ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Nov. 6, 2010 - Enhanced military-to-military activities, closer cooperation in space and cybersecurity, and possibly a larger U.S. military presence in Australia are expected to be on the agenda as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen head to Melbourne, Australia.

The annual Australian-U.S. Ministerial is scheduled for Nov. 8. Hosted by Australian Defense Minister Stephen Smith and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, it is considered a keystone event that sets a framework for alliance activities in the coming year, a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Gates.

The leaders will discuss global and regional challenges and how to posture the alliance to better meet them, the official said.

Among the topics are possible plans to position more U.S. forces on Australian military bases where they would work cooperatively with their Australian military counterparts. U.S. and Australian servicemembers already are embedded in each others’ militaries, but such an initiative could take that arrangement to a new level.

The senior official dismissed any idea of U.S. bases or U.S.-only activities in Australia, as some media have reported. “Everything we can ever imagine doing with Australia is very much integrated and combined,” he said.

Emphasizing that no decisions have been made, the official said a working group to be formally established at the summit is expected to begin work next month to study the issues involved. “We are going to look at the full range of things in terms of footprint, posture and presence,” he said

Such a decision would be made within the context of the ongoing Defense Department evaluation of its force posture and global presence. “We have got to make sure this fits within the broader framework of the region and also the globe,” the official said.

Although the department is still “in the early stages of that work,” he said, “we are now at the point where we want to start working with some of our key allies and friends in the region to talk more broadly” about the associated issues.

Summit participants also are expected to agree to a plan that would allow U.S. forces to pre-position equipment in Australia so it is available for quick humanitarian assistance and disaster response or other contingencies in the region.

Also at the talks, Gates is expected to sign a partnership agreement that provides a framework for enhanced cooperation against space-borne threats. The leaders also will discuss ways to work together to address cyber threats that could impact both countries’ critical military computer networks and weapons systems.

“These are two areas that really point out how both of our countries work very hard ensuring that this alliance is forward looking, not just resting on laurels, but looking at what are the new issues out there, the new issues of interest, and how we can cooperate together in those areas,” the official said.

As the United States and Australia consider these and other ways to boost their already-solid alliance, the official emphasized that their actions are not directed at China.

“Nothing that we are doing with any country in the region is oriented solely toward China,” he said. “We are working with [Australia] to pursue our common interests in the region. We are working with any and all countries, including China, that wish to be a part of the global framework and the integrated world that we are all benefiting from.

“So nothing that we are doing in terms of force posture with any one country or globally is targeted at any one or any specific country.”

The summit will reinforce that United States’ deep investment in Asia and its enduring alliance with Australia in advancing regional security and shared interests.

“We are here, we are a Pacific power, we have the will and the capability to remain so, and have every intention of doing it,” the official said.