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And Iain Ballantyne, editor of Warships International Fleet Review, said the announcement emphasises the urgency with which Canberra now regards the situation – although he also questioned whether the country, with its population of 25 million, would be able to afford the large sums required. Australia is increasing defence spending by 40 percent over the next 10 years, investing long-range military assets focused on the Indo-Pacific region, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.
He said Australia would first buy 200 long-range anti-ship missiles from the US Navy for £444million (Aus$800 million), and would also consider developing hypersonic missiles that can travel at least at five times the speed of sound.
Mr Ballantyne said Mr Morrison’s comments were clearly a direct response to China’s increasingly belligerent behaviour, especially in relation to the disputed South China Sea.
Specifically Mr Ballantyne highlighted Mr Morrison’s pledge to ensure “an open, sovereign Indo-Pacific, free from coercion and hegemony”, adding: “This was obviously a thinly veiled reference to rising Chinese military and naval aggression.”
Clearly, Australia realises the regional threat scene is getting uglier
In an article published in the latest edition of the magazine, Mr Ballantyne wrote: “Clearly, Australia realises the regional threat scene is getting uglier and it is better to meet and defeat threats far away rather than let them slam home in Australia itself or intrude into close territorial waters.
“A range of equipment Australia will need is outlined, some of it required soon.
“This is due to the unpredictable and rapidly changing course of events that has led to the abandonment of the usual notion of a ten year ‘strategic warning time’ in which to prepare for a forthcoming conflict.
“The upgrades to warfare capabilities include the Long-range Anti-ship Missile (LRASM), an underwater surveillance system that may also eventually include optionally/unmanned submarines, along with research and development into new weaponry including hypersonic missiles.”
In real terms, the cash boost represented £39billion (Aus$70 billion) increase on the £111billion (Aus$200billion) already promised, and a pledge to increase defence spending to two per cent of GDP already planned over the same ten-year period, Mr Ballantyne said.
However, he added: “This is a very significant expenditure plan, and one that is sorely needed.
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“Whether or not it is all affordable is unclear.
“That lurking reality is perhaps recognised by the absence of an expected further three P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPAs).
“As the GDP contracts and the government tries to rebuild an economy battered by bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic Defence aspirations may have to be curtailed.
“Nevertheless, recognition of the need to combat actual threats with a more capable navy able to deter and/or fight an enemy further away, illustrates an abandonment of the continental approach to defending Australia.”
In his speech last week, Mr Morrison did not name China – but said: “We have not seen the conflation of global economic and strategic uncertainty now being experienced here in Australia in our region since the existential threat we faced when the global and regional order collapsed in the 1930s and 1940s.
“We want a region where all countries, large and small, can engage freely with each other and be guided by international rules and norms.”
Australia followed up on Mr Morrison’s speech with a declaration to the United Nations in which it stated: “Australia rejects China’s claim to ‘historic rights’ or ‘maritime rights and interests’ as established in the ‘long course of historical practice’ in the South China Sea.”
The language closely resembles that of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo days earlier, when he dismissed China’s territorial claims as “completely unlawful”.
On Thursday it was reported that China had told students to avoid studying in Australia – jeopardising Australia’s fourth-largest export industry, international education, worth £20billion (Aus$38 billion) annually.
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