CANBERRA. 23 JULY 2019 (THE AUSTRALIAN) — Australia is pushing to cement its status as the security partner of choice for Pacific nations, forming a new expeditionary training force to work with key regional neighbours, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Vanuatu.
The Australian can reveal the Pacific Support Force is being set up in Brisbane as part of the army’s 1st Division.
The move to ramp up military support to Pacific neighbours comes as China lifts its presence in the region, including a new deal with Cambodia.
The new Pacific force is revealed in a Defence brief intended for the government, obtained by The Australian under freedom of information laws.
The heavily redacted briefing, known as the Defence “Blue Book”, also reveals the ADF is “considering options for a dedicated vessel” to support increased engagement with regional navies.
Key sections of the 473-page report, including chapters on the strategic outlook for Australia and priorities for incoming Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, were blacked out in the document released to The Australian.
The Blue Book said the ADF would consult Pacific nations on their military training needs, but packages could include engineering, communications, surveillance, maritime security and medical training.
It said the ADF was in the “very early stages of scoping options” for the proposed Pacific support vessel.
“It will conduct a range of activities, such as exercises and operations with Pacific security forces and key agencies, to build inter-operability with our partners.”
The brief also noted: “We are deploying Navy into the region more often to increase maritime domain awareness and support Pacific Islands to address their maritime security challenges, such as transnational crime and drugs trafficking.”
Senator Reynolds said the government was intensifying its presence “to build a region that is strategically secure, economically stable and politically sovereign.”
“The Pacific Support Force will employ a mobile training team approach to strengthen capacity, resilience and inter-operability throughout the region in areas such as security operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and peacekeeping,” Reynolds said.
“It will deepen longstanding ties through the conduct of exercises, training and courses,” she said.