- Australia has announced major investments in its own military capabilities, especially new weapons.
- Countries in the region are stepping up their armies amid heightened tensions between the United States and China.
- Australia is seeking “a combination of integration with the United States and greater autonomy,” an expert told Insider.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
As China’s military growth fuels concerns in the Indo-Pacific region, U.S. allies are stepping up their own military modernization efforts.
China’s immediate neighbors, particularly Japan and Taiwan, receive the most attention when it comes to military modernization, but Australia, which has no territorial disputes with Beijing, is also investing heavily in its own armed forces. .
Last month the Australian government ad an economic spending plan that included some $ 212 billion in defense spending over the next decade.
The spending covers updating bases and acquiring new weapons, including long-range missiles, all intended to increase Australia’s deterrence and combat capabilities and allow it to continue to operate smoothly. with American forces.
The new plans come amid a sharp decline in Sino-Australian relations, driven by China’s military modernization, its activities in the South China Sea and Australia Pacific Island Neighbors, and Beijing’s efforts to influence and coerce Australia through PoliticsI, diplomatic, and economic pressure.
australia Defense Strategy Update 2020 reflects not only these changes, but the pace at which they have occurred, according to Arthur Sinodinos, Australian Ambassador to the United States.
“Things were going in the direction we expected. They just went faster than we thought. So it was important to review our strategic defense outlook and determine what to do,” Sinodinos said in response to a question. from Insider to Event in February.
Denial and punishment
“The overarching assumptions that guided the US and Australian thinking about contingencies in the Pacific were that we would have dominance in a maritime domain, and then it would be a question of where we apply the power,” Michael Green, senior vice president for Asia and Japan president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Insider said.
China’s growing missile arsenal and navy, both of which can cover longer distances, can threaten US allies in the region and the US bases they host.
“The harsh reality is that dominance is going to be very difficult to maintain in the face of this major Chinese build-up,” Green said.
As a result, the debate focused on two deterrents: through denial, which involves the ability to destroy Chinese ships, submarines and planes; and by punishment, which requires the ability to strike China directly.
Many of the new systems that Australia is acquiring fall under the category of denial deterrence.
Royal Australian Air Force possesses 33 F-35A stealth fighters in service and plans to add 39 more by 2023. The fifth-generation fighter will replace Australia’s aging F / A-18s. The RAAF is also pursuing a unmanned fighter.
The Royal Australian Navy plans to strengthen its main fighting force of three Hobart class destroyers with nine new Hunter class frigates. The Hunters are expected to begin entering service in the late 2020s, eventually replacing the Navy’s eight Anzac-class frigates.
The Australian Navy currently operates six Collins Class missile submarines and plans to acquire at least 12 new Attack-class diesel-electric submarines. Attack-class submarines will be capable of firing torpedoes and missiles, like the French Barracuda-class nuclear-powered attack submarines on which they are based.
The Attack class program encountered a number of issues, and recent reports suggest that Australian defense officials may choose another design. The Australians hope to have the new submarines by the 2030s.
Australia also operates two Canberra Class Amphibious Assault Ships. In addition to amphibious assaults and anti-submarine operations, the Canberras can also respond quickly to natural disasters or crises in Asia-Pacific, helping to build good relations with neighbors and thwart China’s efforts to expand its influence.
Fight alongside the United States, don’t count on them
The United States and Australia have a long story close military cooperation.
An Australian general was the first non-American to command American troops, leading them to the Battle of Hamel in July 1918. Since then Australia has fought alongside the United States in all major American conflicts, including Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Australia’s strong relationship with the United States means it can focus on building an arsenal of deterrence through denial while relying on Washington to provide deterrence through punishment.
But Australia is working hard to develop capabilities – such as anti-ship and long-range air defense missiles and hypersonic missiles – which will allow it to strike distant Chinese targets. These systems could eventually evolve and give Canberra its own capacity for deterrence through punishment, thereby reducing its dependence on the United States in the event of a crisis.
Australia is one of the few “real regional allies capable of fighting the war” of the United States in the Indo-Pacific, said Patrick Cronin, president of Asia-Pacific security at the Hudson Institute.
In its quest for new weapons, Canberra is seeking “a combination of integration with the United States and greater autonomy and coverage from Australia,” Cronin told Insider.
The new weaponry is essential, as China’s military capabilities pose a significant risk.
“The US and Australian military are having tough discussions about real-life scenarios in Asia that they didn’t have 20 years ago,” Green said.
One of these scenarios is an invasion of Taiwan. Australia has not made any concrete commitments to Taiwan’s defense, but many expect this to play a role if China attempts to seize the island. This probably complicates Chinese military planning.
“If you’re in China’s shoes… you think you have to eliminate Australia somehow,” Cronin said. “Destroy their satellites, threaten them to dissuade them from acting together [with the US], intimidate them, do what you have to do. “
Australia has resisted Chinese threats in the past, and the military investments it is making now is recognition that more is needed to resist them in the future.
“We are increasing the amount we spend on high tech weapons, precision guided missiles and the like,” Sinodinos said at the event in February. “What it did, I think, showed our credibility, that we’re not an ally who just wants to sneak up on someone else’s tails.”