Washington | A new $US500 million ($645 million) warship christened at the weekend will serve as a symbol for the Australia-US alliance as they celebrate the 70th anniversary of the ANZUS treaty.
The USS Canberra – which is the only US Navy ship to be named after a capital city outside the US – was first announced by then-president Donald Trump in 2018 when then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the US.
It was built by Australian-owned Austal.
Mr Trump also presented a model of the USS Canberra to Prime Minister Scott Morrison during his trip to the White House.
It is the second US Navy warship named in honour of the original HMAS Canberra, which was sunk in August 1942 while defending US marines desperately fighting to defend the island of Guadalcanal.
In 2001, then-president George W Bush presented John Howard with the bell from the original USS Canberra.
On Saturday, Australian Ship Commodore Matthew Hudson had to step in for Australian ambassador Arthur Sinodinos and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne at the official christening ceremony in Alabama.
“It is apt that in choosing a name for one of its warships the US chose Canberra. It says a lot of the friendship between our two nations that Australia is the only allied country whose capital has been used to name a ship,” Commodore Hudson said.
“As Secretary of State [Antony] Blinken said recently, the US and Australia strive for a region that is unconstrained by coercion and anchored by democratic values.”
US Navy Rear Admiral Casey Moton said the ship was a symbol of the relationship between the two countries.
“A month after the attack on Pearl Harbour the first contingent of US Navy planners arrived in Darwin to establish planning operations for the south-west Pacific campaign, initiating the island-hoping strategy with which we as allies secured eventual victory,” he said.
He quotes then-prime minister John Curtin, saying: “Without any inhibitions of any kind I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America.
“Those words uttered in the dark early days of WWII helped forge the strong bonds that bind Australia together to this day,” Rear Admiral Moton said.
The USS Canberra is the 15th of 19 small surface combatants Austal USA is building for the US Navy. Five are under construction at Austal’s Mobile ship-building facility in Alabama.
The high-speed, shallow-draft multi-mission ship, known as a littoral combat ship, is capable of operating independently or in a group. As the name suggests, they are designed to defeat growing littoral (close to shore) threats and provide access and dominance along coastal waters. They offer flexibility to execute focused missions such as anti-submarine warfare.
Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said Austal was “a great example of the business-friendly climate here in Alabama and the ability we have to partner with businesses from Australia or anywhere in the world”.
“We pride ourselves on providing an environment where companies like Austal can thrive, and that’s exactly what they’re doing,” Ms Ivey said, “We’re proud of Austal, and we’re proud of our continued relationship with Australia.”