‘Not impossible’: UK looks to British troops in Darwin

British soldiers based in Australia could be part of the next step to bringing the two military forces closer together.

UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said stationing British troops in Darwin, where US marines have a presence, was “not impossible” as his nation looked to expand its influence in the Pacific.

“It comes up quite regularly in conversation about what the Aussies and the US are doing up there and whether we should be there too,” he said.

“But it’s not something we’ve got an active plan for and it’s certainly not something we’ve spoken to the Australian government about yet.”

Mr Heappey also floated Australia joining a combat air program between the UK, Japan and Italy to develop a stealth jet fighter.

“God, it would be awesome if Australia wanted to join,” he said.

The fighter jet initiative is set against a hypersonic arms race as Australia, the UK and the US work to boost high speed missile capabilities and long range strike power.

Mr Heappey, who has toured the region as thousands of multinational troops conduct joint military drills in Australia, met Defence Minister Richard Marles on Monday.

He said the UK was working careful to expand its presence in the Pacific with concerns moving too fast or being too heavy handed might do more harm than good by alienating partner nations.

The minister said the UK was still in a discovery phase in the Pacific and military deployments to Australia were a better option than basing British troops on more contested territories in the region.

He said there were no plans to station troops in Papua New Guinea after the US signed a defence co-operation pact with Port Moresby.

The US-PNG security pact has drawn domestic criticism in the Pacific island nation for potentially eroding its “friends to all, enemies to none” foreign policy mantra by militarising the nation.

Australia is also looking to sign a security pact with PNG.

There’s a developing tussle for influence in the Solomon Islands after Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare returned from a visit to China and said further co-operation with Beijing was the way forward.

The Solomon Islands is considering creating its own military, raising concerns that China could embed itself in the operations.


Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)


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