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Australia to spend $270bn building larger military to prepare for ‘poorer, more dangerous’ world

Australia will build a larger and more aggressive military focused on its immediate backyard, including new long-range missiles, signalling a major shift in the nation’s defence strategy.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will unveil a greater focus on the Indo-Pacific region, warning Australia needs to prepare for a post-COVID world that is “poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly”.

Mr Morrison will also announce a commitment to spend $270 billion over the next decade on defence capabilities, including more potent strike weapons, cyber capabilities and a high-tech underwater surveillance system.

The Australian Defence Force is expected to grow by 800 people over the next decade, comprising of 650 personnel for Navy, 100 for the Air Force, and 50 for Army.

In a speech at the Australian Defence Force Academy he will argue the Indo-Pacific is the “epicentre” of rising strategic competition and that “the risk of miscalculation — and even conflict — is heightening.”

“The Indo-Pacific is where we live — and we want an open, sovereign Indo-Pacific, free from coercion and hegemony,” a copy of the speech said.

“We remain prepared to make military contributions outside of our immediate region where it is in our national interest to do so, including in support of US-led coalitions.

“But we cannot allow consideration of such contingencies to drive our force structure to the detriment of ensuring we have credible capability to respond to any challenge in our immediate region.”

A docked frigate with a seagull flying past
The Australian Navy is expected to grow by 650 personnel over the next decade.(Supplied: Department of Defence/Kylie Jagiello)

In releasing the 2020 Defence Strategy Update and the accompanying Force Structure Plan, the Government is expected to confirm Australia will purchase the AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) from the United States Navy, at a cost of $800 million.

The missile has a range of more than 370 kilometres and would be a significant upgrade from the 124 km range of Australia’s AGM-84 air-launched Harpoon anti-ship missile, introduced in the early 1980s.

Up to $9.3 billion will also be spent on research and development into high-speed, long-range weapons, including hypersonic weapons.

“The ADF now needs stronger deterrence capabilities,” Mr Morrison will tell an audience of defence leaders.

“Capabilities that can hold potential adversaries’ forces and critical infrastructure at risk from a distance, thereby deterring an attack on Australia and helping to prevent war.”

A massive underwater surveillance system using high-tech sensors and costing between $5 billion and $7 billion is one of the biggest new purchases which could eventually also include unmanned submarines.

Mr Morrison has also promised to boost the ADF’s ability to deal with what he described as the “grey zone” — activity against Australia’s interests which falls below the threshold of traditional armed conflict.

Joint Strike Fighter
Mr Morrison says the funding commitment goes beyond the Government’s previous Defence spending pledge.(ADF/Lockheed Martin)

The Government will spend $15 billion on cyber and information warfare capabilities over the next 10 years, $1.3 billion of which will be used to boost the cyber security activities of the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Cyber Security Centre.

Including a network of satellites for an independent communications network, $7 billion will also go towards improving Defence’s capabilities in space,

Mr Morrison will say the 10-year funding commitment goes beyond the Government’s pledge to boost Defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP.

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