SYDNEY (Reuters) -The U.S. will help Australia produce guided multiple-launch rocket systems by 2025, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday, after the two nations' top officials pledged to engage with China but also oppose it if needed.
Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken are in Queensland state for the annual Australia-U.S. Ministerial (AUSMIN) dialogue with their Australian counterparts.
"We are pursuing several mutually beneficial initiatives with Australia's defence industry, and these include a commitment to help Australia produce guided multiple launch rocket systems... by 2025," Austin told a press conference.
The U.S. is also accelerating Australia's access to priority munitions through a streamlined acquisition process, he said.
It is the first time Australia has hosted the high-level meeting since 2019 due to the COVID-19 disruption.
Australia's Labor government has been bolstering military ties with the U.S., a long-standing ally, amid a military build-up in the region from a more assertive China.
"We are really pleased with the steps that we are taking in respect of establishing a guided weapons and explosive ordnance enterprise in this country," Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles said.
He expressed hope that missile manufacturing could begin in Australia in two years, as part of a collective industrial base between the two countries.
Marles said there would be an "increased tempo of visits from American nuclear-powered submarines to our waters" as part of the bilateral engagement.
U.S Secretary of State Blinken said "chief" among Saturday's high-profile talks with Australia was a shared commitment to a free and secure Indo-Pacific region.
"Our two countries are defending the international rules-based order, which has underwritten peace and security for decades," he said.
"We're doing that in part by engaging China, but also as necessary opposing its efforts to disrupt freedom of navigation overflight in the south and east China seas, to upend the status quo that's preserved peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits, to pressure countries through economic coercion."
After the two-day talks ending on Saturday, Marles and Austin were set to travel to north Queensland, where Australian and U.S. military are taking part in the Talisman Sabre war games along with 11 other nations.
The games, however, were put on hold after an Australian military helicopter participating in the exercises crashed into the ocean, with at least four people onboard feared dead.
Speaking about the war in Ukraine, Blinken said China has assured the U.S. repeatedly that it was not providing "material lethal assistance" to Russia for use in Ukraine.
"We take those assurances very seriously," he said, adding that the U.S. has shared concerns with Beijing about individual entities providing technology that could be for drones and other kind of weapons in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon and Sam McKeith; Editing by William Mallard and Muralikumar Anantharaman)