SYDNEY (Reuters): The United States commissioned a warship in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday, the first time a US Navy vessel joined active service at a foreign port, as the two close allies step up their military ties in response to China’s expanding regional reach.
The Independence-class littoral combat ship — named after a Royal Australian Navy cruiser that was sunk while supporting the US Marine landings on Guadalcanal in 1942 — was commissioned at a ceremony at an Australian naval base on Sydney Harbor, officially joining the US Navy’s active fleet.
“Australians can be proud that this ship, designed in Western Australia by local industry and named after HMAS Canberra, is being commissioned here for the first time in the history of the United States Navy,” Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said in a statement.
The commissioning of the US ship in Australian waters reflected “our shared commitment to upholding the rules-based order,” he added.
The ceremony comes amid biennial Talisman Sabre military exercises between the US and Australia, seen as a show of force and unity as China increasingly asserts power in the Indo-Pacific.
Asked if he was worried about the presence of a Chinese spy ship off Australia’s northeast coast, Marles said: “I’m not.”
“I’ve been to Talisman Sabre now for many years and there is always, it seems, a ship from China, which is looking at this, and that’s fine,” he told Channel 9 television.
The exercises, taking place in various locations across Australia over two weeks, include mock land and air combat, as well as amphibious landings.
In addition to Australia and the US, forces from Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Korea, Tonga and Britain are taking part.
Germany is participating for the first time with 210 paratroopers and marines, the latest European nation to bolster its presence in the region.
Under the AUKUS project announced in March, the United States and Britain have agreed to help Australia acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Before that, in the early 2030s, the United States is supposed to sell Australia three US Virginia class nuclear-powered submarines, with an option for Australia to buy two more.