Sat, May 04, 2013 - Page 6 News List

Australia orders Growler jets to close fighter gap

SOFTER APPROACH:The new Australian defense white paper toned down its previous commentary on China’s speedy militarization, saying it is ‘natural and legitimate’

AFP, SYDNEY

Australia will purchase a dozen new Boeing EA-18G Growler jets to plug a gap left by Lockheed Martin’s embattled Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program under a new military blueprint published yesterday.

The defense roadmap, setting out the government’s long-term priorities, includes a commitment of A$1.5 billion (US$1.53 billion) to buy the 12 specialized Super Hornets and affirms plans for 12 submarines.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard underlined Canberra’s commitment to the F-35 JSF project, which has labored under soaring costs and delays, describing the Growlers as a “transition” phase to the radar-evading next-generation warplane.

The Pentagon plans to make 2,443 F-35s for the US military and several hundred others for eight international partners including Australia.

Canberra delayed acquisition of 12 JSF jets last year as part of A$5.5 billion in cuts to defense spending, which also included the sacking of 1,000 staff and canceling of artillery orders and other projects.

Australian Minister of Defense Stephen Smith said there would be “no further cuts in the defense budget” when the government delivers its spending plans for the next fiscal year later this month, but a “modest increase” in funds for coming years.

Gillard said the defense white paper, which updates a previous blueprint published in 2009, reflects geopolitical shifts including increased US focus on the Asia-Pacific and the growing weight of the Indo-Pacific.

The paper’s commentary on China is notably softer than in 2009, when it questioned the “pace, scope and structure” of Beijing’s military expansion, rankling its major trading partner.

It now describes that militarization as a “natural and legitimate outcome of its economic growth” and welcomed China’s rise.

“The government does not approach China as an adversary. Rather, its policy is aimed at encouraging China’s peaceful rise and ensuring that strategic competition in the region does not lead to conflict,” the paper says.

As expected, the blueprint emphasizes the importance of Australia’s ties with the US, its major military partner, noting the beefing up of its alliance since 2009 with the stationing of 2,500 marines in Darwin.

However, it also notes India’s emergence “as an important strategic, diplomatic and economic actor” and says the Indian Ocean is becoming one of the world’s most strategically significant areas, with Southeast Asia as its center.

“The region’s big strategic challenges will last for decades and their mismanagement could have significant consequences,” it says. “Over time, Australia’s security environment will be significantly influenced by how the Indo-Pacific and its architecture evolves.”

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