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ABC News
ABC News

US sending nuclear-capable B-52s to the Northern Territory will not heighten risks for local communities, ministers insist

Plans by the US Air Force to deploy nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to an air force base in the Northern Territory will not turn Darwin and Katherine into potential targets for adversaries, federal and territory ministers say.

A Four Corners investigation yesterday revealed the US intends to send six of the long-range military aircraft to the Tindal RAAF Base near Katherine during dry seasons over the coming years.

The US-funded plan includes the construction of a "squadron operations facility", an adjoining maintenance centre and a parking area for the massive planes.

Analysts say the future rotation of the B-52s in the Top End is a deliberate "step up", designed to deter China's ambitions in the Indo-Pacific region at a time of increased tensions.

"Part of it is to complicate Beijing's military planning," Strategic Insights Australia's Michael Shoebridge said.

"Suddenly, they've got to factor in American nuclear-capable aircraft able to strike China from multiple directions, not just out of their well-known bases in places like Guam, Hawaii and continental US."

Despite their capacity to carry nuclear weapons, Australian Strategic Policy Institute Fellow Peter Jennings said the B-52s would not do so during training missions.

"I think Australians should be pleased that our alliance with the United States is working as advertised, and that means closer military cooperation [and] more exercises," Mr Jennings said.

US investment provides economic boost, ministers say

Another analyst told Four Corners that the increased US military presence in northern Australia could make Darwin and Tindal targets in potential future conflicts.

However, the federal Minister for Northern Australia, Madeleine King, downplayed those concerns, saying the US investment in defence facilities would provide an economic boost in the region.

"That's welcome investment. It's good for the communities. It's good for jobs in those areas, the indirect jobs that come with having Defence force people there," Ms King said.

"I do not think it increases the risks to those communities."

Northern Territory's Deputy Chief Minister, Nicole Manison, said the Top End was already a strategic defence location, and the addition of B-52s was no cause for concern.

"I think everybody acknowledges that the Northern Territory has always been … a defence place," Ms Manison said.

"I think territorians are very comfortable with that, they understand our strategic location, and generally are very supportive of that defence investment."

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