Australia on Thursday (Sept 16) announced that it would acquire long-range US Tomahawk cruise missiles, shortly after forging a new alliance with the US and Britain to strengthen military capabilities in the face of growing rivalry with China.
“We will be enhancing our long-range strike capability, including Tomahawk cruise missiles to be fielded on the Royal Australian Navy Hobart-class destroyers and joint air-to-surface stand-off missiles extended range for our Royal Australian Air Force capabilities,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Australia is also set to acquire a new nuclear submarine fleet as part of the trilateral pact with the United States and Britain.
Australia will acquire greater long-range strike capability across the air, land and maritime domains, including Tomahawk cruise missiles for Royal Australian Navy’s Hobart class destroyers, to “enhance Australia’s ability to deter and respond to potential security challenges”.
The management of this transition, and other capability acquisition options that will meet Australia’s strategic requirements, will be at the forefront of consultations through AUKUS over the next 18 months.
Back in March 2021, the Australian Government announced it would accelerate the creation of a $1 billion Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise, boosting skilled jobs and helping secure Australia’s sovereign defence capabilities.
The planned acquisitions that came as part of a pact announced in a video meeting by Mr Morrison, his British counterpart Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden are bound to raise hackles in Beijing.
The move was also met with swift pushback from France, which had been negotiating a multibillion-dollar sale of conventional submarines to Australia.
Mr Biden said the work to enable Australia to build nuclear-powered submarines would ensure that they had “the most modern capabilities we need to manoeuvre and defend against rapidly evolving threats”.
The submarines, the leaders stressed, would not be nuclear-armed, and only powered with nuclear reactors.
The three leaders did not mention China in unveiling the partnership, dubbed Aukus using its acronym, but their intent was clear.
“Our world is becoming more complex, especially here in our region, the Indo-Pacific. This affects us all. The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Johnson said they would work “hand in glove to preserve stability and security in the Indo-Pacific”.
The AUKUS announcement comes as Australia has been boosting defence spending in response to China’s more assertive posture.
Mr Morrison will join Mr Biden again on Sept 24, this time in person, at a first White House gathering of the Quad diplomatic group, which comprises Australia, India, Japan and the US.
Announced this week as part of the AUKUS trilateral security agreement, the systems and activities will include:
- Eight Virginia-class nuclear submarine to be built in Adelaide, Australia
- Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, to be fielded on Hobart class destroyers, enabling Australia’s maritime assets to strike land targets at greater distances, with better precision.
- Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (Extended Range), to enable Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornets and in future, the F-35A Lightning II, to hit targets at a range of 900km.
- Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles (Extended Range) (LRASM) for the F/A-18 Super Hornet.
- Continuing collaboration with the United States to develop hypersonic missiles for air capabilities.
- Precision strike guided missiles for Australia’s land forces, capable of destroying, neutralizing and suppressing diverse targets from over 400km.
- Accelerating $1 billion for a sovereign guided weapons manufacturing enterprise, to enable creation of Australian weapons in country.
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