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Australia-US defence relationship

General Peter Leahy, AO, Chief of the Army, chats with Lieutenant General John M. Brown III, Commander of the United States Pacific Army.

History of Australia-United States Defence relationship

Australians have fought alongside Americans in every major US military action of the last century, including World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Somalia, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Australians and Americans first fought together under unified command at the Battle of Hamel in France in July, 1918 under Australian General John Monash. 

The Battle was the beginning of the first 100 Years of Mateship.

The alliance between Australia and the United States was formalised through the ANZUS Treaty in 1951. More than 60 years later, the Treaty remains the foundation of our security relationship with the United States. The mutual defence clause of the ANZUS treaty was invoked by Australia for the first time in 2001, after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Australia remains a strong ally and coalition partner with the United States in the global coalition to defeat ISIS and in global efforts to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

The alliance increases Australia's ability to protect itself and its interests by providing access to world-leading defence hardware and technologies, training and combined exercises, as well as vital intelligence capabilities. Both countries are committed to working together to help shape international norms to advance vital shared interests in the domains of sea, airspace and outer space, as well as cybersecurity.

Further information about the defence relationship is available on the Australian Department of Defence website.

Australian Defence Staff in the US

Through the Australian Defence Staff in Washington, DC, Australia improves the interoperability and integration of Australian and US forces, maximises training and exercise opportunities with the US and ensures access to the best technology.

Our efforts ensure that both Australia and the US continue to benefit from the alliance. For Australia, continued American engagement supports the development of our defence capabilities and plays a critical role in maintaining strategic stability in the Asia Pacific region. For the US, Australia is a key ally in regional and global security efforts.

Australia has approximately 580 Defence personnel in the United States, spread across 31 states, and the District of Columbia. 

The majority are embedded into the US military – effectively filling the role as if they were a member of the American military – in US units or work alongside US partners on combined project teams on issues including operational planning and intelligence, capability development, military education, and legal support.

The Head of the Australian Defence Staff Washington is the Australian Defence Attaché in the United States.

Defence representation at the Embassy includes the offices of the Naval, Military and Air attachés and branches overseeing defence policy, defence science and defence materiel.

Defence exercises

A clear example of the strength of the alliance is Talisman Saber, Australia’s largest civil-military exercise conducted jointly with the United States, involving more than 33,000 US and Australian personnel. 

Exercise Talisman Saber is focused on mid-intensity, high-end warfighting, and provides an invaluable opportunity to conduct operations in a combined, joint and interagency environment.

The unique training opportunities on offer in Northern Australia under the US Force Posture Initiatives make an important contribution to the capabilities of both our militaries – strengthening our interoperability and our ability to respond to regional contingencies, such as Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief.

Defence spending

Australia is one of the largest importers of US arms (of both commercial and government origin) in the world. 

Significant purchases include:

  • 12 new-build EA-18G ‘Growler’ airborne electronic attack aircraft
  • 72 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters – for which Australia is the largest international purchaser
  • 15 P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance and patrol aircraft (through a cooperative development program with the US).

The 2016 Australian Defence White Paper commits to increase Australian defence spending to 2% GDP by 2021.