3 May 2009

Australia launches massive spend-up on defence

6:40 am on 3 May 2009

Australia is dramatically expanding its military capability in the Asia-Pacific region.

Plans to spend an estimated $A100 billion more on defence over the next 20 years were announced by the government in a 140-page white paper launched on Saturday by prime minister Kevin Rudd aboard HMAS Stuart in Sydney harbour.

The aim is to make Australia able to defend itself against any threat in the region. The paper says that while the US will remain the world's most powerful nation for decades to come, its influence in the Asia-Pacific is likely to decline as China's military strength grows.

Asked if Australians had reason to fear China, Mr Rudd said only that the nation must be prepared for "a range of contingencies".

"It's as plain as day that there is a significant military and naval build-up across the Asia-Pacific region," he said. "That's a reality, it's a truth, it's there.

"Either you can simply choose to ignore that fact, or to incorporate that into a realistic component of Australia's strategic assumptions about what this region will look like over the next two decades."

12 new submarines, 8 frigates and 100 Stealth fighters

The paper, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030, signals what it calls a major new direction aimed at building a "heavier" naval, air combat and logistics capability in the Asia-Pacific.

The government will also replace the navy's fleet of six Collins-class submarines with 12 new subs.

As a matter of urgency 24 new naval combat helicopters and eight new frigates to replace the smaller Anzac frigates will be bought; 100 US Stealth fighter aircraft will eventually be ordered as well.

The paper calls for an increase in full-time military forces to 57,800 personnel, up from the current 53,100.

For the first time an Australian government will invest in "cyber warfare" by establishing a centre intended to help deal with "cyber incidents across government and critical private sector systems and infrastructure".

'Beginning of the end' of US dominance

In his foreword to the paper, defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon says the world has changed significantly since 2000, with a greater threat of terrorism and cyber warfare.

But the biggest change, he says, has been the emergence of China and India and the beginning of the end of the dominance for almost the past 20 years of the United States.

The white paper makes a commitment to increase defence funding in real terms by 3% every year until 2017-18 and then by 2.2% until 2030. The current annual expenditure is $A22 billion.

Along with the spending spree on military hardware, the government will require the defence forces to embark on their own overhaul and find $A20 billion in savings for reinvestment in increased capability.