Wednesday 3 May 2023

Northern Aussie bases get extra $3.8B funding for “potential conflict” (with China)

 The government of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has pledged 3.8 billion Australian dollars ($2.54 billion) for upgrades to military bases across the northern section of the Land Down Under.

The pledge spanning four years formed part of “a steady build-up to deal with potential conflict in the region,” according to the Epoch Times. It followed an earlier promise in 2021 to upgrade four military training facilities in the Northern Territory.

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles expounded on the A$3.8 billion funding in a statement. He remarked that A$2 billion ($1.34 billion) will be used to upgrade runways, fuel storage, accommodation and security at the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Base Learmonth in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The amount would also include bases in the Northern Territory and the state of Queensland.

A separate A$1 billion ($669 million) from the total amount will be used to upgrade major training areas at the Robertson Barracks in Darwin – the capital of the Northern Territory – and the Lavarack Barracks in northern Queensland. The naval bases HMAS Coonawarra, HMAS Cairns and the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications Station will receive A$600 million ($401.28 million) under this budget. Lastly, another A$200 million ($133.76 million) will go toward accelerating other projects in the north.

The pledge is part of the Albanese government’s commitment to implement recommendations from the Defense Strategic Review (DSR) published on April 24. According to Canberra, it was able to free up funds for these upgrades after canceling other programs.

“A key priority area identified in response to the DSR is improving the ability of the Australian Defense Force (ADF) to operate from Australia’s northern bases,” Marles’ statement read.

“It is clear that given our strategic circumstances, the Australian Army must be optimized for littoral operations in northern land and maritime spaces and provide a long-range strike capability. [The RAAF] must also be equipped to support operations in the north through surveillance, air defense, strike and air transport.”

Marles: Australia must become a “porcupine”

“As the DSR rightly observes, our northern bases are a huge asset and critical to Australia’s ability to project,” said Marles. “Our immediate investment in these bases will ensure our defense force is able to operate from them effectively.”

His remarks lined up with earlier statements that centered on the idea of bolstering Australia’s military defenses. “We need to make Australia a difficult proposition for any adversary. In that context, we need to be a porcupine,” Marles told journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne newspaper The Age.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army has been building up its forces in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. This has forced Western military planners to look at how to better operate in maritime environments comprised largely of islands. The “porcupine approach,” which has also been adopted by Taipei, involves upping the threat of retaliation to a point where Beijing will think twice about attacking.   

The DSR also recommended that Australia reduce the number of infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) it will procure from 450 to 129 and cancel the purchase of 30 new howitzer artillery systems. However, an earlier slated purchase of M1A1 Abrams tanks will continue, something defense analyst Lincoln Parker of the Australian Liberal Party did not quite agree with.

“Many commentators have called for the ADF to be structured along the same lines as the U.S. Marine Corps, specifically a Marine Expeditionary Force. Therefore, spending billions of dollars on Abrams tanks and 400 IFVs does not make sense,” he remarked.

The freed-up funds from the military spending cuts will be diverted toward purchasing long-range missile systems. Others have suggested that the money be spent on land-based missile launchers primed for hitting naval targets.

But according to Australian Defense Industry Minister Pat Conroy, the money will be used to “purchase more HIMARS rocket systems and land-based maritime strike [capability].”

“This is about reshaping the army to modernize it, to be quite frank,” Conroy told ABC Radio. “This is about getting an Australian Army that’s shaped for our current strategic circumstances and going from a service whose greatest range for its artillery is 45 kilometers (28 miles) to one that can project power in excess of 500 kilometers (310.7 miles).”

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