CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — Australia simultaneously unveiled two pivotal documents on April 17 — its inaugural “National Defence Strategy” and the 2024 “Integrated Investment Program″ — with a promise that defense spending will reach AU$765 billion (U.S. $491 billion) over the next decade.

In line with that trajectory, the government projected the 2033-2034 annual defense budget would surpass AU$100 billion, equating to 2.4% of gross domestic product.

The defense strategy is meant to provide the overarching rationale for Australia’s “integrated, focused force,” while the investment plan spells out ways to pay for specific objectives.

“The inaugural National Defence Strategy sets out a clear and priority-driven approach to protecting against threats to Australia and our interests,” Defence Minister Richard Marles said at the document launch event in Canberra. China was notably prominent among those threats.

An Australian defense expert warned there “cannot be anymore lag” in implementing the strategy’s pointers.

“We actually need to be putting them [the documents] into service now. We can’t wait another two or three years for that,” Bec Shrimpton, director of the defense strategy and national security program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute think tank, told Defense News.

Shrimpton found the strategy document “slightly underwhelming” in its articulation of concepts already described in previous policy papers. “I’m not seeing a lot added,” she said.

Marles said Australia’s activity should focus “unambiguously” on the Asia-Pacific region, especially to protect trade routes. “We simply have to make the difficult decision to keep the vast bulk of our effort in our region.”

Compared with the broad-brush goals of the defense strategy, the accompanying investment plan provides more meat, according to Shrimpton. “It actually starts to fill in a genuine picture of what the future force is going to look like and what it’s going to do.”

For example, the government plans to steer 38% of funds to maritime capabilities, 22% to enterprise and enabling programs — including infrastructure and information technology — 16% to land, 14% to air, 7% to cyberspace and 3% to space.

About AU$76 billion will go to undersea warfare by 2034, including AU$53 billion to AU$63 billion focused on nuclear-powered submarines and associated infrastructure. Some of those investments are already appearing on the books, as Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy announced April 18 that the Navy would adopt Anduril’s Ghost Shark long-range autonomous underwater vessel.

Up to AU$69 billion will be spent on surface ships over the next decade, eventually giving the service 26. However, hull numbers will dip to a nadir of nine in a few years’ time.

With an influx of AU$44 billion over 10 years, the Australian Army will continue transforming to a littoral and expeditionary force akin to the U.S. Marine Corps.

Approximately AU$18 billion will go to integrated air and missile defense, but there is no investment pegged in long-range, ground-based air defense systems like the Patriot or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense systems to defend against ballistic missiles. Counter-drone systems are also listed, an area in which the Australian Defence Force lacks capabilities.

The Air Force will receive AU$33 billion over the coming decade. It will keep investing in MQ-28A Ghost Bat drones, but its original plan to obtain 100 F-35A fighter jets is capped at 72.

Thus, Conroy said, “we’ve decided to keep the [F/A-18] Super Hornets in service for two reasons. One, they’re doing great work. Secondly, the Joint Strike Fighter is even more capable than we initially thought. So we can delay the replacement of the Super Hornet which frees up funding to invest in more long‑range missiles, for example.”

Regarding space, Australia will continue developing a satellite communications network and spend funds on the Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability. The plan mentions “measures to enhance [the Department of] Defence’s space control capability to deny attempts to interfere with, or attack Australia’s use of the space domain.”

This could prove critical in the face of China’s counter-space capabilities.

Marles vowed that defense spending, compared to earlier allocations, would increase by AU$50.3 billion in the next decade.

However, Shrimpton pointed out that 11% of this amount will be allocated in the coming four years. In other words, approximately 90% of the spending increase will not come to fruition until the late 2020s.

“So we’re accepting an element of risk,” the analyst said, adding that the quick fielding of promising technology should play a more prominent role as a hedge against near-term underfunding.

Many commentators see the period from now till the end of this decade as carrying the highest risk of Chinese aggression, but where the Australian Defence Force has significant weaknesses.

“What are we cutting, canceling, divesting and re-scoping? A lot of the story of this investment plan and this strategy is going to sit in what we’re not doing,” Shrimpton said. “That picture is not fully clear yet.”

Gordon Arthur is an Asia correspondent for Defense News. After a 20-year stint working in Hong Kong, he now resides in New Zealand. He has attended military exercises and defense exhibitions in about 20 countries around the Asia-Pacific region.

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