Australia unveils biggest defence reform in decades

Vows to turn a military that is 'no longer fit for purpose' into a fighting force that could deter any would-be foe

By AFP

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A file photo taken on May 9, 2019 shows an Australian Army M1A1 Abrams main battle tank firing a round at a target during Excercise Chong Ju, a live fire demonstration showcasing the army's joint combined arms capabilities, at the Puckapunyal Military Base some 100 kilometres north of Melbourne. — AFP
A file photo taken on May 9, 2019 shows an Australian Army M1A1 Abrams main battle tank firing a round at a target during Excercise Chong Ju, a live fire demonstration showcasing the army's joint combined arms capabilities, at the Puckapunyal Military Base some 100 kilometres north of Melbourne. — AFP

Published: Mon 24 Apr 2023, 2:08 PM

Last updated: Mon 24 Apr 2023, 2:11 PM

Australia launched its biggest defence overhaul in decades Monday, vowing to turn a military that is "no longer fit for purpose" into a fighting force that could deter China or any would-be foe.

Defence Minister Richard Marles unveiled a strategic review that called for a sharp shift towards long-range deterrence — using missiles, submarines and cyber tools to keep adversaries at arm's length.

"Today, for the first time in 35 years, we are recasting the mission of the Australian Defence Force," Marles said.

Describing China's military build-up as the largest and most ambitious of any country since World War II, the review warns "the risks of military escalation or miscalculation are rising".

In response to that threat, Australia's military will develop the ability to strike from air, land and sea, strengthen northern bases and recruit more troops.

"We aim to change the calculus so no potential aggressor can ever conclude that the benefits of conflict outweigh the risks," the review said.

Asked about the overhaul and the reasons given for it, Beijing said it hoped some countries would "refrain from using China as an excuse to expand their military power or groundlessly hype up the 'China threat' theory".

China's military policy is "defensive in nature" and poses "no threat to any country", foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said at a regular press briefing.

Australia has already announced a key tool in its new strategy -- the development of stealthy long-range nuclear-powered submarines that could retaliate with a barrage of cruise missiles and little warning.

There will be a short, independent review this year of the navy's surface combatant fleet to ensure its size, structure and composition complement the capabilities provided by the new nuclear-powered submarines.

The biggest changes may be felt in the Australian army, which will now have a sharper focus on coastal defence, particularly in the country's vast north.

Australia's northern city of Darwin was bombed by Japan in World War II, but until recently defence planners believed they would get a decade's warning before any new attack was imminent.

"The rise of the 'missile age' in modern warfare, crystallised by the proliferation of long-range precision strike weapons, has radically reduced Australia's geographic benefits," the review concluded.

As a result, the army will also be tasked with providing "a long-range strike capability", while existing land-focused projects will be put to the knife.

A plan to purchase 450 infantry fighting vehicles will be scaled back to just 129.

A billion-dollar programme to develop short-range howitzer artillery systems is likely to be scrapped in favour of acquiring longer-range HIMARS -- a system coveted by Ukraine as it tries to repel Russia's invasion.


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