Australia to transform naval forces
June 20, 2007.
CANBERRA, Australia (Reuters) -- Australia will build an A$11 billion ($9 billion) fleet of advanced destroyers and amphibious warships, Prime Minister John Howard said, underscoring the country's plan to remain a key Asian military power.
The purchases would transform Australia's navy into one of the most powerful in the Asia region, with two amphibious carriers able to land more than 2,000 troops, 16 attack and transport helicopters and up to 23 Abrams tanks.
"They will greatly enhance Australia's ability to send forces in strength when required, particularly in our own region, but not restricted to our own region," Howard told a media briefing on Wednesday.
Howard said his government had agreed to buy three Spanish-designed F100 air warfare destroyers at a cost of A$8 billion, to be built in Adelaide by Australian firm ASC, U.S. firm Raytheon and Spanish government-shipyard Navantia.
The 6,000-ton warships will be equipped with advanced U.S. Aegis radars and may one day carry SM 3 missiles as part of U.S. and Japanese efforts to build a ballistic missile shield in Asia, in order to guard against threats like a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Two 27,000-ton amphibious warships, also Navantia designs, would be built in Victoria state in partnership with Australian defense firm Tenix, with the first to enter service with the Royal Australian Navy by 2012, Howard said.
The Navantia destroyers beat a larger and more costly rival U.S. design, while the amphibious warships were preferred over a smaller French design.
Australia has in recent years increased defense spending above A$20 billion a year amid concerns about growing instability in the Asia-Pacific, with a A$50 billion military buy-up already underway, including advanced F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
The new destroyers, with a range of more than 5,000 nautical miles, could also be equipped with Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles, local media said.
Canberra, its defense budget fattened by strong commodity exports, is also purchasing cruise missiles for fighter aircraft, including recently purchased F-18 Super Hornets.
Several nations, including Thailand and Indonesia, have warned of a possible regional arms race spurred by Australia's buy-up.
But Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Australia needed a strong defense force and the ability to deploy overseas quickly.
"It's not that we have hostile intent towards anybody," Downer told local television.
Defense Minister Brendan Nelson said the five new ships would ensure Australia would be able to undertake "security stabilization" alongside key ally the United States.
Almost 28,000 U.S. and Australian troops this week began a major exercise across Australia's northern coastline involving an aircraft carrier battle group, tanks and and nuclear submarines. Canberra has around 1,500 troops in and around Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition, as well as a special forces task group in Afghanistan and peacekeepers in East Timor.