AUSTRALIA has agreed to a major escalation of military co-operation with the US.
This will include more visits by American ships, aircraft and troops and their forces exercising here regularly.
Access to Australian Defence Force facilities will allow the US to step up its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region
as it comes under pressure to wind down its key bases, such as Okinawa, as concern grows about China's military expansion.
Increased numbers of US personnel in Australian facilities are expected within months, and the tempo of military exercises will be stepped up as that happens
Likely early sites are Townsville, as the primary base for army operations, the port of Darwin, the Bradshaw Field Training Area in the Northern Territory and HMAS Stirling naval base in Western Australia.
Three big announcements on military and security co-operation will be made after Monday's AUSMIN defence and foreign policy talks involving delegations headed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Stephen Smith
Sources close to the talks said this AUSMIN, in Melbourne, would be one of the most significant in the summit's 25-year history.
They said US forces would not establish new bases on Australian soil but they would be welcomed into existing facilities with the less politically risky formula of being given unfettered access to "places, not bases".
The agreement will be similar to that covering the joint intelligence-gathering facilities such as Pine Gap.
The Americans will not just be offered space on a base - they will be there with what Defence calls "full knowledge and concurrence" so that they will have a share in all processes, such as access to intelligence and maintenance facilities.
The US military may store equipment in Australia to make it easier to carry out major exercises here and to allow a faster response in humanitarian assistance after disasters in the region. The sharing of facilities was seen as the way of the future, the sources said. Australian and US forces would be "inter-operable".
The Australian development is part of a new Obama strategy to step up the US military presence in the Asia-Pacific region after reviews of strategic policy concluded that the Bush government's attempts to project power from North America were not working.
As US planners looking for ways to move forces around the world more effectively broke the globe down into regions, Australian officials worked closely with them on the Asia-Pacific.
It is understood the US will also increase co-operation with other regional allies, including Singapore and India
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