SYDNEY, July 22 (Reuters) – A U.S. Navy ship entered active duty in a foreign port for the first time as the two close allies stepped up their military ties in response to China’s expanding territorial reach.
The Independence-class littoral frigate – named after a Royal Australian Navy ship sunk in support of the US Marine landings at Guadalcanal in 1942 – officially joined the US Navy’s active fleet in a ceremony at the Australian Naval Base in Sydney Harbour.
“Designed in Western Australia by local industry and named after HMAS Canberra, Australians can be proud to be commissioned here for the first time in US Navy history,” Australian Defense Minister Marles said in a statement.
He added that the operation of the US ship in Australian waters reflected “our shared commitment to upholding the rules-based order”.
The ceremony comes amid the biennial Talisman Saber military exercises between the US and Australia, a show of force and solidarity that China is increasingly asserting power in the Indo-Pacific region.
The exercises, which take place over two weeks at various locations across Australia, include simulated ground and air combat and amphibious landings.
In addition to Australia and the United States, troops from Canada, Fiji, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Korea, Tonga and Britain are participating.
As part of the war games, the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) on Saturday launched a surface-to-ship missile at Jervis Bay, 195 km (121 miles) south of Sydney on Australia’s east coast.
Australia’s Department of Defense said it “marked the first time the JGSTF had tested the capability in Australia”.
Germany is participating for the first time with 210 paratroopers and marines, as the European nation strengthens its presence in the region.
Under the AUKUS program announced in March, the US and Britain agreed to help Australia acquire nuclear-powered submarines.
Before that, the US must sell Australia three US Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines in the early 2030s, with an option for Australia to buy two more.
Reporting by Sam McKeith in Sydney; Editing by Stephen Coates
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