Move could be seen as proving charge the nation is America's 'deputy sheriff' The United States is looking to set up a military staging post in northern Australia, in a move likely to antagonise Indonesia, a report claimed yesterday. Despite the close ties between Washington and Canberra, there are no US military bases on Australian soil and any such development would be highly controversial. It would also seem to affirm Australia's image within the region as Washington's 'deputy sheriff', a tag which Canberra has worked hard to play down. The plan would involve the US having a large number of tanks, armoured vehicles, landing craft and artillery stationed outside Darwin, in the Northern Territory, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. The newspaper said US officials were keen to emphasise that the 'logistics and training facility' would be a staging post rather than a fully fledged military base. It would enable the Americans to swiftly deploy anywhere within Southeast Asia. In Washington this week Australia's Defence Minister, Robert Hill, will meet his US counterpart, Donald Rumsfeld, who has been touring Asia. Although no formal request for the logistics base has been made by Washington, US officials were quoted as saying: 'Australia is part of these [defence planning] considerations.' Prime Minister John Howard has said he would consider allowing US military bases on Australian soil if approached by Washington. The plan would be linked to a US push for Australia to buy its M1 Abrams tanks as a replacement for its ageing German-made Leopard tanks. The Herald said that under the plan, Australia would buy 50 of the tanks but would have access to another 50 US-owned tanks based near Darwin. But Mr Hill denied the government was negotiating with the Pentagon, and the government of the Northern Territory said it had not been consulted about such a proposal. Analyst Ross Babbage of the Strategic and Defence Studies Institute said such a move had been discussed 'for the last two or three years'. The top-secret Pine Gap listening base in the desert near Alice Springs, which is jointly operated by Australia and the US, has been targeted by anti-war protesters for years.