The United States said Saturday it will help Australia produce guided multiple-launch rocket systems by 2025, with the two countries stepping up cooperation in the face of China's growing influence over Pacific island nations.
The commitment is among "several mutually beneficial initiatives" that the Pentagon is pursuing with Australia's defense industry, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a press conference following bilateral security talks in Brisbane.
The United States is also "racing to accelerate Australia's access to priority munitions through a streamlined acquisition process," he added.
Earlier in the day, Austin and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong for an annual dialogue, known as the Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations.
The two countries have been ramping up collaborative defense efforts, which include a plan for Canberra to acquire nuclear-powered submarines under a three-way security partnership involving Britain, known as AUKUS.
Austin, speaking alongside Blinken and their Australian counterparts, emphasized the significance of transferring U.S. nuclear-powered attack submarines to Australia, a move that has triggered concern among a group of Republican lawmakers about the submarine production capacity of the country's defense industry.
"Regarding AUKUS, I am confident that there will continue to be strong bipartisan support for this initiative," the Pentagon chief said.
"This initiative...creates a generational capability, and again, it helps us to realize our shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific," he added.
Blinken underscored the two countries' efforts to defend the international rules-based order, noting that they are doing so by engaging with China while also "as necessary, opposing its efforts to disrupt freedom of navigation and overflight" in the South and East China seas.
Blinken said the United States and Australia oppose China's attempts "to upend the status quo that has preserved peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."
China's diplomatic drive to seek closer ties with Pacific island nations has alarmed the United States and its allies, such as Australia and Japan. Most notably, Beijing's signing of a security pact with the Solomon Islands in April last year caused significant concern.
The security accord reportedly allows Beijing to deploy its military and dock its vessels in the island country to Australia's northeast.
Marles echoed Austin's remarks regarding his confidence in the United States' "bipartisan commitment" to Australia's acquisition of the submarines.
He also said Canberra is expecting to "see more visits" of U.S. nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, which he anticipates will be "the first steps in walking the path of Australia developing the capability to operate nuclear-powered submarines ourselves."