American stealth bombers will drop deadly warheads on an Australian bombing range this week. The state-of-the-art bombers, along with older B-52 aircraft, will take off in Guam in the northern Pacific, unleash their bombs on the range in the Northern Territory, and return to base without landing.
They will be refueled by US planes operating out of a Royal Australian Air Force base in Darwin.
The aircraft, including B-1 supersonic strike aircraft and B-2 "flying wing" stealth bombers, will practice the kind of pinpoint aerial strikes that could be used in any confrontation with Iran, North Korea, or other "rogue states."
It will be the first time American aircraft have used the Delamere bombing range, 240 miles south of Darwin, since an agreement was signed in 2004 at a bilateral meeting in Washington.
"Training and exercising with the world's most technologically advanced armed forces provide many benefits to the Australian Defence Force which cannot be obtained through other means," the defense minister, Brendan Nelson, said in a statement.
The bombing practice was part of Washington and Canberra's determination to meet new threats, including "international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction," he added.
The exercise will also test the effectiveness of Australia's over-the-horizon Jindalee radar system when pitted against the stealth aircraft.
The exercise reflects Washington's review of its military deployments in the Pacific, prompted in part by opposition within Japan and South Korea to US bases, analysts say.
"The US is going through a whole reassessment of its posture in the region and the deployment of its troops," says Mark Thomson, from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
"I don't think we should read too much into the timing of the bombing run with regards to Iran – the exercise was planned a long time ago," he says.
Despite the incongruity of United States dropping armaments on one of its closest allies, the bombing is likely to attract little opposition in Australia, partly due to strong public support for the alliance but also because it will take place in such a remote area.
Despite past speculation, there are no signs that Australia would agree to host a permanent US military base.
Such a move would be unpopular with much of the public and would bolster Australia's image within the region as Washington's "deputy sheriff," a tag that Canberra has worked hard to shake off.
But the number and scale of joint exercises between the two allies is set to increase.
Australia announced two years ago that it was upgrading three military training facilities, including the Delamere range, a tank training area in the Northern Territory and an amphibious assault training area on the Queensland coast.
Tens of thousands of American and Australian troops will take part in an ambitious exercise next year code- named Talisman Sabre, as part of what Canberra has called a "long-term commitment to further strengthen the alliance."