Canberra: Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer has informed the parliament that the United States will build a new military satellite communications base in Australia. The agreement, it would appear, has been arrived at after three years of secret negotiations between the two governments.
The new base, to be located at Geraldton, 400 km north of the city of Perth, will relay signals and intelligence to US forces in the Middle East and Asia.
According to Downer, construction of the base will start in a few months. "It will be hosted in the same basis as all other Australia-U.S. joint facilities and operate on the basis of our full knowledge and our full concurrence," Downer said.
The United States already operates a base at Pine Gap, near Alice Spings, which tracks missile launches in Asia and the Middle East, and provides early warning. It also operates a base at Northwest Cape in Western Australia, which acts as a signals base for US nuclear submarines in Asia and the Pacific.
Another facility at Geraldton intercepts mobile telephone signals and communications in a region extending from the Antarctica to Siberia.
Pine Gap, near Alice Springs, Australia is the ground station for a satellite network that intercepts telephone, radio, data links, and other communications around the world. Originally code-named MERINO, the facility employs people mainly from the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Reconnaissance Office. Australian citizens are also part of the workforce.
The facility consists of a dozen radomes, of which two are part of the US Defense Satellite Communications System.
Pine Gap is also linked to a new Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) of satellites which give immediate warning of missile launches anywhere on earth and are a key part of the current US administration's Missile Defence programme.