The Australian federal government has announced two significant investments to boost the Australian Defence Force (ADF)’s capabilities in the lead-up to 2021: the expansion of its air force’s Poseidon aircraft fleet and an upgrade of the navy’s Collins-class submarine fleet.
On Dec. 30, Defence minister Linda Reynolds released the plan to acquire two more P-8A Poseidon surveillance and response aircraft for the Australian Air Force, bringing the total fleet size to 14. The plan will also boost the domestic defence industry and create more high-tech Australian jobs.
The Poseidon is a highly versatile, long-endurance aircraft capable of conducting multiple tasks, including anti-submarine warfare, maritime and overland intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as striking targets above and below the ocean’s surface. It is complemented with three MQ-4C Triton aircraft.
As part of the government’s $270 billion (US$208 billion) defence capability investment over the next decade, the additional aircraft will enhance Air Force’s flexibility to support multiple operations and play a key role in ensuring the security of Australia’s maritime region.
“Together, the Poseidon and the Triton will provide Australia with one of the most advanced maritime patrol and response capabilities in the world,” Reynolds said in a statement on Dec 30.
Reynolds also noted that the aircraft would be purchased through the existing Cooperative Program with the United States Navy and would benefit Australian small businesses.
“Several Australian companies are already completing work for Boeing Defence Australia, and industry investment including facilities works is over $1 billion,” she said.
$23.7 Million Upgrade to Submarine Fleet
A day prior day, the defence department announced that Thales Australia has been awarded two contracts worth $23.7 million (US$18.3 million) to upgrade the sonar system of the navy’s Collins class submarine fleet.
The upgrade, which will complement broader improvements to sonar capability, include the installation of an Australian-designed and developed Mine and Obstacle Avoidance Sonar ( MOAS) and new high-frequency intercept array (HFIA) systems.
Both next-generation new systems will equip the submarines with better capabilities to detect physical obstacles as well as high-frequency noise, thus enhancing their operational effectiveness in hazardous shallow waters.
The latest investment is part of an ongoing program of upgrades to Australia’s six Collins-class submarines, which are expected to be in service until a new generation of vessels becomes available in the late 2030s.
“Our six Collins class submarines are a highly capable and regionally superior capability that are only halfway through their operational life,” Reynolds said in a statement on Dec. 29. “Because of this government’s action, we have a Collins Class submarine that is now exceeding the Royal Australian Navy’s availability requirement.”
Thales Australia chief executive Chris Jenkins said about 80 percent of the upgrade would be undertaken in Australia, with systems to be “designed, developed, integrated, and sustained in Australia.”
This will translate into approximately 30 new jobs with the company and additional jobs with other Australian-based suppliers. The enhanced world-leading sovereign industrial capability in the sonar system will also bring new export opportunities.
National Security Strategy
The two announcements coincidence with Liberal Senator Jim Molan’s call for the federal government to come up with a national security strategy in preparation for conflict amidst its rapidly deteriorating relationship with China.
Speaking to Sunrise on Dec. 29, the former Army major general warned that military conflict with communist China is “much more likely than it is currently recognised,” arguing that Australia risks being drawn into a war between China and the United States.
Molan told the program that Beijing has been “priming for war for a long, long time.”
“They are threatening Taiwan every day of the week and interfering in Japanese airspace,” he said. “They have stolen the South China Sea, contrary to any international rules and laws. They are picking fights with their neighbours around the world.”
However, Reynolds downplayed his warning, insisting that Australia’s updated defence strategic plan has taken into consideration the new regional challenges.
“We have a very clear-eyed view on what is happening regionally and globally, and we are preparing our nation accordingly,” she told the news.com.au.
Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan released in July includes an updated plan to manage the rising challenges and increase personnel across the force, which is matched with a $270 billion investment in the ADF’s capabilities and infrastructure over the next 10 years.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new strategic policy aims to ensure that “the Indo-Pacific is front of mind for our ADF and is prioritised in the decisions we make on our deployments and our force structure and capabilities.”
The plan also focuses on improving funding certainty and enhancing the ADF’s self-reliance, making sure it is able to “deter actions against our interests and, if required, respond with military force.”