5 Jan 2023

Australia to buy US-made HIMARS artillery rocket system

8:43 pm on 5 January 2023
HIMARS rocket artillery system.

A HIMARS artillery rocket in Japan. Photo: Hidenori Nagai / Yomiuri / The Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP

Australia's Army will have an unprecedented long-range strike capability with the purchase of the US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket (HIMARS) system, which Ukraine has praised for its devastating effectiveness against invading Russian forces.

The Albanese government has finalised a deal to buy 20 of the truck-mounted rocket launchers by 2026, while signing another deal to acquire the Norwegian-made Naval Strike Missiles (NSM) for Australian warships next year.

Precise costs of the purchases are being kept secret for security reasons, but the government has confirmed to the ABC the overall figure is "between one and two billion dollars" (NZ$1.08b-$2.16b).

Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said during an October visit to the United States he held "productive discussions" with the Army and Lockheed Martin on how Australia could start producing the rockets used in HIMARS.

On New Year's Day, a Ukrainian strike using the US-donated HIMARS system killed dozens, possibly even hundreds of Russian soldiers in the Donetsk region.

Conroy said the deadly precision of HIMARS in Ukraine has confirmed why Australia should acquire the technology.

"We'll have an Army ground launched missile that can reach targets up to 300km away and we're part of developmental program in the United States called the precision strike missile that'll allow Army to hit targets in excess of 499km".

"This will give the Australian army a strike capability they've never had before," Conroy told the ABC.

Congress was first notified of a possible sale of the Lockheed Martin-produced HIMARS to Australia seven months ago, while the NSM purchase was flagged by the Morrison government in April last year.

"The Naval Strike Missile is a major step up in capability for our Navy's warships, while HIMARS launchers have been successfully deployed by the Ukrainian military over recent months and are a substantial new capability for the Army," Conroy said.

NSMs are produced by Norwegian company Kongsberg and will replace the ageing Harpoon anti-ship missiles on the Royal Australian Navy's Hobart-class destroyers and Anzac-class frigates from 2024.

Labor says the HIMARS and NSM purchases will together cost over A$1b (NZ$1.08b), but Conroy says precise details are being kept deliberately hidden.

"We won't be disclosing the total cost of the two announcements," he told the ABC.

"The two combined costs is between one and two billion dollars, the reason that we're not disclosing the specific amount is that gives information to potential adversaries which isn't useful beaming out there."

In its notice to Congress in May, the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency estimated the cost of 20 HIMARS and associated munitions and equipment at US$385 million (NZ$612m).


Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs