” which comes as Beijing becomes increasingly assertive with its neighbors over territorial rights in the South China Sea and other regional waters.