U.S. Set to Expand Naval Base in Papua New Guinea

April 6, 2024 9:13 PM
Builder 3rd Class Nicolas Buccafuri, Construction Electrician Constructionman Robert Neely, and Construction Electrician 3rd Class Nicolas Bartholomew, hang a battalion evaluation equipment program sign for Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 at Lombrum Naval Base, Papua New Guinea in 2021. US Navy Photo

In an effort to push back China’s influence and expand its presence in Oceania, the U.S. is renovating Lombrum Naval Base on the Island of Los Negros in Papua New Guinea.

The U.S. recently announced that the U.S. Navy is looking at three projects for Lombrum: a 7,556-square-foot Regional Maritime Training Center; a 7,351-square-foot small Boat Team and Boson Facility; and overhauling a 118-foot-long deteriorated small boat jetty. The combined expected price tag for these projects ranges from $11 million to $25 million.

“These…projects will support the PNGDF (Papua New Guinea Defence Force), maritime security operations, U.S. military personnel participating in joint exercises, and USINDOPACOM Theater Campaign Plan with various critical facilities located at Lombrum Naval Base.” reads the announcement.

The U.S. announced plans to redevelop Lombrum naval base in 2018, when former Vice President Mike Pence, announced that the U.S. would partner with both Australia and Papua New Guinea on the initiative.

The Trump administration saw the move as a response to Chinese infrastructure projects. However, the U.S. did not allocate any funds towards the redevelopment effort.

Currently, Lombrum naval base is one of six facilities on Papua New Guinea to which U.S. personnel have an unimpeded access under the Defense Cooperation Agreement signed between Washington and Port Moresby in 2023.

Under the defense pact, the U.S. is allowed to use three airports, two ports and one naval base for training, transit and pre-position equipment, supplies and materiel. However, the agreement does not allow the U.S. to station forces in Papua New Guinea permanently.

The naval base, which is currently home to four Guardian-class Patrol Boats, began a $150 million multi-year redevelopment funded by Australia in 2020. It is scheduled to conclude in September of 2024.

USNI News Graphic

The 2020 redevelopment includes a new electricity generation facility, new training and living accommodations, and repairing facilities for the Guardian-class Patrol Boats. The newly announced projects will add on-site patrol boat maintenance facilities.

The existing facilities at the base include a 410-foot wharf and a 278-foot wharf. While they’re insufficient to support most of the U.S. Navy’s surface combatants, they can accommodate U.S. Coast Guard vessels, such as Sentinel-class cutters based out of Naval Base Guam. Larger ships can anchor in Lombrum Bay, a natural harbor.

The U.S. similarly funded an expansion of Ream Naval Base in Cambodia back in 2019. However, a secret pact signed between Beijing and Phnom Penh resulted in a Chinese takeover of the base. U.S. funded facilities were subsequently razed to the ground. At the time, the takeover seemed like a significant setback for Washington’s attempts to counter Chinese influence in the region.

Since then, the U.S. has been spreading out forces and stocks from a number of major bases in the Pacific.

The U.S. started funding infrastructure modernization and expansion efforts across the Pacific under the Pentagon’s Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI) including aircraft parking aprons at Base Air Base in the Philippines and Darwin Air Base in Australia; naval Port expansions at Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands; Yap in Micronesia; and Koror in Palau.

In its current form, the base is well situated to support joint law enforcement patrols to counter Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that has plagued the region, though it would need more investments to host many of Australia and America’s naval vessels.




Zach Abdi

Zach Abdi is a freelance defense writer and analyst based in Helsinki, Finland. He is interested in U.S. military modernization.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox