BRISBANE — Australia announced an assertive new defence strategy on Wednesday, beefing up its long-range strike capabilities and cyber-warfare efforts.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison earmarked A$270 billion (US$185 billion) for new and upgraded defence capabilities over the next decade -- a nearly 40 per cent increase -- saying the defence force would significantly shift its focus to projecting military power across the Indo-Pacific.
“We must face the reality that we have moved into a new and less benign strategic era," Morrison said in a major policy speech.
“Even as we stare down the COVID pandemic at home, we need to also prepare for a post-COVID world that is poorer, that is more dangerous and that is more disorderly."
Australia's government has committed to spending at least two per cent of GDP on defence -- as US President Donald Trump has angrily demanded of allies -- and plans to spend almost 40 percent more on weapons systems over the last defence review in 2016.
The country will acquire a more powerful strike capability that can hit targets thousands of kilometres from Australia, starting with the United States' AGM-158C Long Range Anti-Ship Missile.
It will also invest in newer platforms like drones, and boost research into hypersonic and direct energy weapons like lasers.
While acknowledging the nation of 25 million people cannot match its rivals in the region, Morrison framed Australia as a regional power committed to an "open, sovereign Indo-Pacific, free from coercion and hegemony".
Though Morrison said Australia remains prepared to send troops further afield "where it is in our national interest to do so", he underscored that could come at the cost of the country's ability to respond to threats from and in its own backyard.
Australia has fought alongside the United States in every major war of the last century, often in areas far from its shores.
The announcement marks a significant shift in Australia's defence posture.
As part of the strategic pivot, the Australian Defence Force will focus on building "stronger deterrence capabilities" to raise the cost for any would-be aggressor and concentrate on the immediate region over operations further afield, he said.
"We want a region where all countries, large and small, can engage freely with each other, guided by international rules and norms," he said on Wednesday.
Morrison said Australia would significantly increase investment in defence space capabilities -- including a network of satellites to create an independent communications network -- calling it a "whole new theatre" for the country, which recently launched its own space agency.
He also pinpointed cybersecurity as key to Australia's defence strategy, a day after announcing the "largest-ever" boost in cybersecurity spending – a roughly 10 per cent hike that takes the budget for the next decade to A$15 billion. — AFP