Procurement: February 29, 2004

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Australia is proving what a technically advanced country can achieve with a small defense budget. Over the next few years she will spend $38 billion to add new fighters, tanks, and warships, solidifying her status as a mini-superpower in the South pacific region.

Three anti-air warfare destroyers will enter service in the next decade, at a cost of $6 billion, replacing older Perth destroyers class purchased from America in the 1960s. The new warships, probably based on a German MEKO design, will carry American SM-3 Standard missiles for shooting down ballistic missiles. Japan will field the SM-3 as well, on its Aegis ships, but other than the US, no other country possesses such a capability.

One of the contenders for the Air Warfare Destroyer is the F124 MEKO design. Blohm and Voss shipbuilders is building 3 such vessels for that countrys navy, called the Sachsen class. The F124 was originally planned to carry Aegis, though at the last minute it was built with a European air defense system. MEKO ships introduced modular design in the 1980s, with over 60 such vessels in service in the worlds navies. Such ships will be compatible to Australias own ships of the ANZAC class, which were built on a German design.

New amphibious warships will also be purchased for $2.4 billion, replacing former American landing ships acquired in the 1990s. A maritime patrol plane is being sought, for $3.5 billion, to replace older P-3C Orions, which performed valuable service for Australia in the Iraq war. New unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are being bought, including the long range Global Hawk, for maritime and land surveillance. At a cost of $600 million new tanks will replace the Armys aging fleet of Leopard armored vehicles.

The purchase plan also includes continued participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (F-35)  program, which will cost the country $15.5 billion and be delivered by 2010. JSF will replace Air Force F/A-18 and F-111 fighters. The new aircraft is the largest weapons program of the century and already involves as many as 11 nations.

Australia has been an willing participant to Americas War on Terror. Despite extreme opposition in her own country, she recently deployed 2,000 personnel in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Offshore, Australian warships traded shots with Iraqi shore batteries during the amphibious invasion of Umm Qasr, while SAS forces and F/A-18s proved invaluable in the land campaign.

The decision to deploy the SM-3 missile has alarmed many nations in the area, including Indonesia and China. China sees such weapons as a threat pointed toward them, though other nations possess a ballistic missile capability, including North Korea, who is on Americas rogue list of terrorist supporting states.

The worlds smallest continent has always sought a voice in the affairs of the region, as seen in the 1999 East Timor crisis. There, Australia proved herself capable in handling a local emergency, though some shortcomings were revealed. This new spending spree is expected not only to create a modernized force, but also an enhanced capability to respond to terrorism and emerging threats including political instability in the region. --Mike Burleson

 


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