Forces: Australia Rearms

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January3, 2007: Australia's recent military operations, and changes in the size and composition of its armed forces, leads to the question: what sort of power is Australia? In the last century, Australian forces have fought across the globe - from Gallipoli to Iraq. Australia has also been carrying out a major upgrade in its air and naval forces. And its done all this with a rather small population (currently about 21 million).

Australia is in the midst of upgrading its air force and navy. Two large amphibious ships are going to be built, either to the French Mistral-class design or to a Spanish design. Displacing anywhere from 24,000 to 27,000 tons, they will each be able to carry 1,000 troops and 150 vehicles, including M1 Abrams tanks that Australia is purchasing to replace the Leopard. These amphibious ships could also carry the V/STOL variant of the F-35.

The bulk of Australia's naval upgrades have been completed. Four of Australia's Perry-class guided missile frigates have been upgraded, and are now capable of firing the SM-2 missile. Vertical-launch cells for the Evolved Sea Sparrow missile have also been added, making these frigates among the most capable in the world. Australia also has eight ANZAC-class frigates, which are also equipped with Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles and Harpoon anti-ship missiles. The Collins-class submarines are probably the best diesel-electric submarines in the world. The last phase of this project will be the construction of three air warfare destroyers (the Hobart class).

The RAAF's upgrade plan is already starting. A potential F-18F purchase has, in fact, accelerated it. The RAAF is eventually planning on buying the F-35A as its major combat aircraft. The RAAF has also added tankers based on the Airbus 330, Wedgetail early-warning aircraft based on the Boeing 737, and is also looking into options to replace aging AP-3C maritime patrol aircraft, including the P-8, Boeing's 737-based multi-mission aircraft.

All this will make Australia perhaps the top power in the region. The addition of the Canberra-class amphibious ships will give it the ability to project power - which it has been unable to do since the retirement of HMAS Melbourne, a World War II light carrier, in 1982. Due to a small population, it is probably not going to be much more than a regional power, albeit it will be a dominant one. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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