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Posted 12 Feb 2017, 12:13pm from ABC.NET.AU
A United States Defence build-up in the Northern Territory is being welcomed by local businesses and watched closely by wary northern neighbours, as some of the world's deadliest fighter aircraft arrive.
Defence analysts say the increasing presence of US Marines in the Top End is a clear sign the US is bolstering its military presence in the region, as a squadron of its sophisticated F-22 Raptors touched down near Katherine this weekend for three weeks of exercises with the Australian military.
That will soon be followed by the next rotation of US Marines and a large contingent of aircraft.
The Defence Department said it constituted the largest and longest rotation of fifth-generation aircraft to Australia to date.
Dr John Blaxland from the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre said it was clear "the US has a much more robust presence in Australia."
The NT's sparsely populated, vast open spaces belie its strategic importance to the preeminent global military power.
The port city of Darwin is located on the fringes of Asia with a strong existing military presence and easy access to training grounds in the skies, on land or at sea.
Further south, the US has operated the secretive joint defence facility Pine Gap at Alice Springs since the 1980s.
Each year US Marines rotate through the Top End, with 1,250 involved last year as part of a 2011 agreement signed between the former prime minister Julia Gillard and president Barack Obama, emphasising the close military ties between the two countries.
That figure is set to double in the next few years, as the Territory becomes a small but critical piece of the US's pivot to Asia amid growing tensions over disputed territory in the South China Sea.