• ADM's Northern Australia Defence Summit was held on 5 April in Darwin and brought together over 350 delegates. (ADM/ Roya Ghodsi)
    ADM's Northern Australia Defence Summit was held on 5 April in Darwin and brought together over 350 delegates. (ADM/ Roya Ghodsi)

Construction of Darwin’s $400 million ship lift will begin later this year, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner told delegates at the ADM Northern Australia Defence Summit on 5 April.

A preferred contractor will be named by mid-year and what will be northern Australia’s largest capability of its type is scheduled to be operational by late 2024, officials confirmed.

The 103-metre long, 26-metre wide common user facility will be able to lift the RAN’s Arafura-class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) and other military and civilian vessels of up to 5,000 tonnes. This will enable Darwin to take its place as a maritime hub servicing the RAN’s new Regional Maintenance Centre North (RMC-North) and industry across the entire region, Gunner told more than 350 summit delegates.

Defence spending in the Northern Territory reached $2.2 billion last financial year, the Chief Minister noted in an upbeat address in which he also referred to Darwin becoming the data capital of the region, with three companies all separately building subsea fibre links between Darwin and Asia and work on an $80 million data centre about to begin.

More detail of the burgeoning defence investment in the North came from Colonel Matt Quinn, Director North of Defence’s Capital Facilities and Infrastructure Security and Estate Group.

Projects awaiting final approval in northern West Australia totalled $766 million, approved Northern Territory projects totalled $2.73 billion and other work there awaiting final signoff amounted to $812 million. The Northern Queensland forward works program included $1.07 billion approved and $275 million awaiting second pass. The largest single amount of $1.11 billion, scheduled over seven years out to 2027-28, was redevelopment and US Force Posture Initiatives at RAAF Tindal, with an additional $146 million awaiting approval for infrastructure there to support the MQ-4C Triton maritime surveillance drones due in 2024.

These figures do not include the $270 million fuel storage facility in Darwin being funded by the US to support US defence operations in the region. This new 300-megalitre facility will be owned and operated by Florida company Crowley Government Services.

The figures also did not include the $1.5 billion included in the March budget to build new port infrastructure which could possibly replace the US military’s main refuelling station in the Pacific region following the closure of a major storage facility at Pearl Harbour. 

US Marine Corps Colonel (Ret’d) Grant Newsham of the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies offered some robust comment on China’s activities in the Indo-Pacific region, asking what Beijing would least like to see.

“They don’t like people to push back, they don’t like seeing training taking place, and they don’t like it to be for the kind of fight that would take place in the region; they’d rather have showpiece exercises,” he stated.

“They’re good at influence operations but they really don’t like it when other countries do it to them… and this is where northern Australia has a role to play and there are two parts to this.

“The first is influencing inwards, bringing partners and friends to Darwin to train and exercise. But even better, I’d like to see Darwin as more than just a training area, but rather a location from which you can influence up into Asia. Darwin could serve as an educational centre for, say, amphibious operations, with a focus on how to use them in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations which would create a ton of goodwill in Asia, and not just among the military.” 

comments powered by Disqus