WASHINGTON — The State Department cleared more than $6 billion in possible foreign military sales to Australia as tensions mount with China over a plan to station U.S. nuclear-capable bombers in the southern Indo-Pacific country.
Canberra was approved to purchase 24 Lockheed Martin-made C-130J-30 Super Hercules airlifters at an estimated cost of more than $6.3 billion. The agreement includes missile warning systems, infrared countermeasures and other equipment and technology for the aircraft, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
The C-130J-30′s will be used by the Royal Australian Air Force to replace its aging cargo fleet and improve the service’s capabilities. The fleet of aircraft will not alter the balance of military power in the region, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement Wednesday.
The sale comes as tensions increased over the past week between China and Australia, a key U.S. ally in the region. On Monday, media reports revealed that the U.S. Air Force plans to build dedicated B-52 bomber facilities at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal in the Northern Territory, much to the annoyance of Beijing.
During a press conference with reporters that day, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the move of U.S. long-range bombers to Australia “may trigger an arms race in the region.”
Australian officials sought to downplay the movement of the U.S. nuclear-capable bombers onto the continent on Thursday. Defense Minister Richard Marles said that rotating the long-range bombers into Australia has been common practice since the 1980′s. While on a trip to Thailand, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong welcomed increased U.S.-Australian coordination and hoped for improved relations with China.
Finland, facing tensions of its own, approved to buy GMLRS
Meanwhile, the State Department also cleared Finland to buy 150 Lockheed Martin-made Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GMLRS) and related equipment for $635 million. A quality assurance team, transportation services and other logistical support are included in this package.
The U.S. is supplying weapons not only to Ukraine as Russia continues its invasion, but also NATO countries in Europe to shore up the alliances’ eastern flank. In the arms sale announcement, the State Department said the GMLRS will better equip Helsinki’s air and land defense capabilities by increasing the Finnish national stockpile.
Finland applied to join NATO in May. So far, 28 of 30 member countries have approved Helsinki’s bid, with the U.S. Senate in a strong bipartisan vote approving the addition in August. Hungary and Turkey remain hold outs.
Zamone “Z” Perez is an editorial fellow at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa, where he helped produce podcasts. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched humanitarian intervention and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.