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Australia Needs to Overhaul Its Defense, Government Review Reveals as China Rises

CANBERRA, Australia — Australia needs to spend more money on defense, make its own munitions and develop the ability to strike longer-range targets as China’s military buildup challenges regional security, according to a government-commissioned review released Monday.

The Defense Strategic Review supports the so-called AUKUS partnership among Australia, United States and Britain, who in March announced an agreement to create an Australian fleet of eight submarines powered by U.S. nuclear technology.

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Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said his government commissioned the review to assess whether Australia had the necessary defense capability, posture and preparedness to defend itself in the current strategic environment.

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“We support the strategic direction and key findings set out in the review, which will strengthen our national security and ensure our readiness for future challenges,” Albanese said.

He said the review was Australia’s most significant since World War II and was comprehensive in scope. “It demonstrates that in a world where challenges to our national security are always evolving, we cannot fall back on old assumptions,” Albanese added.

The public version of the classified review recommended Australia’s government spend more on defense than the current expenditure of 2% of gross domestic product, improve the Australian Defense Force’s ability to precisely strike targets at longer ranges and make munitions domestically.

Other recommendations include improving the force’s ability to operate from Australia’s northern bases and to deepen defense partnerships with key partners in the Indo-Pacific region including India and Japan.

China’s military buildup “is now the largest and most ambitious of any country” since the end of World War II, the review said. And it “is occurring without transparency or reassurance to the Indo-Pacific region of China’s strategic intent,” the review added.

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The strategic circumstances during the current review were “radically different” than those in the past, said the review authored by former Australian Defense Force Chief Angus Houston and former Defense Minister Stephen Smith.

The United States, Australia’s most important defense treaty partner, was “no longer the unipolar leader of the Indo-Pacific,” a region that had seen the return of major power strategic competition, it said.

“As a consequence, for the first time in 80 years, we must go back to fundamentals, to take a first-principles approach as to how we manage and seek to avoid the highest level of strategic risk we now face as a nation: the prospect of major conflict in the region that directly threatens our national interest,” the review said.

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The government immediately plans to delay or abandon 7.8 billion Australian dollars ($5.2 billion) in defense spending to reflect new priorities.

Defense Industry Minister Pat Conroy said as part of the new priorities, an order for infantry fighting vehicles had been reduced from 450 to 129. The savings from those vehicles and the cancelation of a second regiment of self-propelled howitzers would fund the acceleration of Australia arming itself with the U.S. rocket system HIMARS that was proving effective in the Ukraine war.

The army’s maximum range of weapons would be extended from 40 kilometers (25 miles) to over 300 km (186 miles) and, with the acquisition of precision strike missiles, over 500 km (311 miles), Conroy said.

“This is about giving the Australian army the fire power and mobility it needs into the future to face whatever it needs to face,” Conroy said.

For the past five decades, Australia’s defense policy had been aimed at deterring and responding to potential low-level threats from a small or middle-power neighbors. “This approach is no longer fit for purpose,” the review said.

Australia’s army, air force and navy needed to focus on “delivering timely and relevant capability” and abandon its “pursuit of the perfect solution or process” in its procurements, it said.