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Australia to Fast-Track Missile Production for U.S. Exports

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Australia will accelerate efforts to make missiles for the United States as well as expand military cooperation and training under a plan announced on Saturday by Australian and American officials. The announcement came as the two countries paused a joint military exercise to search for the four-person crew of an Australian army helicopter that crashed overnight.

The crash and the new missile agreement highlight deepening military ties between the two allies and their defense industries — and the risks that come with the increased tempo of training exercises led by the United States in the region to strengthen deterrence against a more assertive China.

“Australian and U.S. defense force personnel are working closely together,” said Richard Marles, Australia’s defense minister, at a news conference Saturday afternoon.

The plans to cooperate and the crash followed two days of discussions in Brisbane between Australian officials and U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, whose visit was focused on expanding and clarifying how the two countries will work together on security in the region.

They gathered two years after a landmark deal called AUKUS, which also includes the United Kingdom. The deal aims to build a mechanism for sharing nuclear-powered submarines and developing other kinds of advanced technology, including hypersonic missiles and quantum computers and sensors. At Saturday’s news conference, Australian and American officials emphasized steady progress in a military collaboration reaching back more than a century to World War I.

For the new missiles, to be built with U.S. defense industry partners, Washington has agreed to fast-track licensing, with production expected to begin in 2025. The Australian government recently set aside $2.7 billion to acquire long-range strike missiles, which would bolster Australian stockpiles and could be exported to the United States or other countries, such as Ukraine.

“This represents a very, very significant step forward in our relationship and in the relationship of our defense industries,” said Mr. Marles, the defense minister.

Military analysts said the missile news reflected a growing realization that the defense industrial base in the United States, struggling to keep up with requests from Ukraine and the U.S. Defense Department, stands to benefit from the manufacturing support of other countries.

“As the war in Ukraine has made clear, defense industrial production is necessary to sustaining a war effort,” said Charles Edel, the Australia chair and a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It’s also critical to deterring wars from breaking out in the first place.”

As part of the defense plan announced by American and Australian officials, the two countries will also work together to increase logistics support in Australia for the U.S. military, expand cooperation in space and upgrade two air bases in northern Australia while enhancing training with the air forces of both the United States and Japan.

Mr. Austin said the United States would continue to increase rotations of American troops and equipment through Australia and work toward using the country for weapons maintenance “to enable Australia to maintain, repair and overhaul critical U.S.-sourced munitions.”

But he and Australia’s defense and foreign ministers say that heightened military activity brings greater risks. The United States and Australia are leading a training exercise called Talisman Sabre, which involves several locations and branches of the U.S. military, and the militaries of more than a dozen countries.

The helicopter crash during that training occurred around 11 p.m. Friday near Hamilton Island in the far north of Australia, according to military officials. It was a two-helicopter mission. When one went down, the second helicopter began searching for the missing crew members. As of Saturday afternoon, they had not been found.

“My thoughts today are with the families and search and rescue crews,” said Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister, adding: “We are reminded that those who serve our country do so recognizing the risk that that service entails and demonstrating every day the courage to take on that risk on our behalf.”

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