Seoul, South Korea
Australia on Thursday confirmed it is purchasing two advanced missile and rocket systems, including one used by Ukraine with devastating force against Russia, as deterrence to potential regional threats to its security.
The purchase of the systems, the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), has been in the works since last spring, when then-Defense Minister Peter Dutton said the war in Ukraine and looming threats from China, showed the need for Australia to upgrade its defensive weapons systems.
Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles reiterated that point in a statement Thursday about the two deals, which put the total price tag at $684 million ($1 billion Australian).
“The Albanese government is taking a proactive approach to keeping Australia safe – and the Naval Strike Missile and HIMARS launchers will give our defense force the ability to deter conflict and protect our interests,” Marles said.
“The level of technology involved in these acquisitions takes our forces to the cutting edge of modern military hardware,” said Pat Conroy, minister for defense industry.
The HIMARS launchers have been seen as big difference makes for Ukraine since the United States began supplying them to Kyiv last summer.
In just the past week, HIMARS strikes have made headlines for killing dozens of Russian conscripts being housed at a vocational school in the occupied Donetsk region.
The US State Department approved their sale to Australia last May, putting the price tag on a package that also included related equipment at $385 million.
But the systems are land-based, and the Norwegian-designed Naval Strike Missiles may be more relevant in immediate terms for Australian defense forces.
The maneuverable sea-skimming weapons will be deployed on the Australian navy’s destroyers and frigates. With their range of 185 kilometers (115 miles), they will more than double the current range of the missiles on Australia’s ships, the Australian Defense Ministry said in a statement last April, when first announcing the purchase.
Thursday’s statement said the Naval Strike Missiles will begin replacing Harpoon missiles on Australian warships in 2024, while the HIMARS would be in the Australian arsenal by 2026-27.
Some Australian military analysts said Thursday’s announcement was largely for political reasons, as both had been announced by a right-leaning government that was voted out of office in favor of a left-leaning government last May 21.
“I assume there’s a deeper political message to show that the new left-leaning government … is keen on defense spending,” said Peter Layton, a visiting fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute and former Royal Australian Air Force officer.
The purchase of the HIMARS system, which is focused on land-based warfare, may be a way to keep the votes of army supporters as the much of Australia’s defense focus has been on China, including with its plan to acquire nuclear-powered submarines in the AUKUS arrangement with the United States and United Kingdom.
“The Australian Army is in search of a role now the Middle Eastern wars have finished,” said Layton. “They are unable to find a place for themselves given Australia’s current strategic circumstances which favor air and naval force.”
Ian Hall, deputy director of research at Griffith Asia, said a role for the HIMARS was being debated in the country.
“I imagine that HIMARS could be used in a contingency in Southeast Asia or even somewhere in the Pacific,” he said, pointing out that the US Marines have been exercising with HIMARS with the thought of deploying them to Pacific islands in the event of hostilities in the region.