Australia says to build biggest navy since World War II

SYDNEY  -  Australia on Tuesday outlined a decade-long plan to double its fleet of major warships and boost defence spending by an additional US$7 billion, in the face of a quickening Asia-Pacific arms race. Under the plan, Australia will get a navy of 26 major sur­face combatant ships, up from 11 today. “It is the largest fleet that we will have since the end of the Second World War,” said Defence Minister Richard Marles. The an­nouncement comes af­ter a massive build-up of firepower by rivals Chi­na and Russia, and amid growing confrontation between nervous US-led allies and increasingly bellicose authoritarian governments. Australia will get six Hunter class frigates, 11 general-purpose frigates, three air warfare destroyers and six state-of-the-art surface warships that do not need to be crewed.

At least some of the fleet will be armed with Tomahawk missiles capable of long-range strikes on targets deep inside enemy territory -- a major deterrent ca­pability. The plan would see Australia increase its defence spending to 2.4 percent of gross do­mestic product, above the two percent target set by its NATO allies. Some of the ships will be built in Adelaide, ensuring more than 3,000 jobs, but others will be sourced from US designs and a still un­decided design to come from Spain, Germany, South Korea or Japan.

In 2021, Austra­lia announced plans to buy at least three US-designed nuclear-powered submarines, scrapping a years-long plan to develop non-nuclear subs from France that had already cost billions of dollars.

While the Virginia-class submarines will be nuclear-powered, they will not be armed with atomic weapons and are instead expect­ed to carry long-range cruise missiles. They represent a step-shift for the country’s open water capabilities.

Experts say that tak­en together, Australia is poised to develop sig­nificant naval capability. 

But the country’s major defence projects have long been beset by cost overruns, govern­ment U-turns, policy changes and project plans that make more sense for local job cre­ation than defence.

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