Australia’s Northern Bases Receive $3.8 Billion Funding Boost to Prep for Potential Conflict

Australia’s Northern Bases Receive $3.8 Billion Funding Boost to Prep for Potential Conflict
A Royal Australian Air Force F-18 jet fighter lands after an aerial display during the Australian International Airshow Aerospace and Defence Expo at Avalon Airport in Geelong on March 3, 2023. (Paul Crock/AFP via Getty Images)
Daniel Y. Teng

The Labor government has pledged $3.8 billion (US$2.5 billion) for upgrades to military bases across Australia’s north as part of a steady build-up to deal with potential conflict in the region.

The announcement follows an earlier pledge in 2021 to upgrade four military training facilities in the Northern Territory.

According to Defence Minister Richard Marles, the new funding push will include $2 billion towards upgrading runways, fuel storage, accommodation, and security at air bases at RAAF Base Learmonth in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, as well as in the Northern Territory and northern Queensland.

Another $1 billion to upgrade major training areas at the Robertson Barracks in Darwin and the Lavarack Barracks in Townsville in northern Queensland.

While the naval bases HMAS Coonawarra, HMAS Cairns, and the Harold E. Holt Naval Communications station will receive $600 million. Another $200 million will go towards accelerating other projects in the north.

The federal government says it was able to free up funds for these upgrades after cancelling other programs.

Part of the Defence Strategic Review

The pledge forms part of the Albanese government’s commitment to implement recommendations from the recently handed down Defence Strategic Review.
“As the Defence Strategic Review rightly observes, our northern bases are a huge asset and critical to Australia’s ability to project,” said Defence Minister Richard Marles in a statement.

“Our immediate investment in these bases will ensure our defence force is able to operate from them effectively.”

The Defence Strategic Review handed down on April 24 confirmed the ongoing evolution of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) from a “balanced” land-based fighting force used to fighting in the Middle East to one more specialised to deal with potential conflict in the immediate region.

In recent years, the build-up of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Taiwan Strait and South China Sea has forced military planners to look at how to better operate in maritime environments comprised largely of islands.

“Many commentators have called for the ADF to be structured along the same lines as the U.S. Marine Corps, specifically a Marine Expeditionary Force. Therefore, spending billions of dollars on Abrams tanks and 400 infantry fighting vehicles does not make sense,” said Lincoln Parker, chair of the Liberal Party’s Defence and National Security Branch, in an earlier interview with The Epoch Times.
The Strategic Review has called for the reduction of Australia’s infantry vehicle program (LAND 400 Phase 3) from 450 to 129, as well as the cancellation of 30 new howitzer artillery systems. The slated acquisition of 160 new M1A1 Abrams tanks will continue, however.

Strengthening the ‘Porcupine’

The newly available funds will be diverted towards purchasing long-range missile systems.

“More HIMARS rocket systems and land-based maritime strike,” said Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy.

“So this is about getting an Australian army that’s shaped for our current strategic circumstances and going from a service whose greatest range for its artillery are 45 kilometres to one that can project power in excess of 500 kilometres. So this is about reshaping the army to modernise it, to be quite frank,” he told ABC Radio.

Other recommendations include acquiring land-based missile launchers primed for hitting naval targets.

The underlying philosophy of this move, which has also been adopted by the Taiwan government, is to up the threat of retaliation to a point where Beijing will have serious doubts about starting a military conflict.
“We need to make Australia a difficult proposition for any adversary,” Marles told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

“In that context, we need to be a porcupine.”

Daniel Y. Teng is based in Brisbane, Australia. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at [email protected].
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