Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III became the first defense secretary to visit Papua New Guinea today, a sign of the warming relationship between the two countries.
Austin will discuss how to implement the Defense Cooperation Agreement and the Shiprider Agreement the two nations negotiated. The secretary will move on to Brisbane, Australia, for the 33rd Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations.
The trip is a continuation of Austin's outreach to the Indo-Pacific region. The first trip he took upon taking office was to the Indo-Pacific and the emphasis on the pacing challenge that China poses globally hasn't shifted.
"We will be highlighting how the department is doing more than ever with U.S. allies and partners to deliver regional peace and stability," said a senior defense official speaking on background about the trip.
In Australia, Austin will join Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in meetings with their counterparts Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong. The U.S. and Australian leaders will look at identifying areas to cooperate even more and then charting the path forward. These will include consideration of cooperation on capability development, force posture and how the two nations will network with like-minded allies and partners.
U.S. officials believe the U.S.-Australia alliance has basically changed. "The alliance has existed for 70 years and has been very strong for 70 years," said a senior defense official. "But for much of that period, there's been a sort of expeditionary quality to it."
The alliance has "achieved a fundamental and very significant change in the last two years, which has tremendously deepened the alliance with a focus on what we can do together to strengthen a free and open Indo-Pacific and work together to contribute to deterrence and stability and peace in the Indo-Pacific," the official continued.
The two allies are doing unprecedented things in force posture in Australia, and that reflects a profound deepening of cooperation and the strategic alignment between the nations.
Austin will also visit U.S. and Australian troops at Exercise Talisman Sabre. "We see our bilateral and multilateral exercises continuing to grow in scale, scope and complexity," the official said. "And they're enhancing our interoperability and boosting deterrence by demonstrating our mutual resolve against coercive behavior in the region."
Talisman Sabre includes service members from Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The two allies will discuss advancing defense industrial cooperation, production and information sharing., Part of this will be through the Australia-United Kingdom-United States agreement and part through U.S. support for Australia's guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise. This last is Australia's effort to manufacture and produce precision-guided munitions.
The two nations will also look to regional security integration, particularly through the trilateral activities with Japan. These will include exercises and science and technology cooperation. The nations will also look for ways to incorporate Japan into U.S.-Australia force posture cooperation, the officials said.