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Patrick Walters
The Australian
April 25, 2009 12:01am

Military boost … Australia faces a challenging and uncertain security outlook in Asia over the next two decades

KEVIN Rudd is set to announce Australia’s biggest military build-up since World War II, led by a multi-billion-dollar investment in maritime defence, including 100 new F-35 fighters, a doubling of the submarine fleet, and powerful new surface warships.

The new defence white paper will outline plans for a fundamental shake-up of Australia’s defence organisation to ensure that the nation can meet what the Prime Minister sees as a far more challenging and uncertain security outlook in Asia over the next two decades.

China’s steadily growing military might and the prospect of sharper strategic competition among Asia’s great powers are driving the maritime build-up, which will see new-generation submarines and warships equipped with cruise missiles, and a big new investment in anti-submarine warfare and electronic warfare platforms, including new naval helicopters.

The white paper will consider the emerging non-traditional threats to Australia, including cyber security, climate change and its associated risk of large uncontrolled people movements, The Australian reports.

Senior government sources say Mr Rudd has insisted that defence spending remain largely insulated from the Government’s budget difficulties, but the Defence Department will still have to find at least $15 billion of internal savings over the next decade to help pay for the $100 billion-plus long-term equipment plan.

Mr Rudd said yesterday the delivery of the white paper was proving “acutely challenging as we work to defend ourselves from the global economic storm”.

“It is the most difficult environment to frame the Australian budget in modern economic history. It is also the most difficult environment to frame our long-term defence planning in modern economic history as well,” he told the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

“Nevertheless the Government will not resile even in the difficult times from the requirement for long-term coherence of our defence planning for the long-term security of our nation. This is core business for government.

“That is why we have forged ahead in our preparation of the defence white paper because national security needs do not disappear because of the global recession. If anything, those needs become more acute.”

Funding pressures will mean the navy will not get a fourth air warfare destroyer, and the delivery of the first batch of the RAAF’s F-35 joint strike fighters will slip by at least one year to 2014-15.

The huge cost of paying for the next-generation defence force, due to be detailed in the white paper and the forthcoming 10-year defence capability plan, will have little impact on the defence budget over the the next four years.

Apart from the air warfare destroyers and the F-35 fighters, most of the planned defence purchases will not have to be paid for until well into the next decade and beyond.

Mr Rudd and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon are expected to release the long-awaited white paper as early as next week, with the more detailed 10-year defence capability plan due to published by mid-year.

The naval build-up will be led by a planned 12-strong submarine fleet expected to replace the Collins-class boats from 2025.

It will enable the RAN to deploy up to seven boats to protect Australia’s northern approaches, including key maritime straits running through the Indonesian archipelago, at times of high threat.

The white paper will outline the requirement for a new class of eight 7000-tonne warships equipped with ballistic missile defence systems similar to the three air warfare destroyers already on order that will eventually replace the Anzac frigates.

A new class of 1500-tonne corvette-size patrol boats able to take a helicopter is slated to replace the Armidale-class vessels from the mid-2020s.

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