Australia plans to purchase an unspecified number of MQ-4C Triton UAVs. (Northrop Grumman)
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA — Australia’s new defense budget boosts spending by 6 percent over last year and forecasts movement on a number of large acquisition programs, including vehicles and helicopters.
The government of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivered its budget on May 13, the first since the Liberal-National Party coalition was elected in September.
Defense will receive AUS $29.2 billion (US $27.1 billion) in 2014-15 and $122.7 billion over the four-year forward estimates period. That represents a $9.6 billion increase from previous government’s figures, said Defence Minister David Johnston.
“This demonstrates our firm commitment to a strong and capable Australian Defence Force,” he said.
The Abbott government had promised to return defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over a 10-year period, and this first budget paves the way for that to occur, increasing from 1.6 last year to 1.8 percent between now and the middle of 2015.
Budget documents forecast movement on several large defense acquisition programs during the outlook period, including the first tranche of the $10.4 billion Land Combat Vehicle project and the Army/Navy Helicopter Aircrew Training System.
In recent weeks, Abbott’s administration also announced a slew of capability decisions. In February, Johnston announced the purchase of eight Boeing P-8A maritime patrol aircraft for $4 billion, with options on a further four, followed a month later by approval for the acquisition of an unspecified number of Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicles.
More recently, on April 23, the minister announced the order of a further 58 F-35A joint strike fighters for $12.4 billion, taking Australia’s total commitment to 72 aircraft.
However, other major projects such as the Future Submarine, which will build 12 large conventionally powered boats, will have to wait until the promised defense white paper and associated defense capability plan to be released in the middle of 2015.
“Further work is required to ensure we have the defense capability we need, when we need it in an uncertain world,” Johnston said. “That is why the government is undertaking a force structure review, which will be the basis for the new white paper to be released in 2015.
“The white paper and resultant defense capability plan will provide the Australian community and defense industry with clarity and certainty,” he added. “We will lay out a clear, fully funded plan for a strong and secure Australia.”
Mark Thomson, a senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the 2014-15 budget document is a welcome change from recent budgets, which have seen spending as a function of GDP fall to the lowest levels since the 1930s.
“This is as good as it gets in this current environment; there is real growth here,” he said. “I would describe it as encouraging and there is a credible path to an increase to 2 percent of GDP in the 2024-25 period.”
The defense budget portfolio statement also revealed that Australia spent $1.07 billion on operations in the last financial year, against an estimated $436 million in the 2014-15 period.
The reduction reflects the completion of Australia’s contributions to operations in Timor Leste and the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan.
Reflecting the withdrawal from Afghanistan, the activities across the Middle East will be split into three separate operations from July 1:
■Operation Slipper in Afghanistan, funded at $240.8 million in 2014-15.
■Operation Manitou in the Gulf of Aden, $52 million
■Operation Accordion in the Middle East, funded at $57 million.
In addition, the operational budget includes a further $3 million above the $25 million already spent on the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. ■