Political and military tensions continue to escalate across the Indo-Pacific region due to China’s increasing regional clout and its economic expansion.
The Australian government has revealed its plans to develop advanced missile technology, and other guided weapons systems, to confront China’s rising military power in the Indo-Pacific region.
Canberra’s move comes after Washington’s recent sanctions on China over its inhumane treatment of the Uighurs, one of the country’s largest minorities.
“It’s an imperative we now proceed with the creation of a sovereign guided weapons capability as a priority,” said Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, during a recent visit to Raytheon Australia.
Raytheon Australia is the Australian branch of Raytheon Technologies, the US-owned mega defence contractor.
Experts like Steven Stashwick, an independent writer and researcher with a focus on East Asian security and maritime issues, thinks the main motivator for Australia’s new approach is China.
“Australia’s advanced weapons spending spree is motivated by increasing concern about China’s belligerence,” Stashwick wrote.
Canberra has deep pockets for its plans to develop military technology. Over the next 20 years, the country will spend A$100bn (US$71.2bn) on guided weapons. An additional A$270bn (US$ 205.5bn) will be spent on military hardware including submarines and frigates, which are crucial to ensure sea dominance across the Pacific, over the next decade.
While the Australian prime minister talked about a particular national need to have “the ability for self-reliance” to face all kinds of challenges “in a changing global environment”, the main plan appears to be based on relying on the US to develop capability for “long-range strikes”.
“I should also stress that is a capability that meshes together with our alliance partners as well, particularly the US,” Morrison added.
Last year, Australia revealed that Canberra would be furthering its partnership with Washington in order to develop a generation of hypersonic cruise missiles that could move much faster than the speed of sound.
According to experts, the new Australian approach is closely linked to the Biden administration and Canberra will eventually be a supplier of guided missiles to the US. Australia’s current guided weapons technology mainly originates from the US, Israel and Europe-based manufacturers.
“The U.S. and Australian militaries have a long cooperative relationship. Industry cooperation between the two countries may see the most growth in the coming years,” wrote Stashwick.
Since gradually gaining its independence from Britain in the early 1900s, the UK and Australia have been close allies. But the shocking defeat of Britain in Singapore in 1942 at the hands of the Japanese during World War II, persuaded Australia that Washington might be a better ally for the country’s survival in the Pacific region.
Eventually after dropping two atomic bombs on Japan’s two largest cities, Washington ensured its victory over Japan in 1945. Since then, the highest number of US troops, estimated to number around 50,000 to 55,000, are stationed in Japan, as part of the Indo-Pacific Command.
In 1950, the US also led a military coalition against the communist North Korean leadership, which was backed by both China and the former Soviet Union, to defend pro-Western South Korea. The brutal Korean War saw China’s intervention on behalf of North Korea, leading to nearly three million fatalities in three years.
Australian forces fought alongside US troops and other allies during the Korean War, enhancing both nations’ military cooperation. In South Korea, the US also keeps a heavy military presence with 26,000 troops.
Since then, Canberra and Washington have been closely linked to each other on political and military matters. With the emergence of China as a great power player, Australia-US connections have been further strengthened to develop a deterrence against Beijing across the Pacific.
Earlier this month, the Aussie-US partnership was on public display when Morrison joined the first leaders’ meeting of the Quad Security Dialogue, a newly-developed pro-Western Pacific alliance, which includes Washington, Canberra, Tokyo and New Delhi. In November, the four powers also conducted military exercises in the Pacific Ocean.
The Quad’s primary objective seems to be aimed at confronting China’s rising economic and military expansion, which worries not only its enemies but its allies, too.