Australia Set to Buy 220 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles From US
The Pentagon has approved the sale of 220 Tomahawk cruise missiles to Australia under the tri-nation AUKUS security pact.
The $1.3 billion (US$895 million) deal follows the confirmation that Australia will be acquiring up to five nuclear-powered attack submarines over the next decade under the security alliance that will cost Australia up to $368 billion (US$245 billion).
Australian Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed the deal on March 17.
“We are working with the U.S. on having more missile capability because it’s a really important part of what we need to be doing with our posture, which is to have a greater ability to project,” Marles said on Nine news.
“That’s at the heart of what we’re doing with submarines, of course, but making sure we have longer range strike missiles is a really important capability for the country.
“It enables us to be able to reach out beyond our shores further and that’s ultimately how we are able to keep Australia safe.”
Up to 200 Tomahawk Block V All Up Rounds, and up to 20 Tomahawk Block IV All Up Rounds will be included in the deal.
Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy said the missiles were able to be fired from the U.S. Virginia-class submarines that the Australia would be acquiring.
“We certainly want the best possible capability for the Australian Defence Force so that includes the ability to strike opponents as far away as possible from the Australian mainland,” he told ABC TV.
“The cruise missiles are a critical part of that, as are the submarines that launch them.”
These Tomahawk cruise missiles have an operational range of more than 1,600 kilometres (994.2 miles) with the capability to hover over a battlefield before a target is chosen.
Deal Supports US Foreign Policy and National Security Objectives
In a press release (pdf), the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency said the sale of the Tomahawk cruise missiles will contribute significantly to “peace and economic stability” in the Indo-Pacific.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States,” the department said.
“Australia is one of our most important allies in the Western Pacific.
“It is vital to the U.S. national interest to assist our ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability.
“Australia will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense.”
The department added that the sale of the missiles and support will not alter basic military balance in the region.
However, former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered a stinging rebuke of the submarine deal saying it will make Australia “subordinate to the United States.”
Keating called AUKUS the “worst international decision” by a Labor government since Billy Hughes introduced conscription in World War I.
“A contemporary Labor government is shunning security in Asia for security in and within the Anglosphere,” he said on March 15.
“Anthony Albanese’s government has picked up and has taken ownership of the strategic architecture of the Morrison government—but taken it up in full and with unprecedented gusto.”
The former prime minister also blamed Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles for backing the Liberal-National Coalition in its approach towards Beijing.
In response, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Keating’s comments only diminished the former leader.
“I think it is unfortunate that Mr Keating chose such very strong personal statements against people, I don’t think that does anything other than diminish him, frankly, but that’s a decision that he’s made.”
Albanese added that Keating continued to have the prime minister’s “utmost respect” for his leadership during the 1990s, but the world had changed.
Treasurer Jim Chalmers said while he had a lot of respect for the senior Labor figure, the submarine deal was the right decision.
“I talk to him about the economy very frequently, sometimes multiple times a week. I talked to him about superannuation and other issues, and I’ll continue to do that,” he told ABC Radio.
“We’ve made the right call here. We’ve made it for the right contemporary reasons. It’s a big investment in our national security, but also in our national economy.”
On March 11, Albanese told reporters while visiting India that AUKUS is the single-biggest defence investment in the nation’s history, and that workers in South Australia and Western Australia would benefit from the deal, saying it “is about jobs, including jobs in manufacturing.”
Beijing Continues with Disinformation Campaign
China’s ruling communist party has accused Australia, the U.S. and UK of undermining the international nuclear non-proliferation regime.
The Chinese regime has also accused the three nations of fuelling an arms race and threatening peace in the Indo-Pacific.
Beijing also operates nuclear-powered submarines.
Foreign Minister Wong said Australia had an impeccable record when it comes to non-proliferation.
“We will observe, to the highest standard, our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, under the Treaty of Rarotonga,” Wong said.
“We will ensure that we have … the highest standards when it comes to the safety of the construction of this capability.”
Australian authorities say nuclear energy used for propulsion is in line with the non-proliferation regime, which provides for the use of non-military nuclear technology.
Nuclear waste will be disposed of in Australia once the submarines need to be defuelled in the 2050s.
AAP and Daniel Y. Teng contributed to this report.