Australia is accelerating missile upgrades due to growing threats: NPR
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia has accelerated plans to purchase long-range strike missiles years ahead of schedule due to growing threats from Russia and China.
Defense Minister Peter Dutton said on Tuesday that fast-tracking the rearmament of fighter jets and warships would cost 3.5 billion Australian dollars ($2.6 billion) and increase Australia’s deterrence to potential adversaries.
“There was a working hypothesis that an act of aggression by China against Taiwan could take place in the 2040s. I think that timeline has now been significantly compressed,” Dutton told Seven Network television.
“When you look at what happened in Ukraine, there is the prospect of Russians entering Poland or elsewhere in Europe. It would be a repeat of the 1930s and that is not something we should allow,” Dutton added, referring to the start of World War II.
Under a revised schedule, FA-18F Super Hornet fighter jets would be armed with upgraded US-made air-to-surface missiles by 2024, three years ahead of schedule.
The JASSM-ER missiles would allow fighters to engage targets at a range of 900 kilometers (560 miles).
Australia’s ANZAC-class frigates and Hobart-class destroyers would be equipped with Norwegian-made Kongsberg NSM missiles by 2024, five years ahead of schedule.
Missiles would more than double the strike range of warships.
The new rearmament timetable comes after the Solomon Islands announced a draft security pact with China. Under its terms, China could send military personnel to the South Pacific islands to help maintain order and for other reasons. It could also send warships to the Solomons for stopovers and for resupply, which had led to speculation about the possibility of a Chinese naval base there.
China has denied seeking a military foothold in the islands and accused others of raising tensions.
US Pacific Fleet Commander Samuel Paparo told reporters in Washington on Monday that the Solomons-China pact was “very concerning”.
“I’m definitely worried…and it’s a concern for all of our partners across the Western Pacific and especially Australia and New Zealand,” Paparo told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Anne-Marie Brady, a global researcher at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington and professor of politics at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, said a hostile power controlling the Solomons would have a direct impact on the sea lanes linking the states of the South Pacific.
“There is no justification for China to establish a military presence in the Solomon Islands,” Brady said.
“It is intended to cut Australia and New Zealand off from US military support. … It is both an immediate and a long-term threat,” she added.