After AUKUS, is Australia developing a US-backed Military Industrial Complex?


Australia to become weapons' hub (Photo: Google Maps)

After emerging as a frontline state for countering China in the newly formed Australia, United Kingdom, United States (AUKUS) military alliance, Canberra is showing all signs of developing its own Military Industrial Complex.

The first signal that Australia could become a formidable military hardware manufacturer came, when the AUKUS trio decided to manufacture eight nuclear submarines at Adelaide.

Full details have not been revealed, but the Financial Review, an Australian publication is reporting citing a former Defence Department official that the Royal Australian Navy (RAN)is likely to build versions of the latest US or British submarines. These nuclear-powered subs will have better weapons and sensors than their Chinese counterparts, including torpedoes, mines and cruise missiles that can target rival ships and buildings.

Specifically, the Australian version of an American Virginia class or British Astute class is on the radar, the official said. But the brand-new subs might not be ready within a decade. Consequently, the RAN could lease a less potent Los Angeles class submarines from the US as stopgap.

An Astute class submarine costs an estimated $2.6 billion when constructed in Britain.  It can carry 38 torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles, which can strike buildings and ships 1,700 km away. The Virginia class submarines, the latest from the US arsenal are costlier, with a price tag of $3.2 billion. But they also have a more lethal punch on account of the 65 missiles they can carry, besides torpedoes.  

The US decision to manufacture a new version of drones in Australia is also adding to Canberra’s emerging Military Industrial Complex. As reported by India Narrative earlier, the US aerospace giant Boeing

announced on Wednesday that it will assemble its unmanned Loyal Wingman planes in Toowoomba city, Queensland state. It has already completed the first test flights earlier this year.

Also Read: As AUKUS begins to take root, Boeing decides to build new military drones in Australia

News agency AP quotes Scott Carpendale, MD of Boeing Defence Australia, as saying that the new aircraft uses artificial intelligence to operate in tandem with manned aircraft and was conceived, designed, and developed in Australia.

Importantly, this will be the first military combat aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in half a century. Boeing Australia is currently developing six of the aircraft in partnership with the Royal Australian Air Force.

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Carpendale said the Australian government seems happy about the Loyal Wingman’s capabilities. “There’s a significant interest from other countries,” Carpendale added.

The drone is being built in a facility at Wellcamp Airport, owned by Wagner Corp. Wagner chairman John Wagner said he hopes a defence and aerospace precinct at the airport will attract more companies in similar fields.

This venture is believed to be the first of its kind by Boeing outside North America.

Last year Australia had increased its defence budget owing to tensions with China. A Reuter’s report said that the country will increase defence spending by 40 per cent over the next 10 years. The increased budget will go into buying anti-ship missiles as well as developing hypersonic missiles.

Speaking at the launch of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update in Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "We want a Indo-Pacific free from coercion and hegemony. We want a region where all countries, large and small, can engage freely with each other and be guided by international rules and norms”.

In yet another announcement, Australia had earlier this year announced that it would upgrade its ports in the Northern Territories with US help.
Australia plans to spend $580 million to upgrade four northern military bases and hold war games with the United States as well as military exercises with countries in the region.

(With inputs by Rahul Kumar)