Australia continues to stock up on long-range missiles in pursuit of an independent strategic deterrent amid deteriorating relations with and rising threats from China.
This week, ABC News reported that Australia had finalized the purchase of 20 US High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to be delivered to the Australian Army by 2026.
At the same time Australian signed a separate purchase agreement for Norwegian Naval Strike Missiles (NSM) to replace aging Harpoon missiles on its Hobart-class destroyers and Anzac-class frigates in 2024.
According to Australian Defense Industry Minister Pat Conroy, the HIMARS will give the Australian Army an unprecedented long-range strike capability against targets 300 kilometers away.
Australia is part of a joint program with the USA to develop a precision strike missile that can hit targets farther than 499 kilometers away.
In terms of improving the capabilities of Australia’s warships, CNN reported this week that the maneuverable and sea-skimming NSM would double the range of Australia’s warships to 185 kilometers.
CNN also notes that Australia could deploy HIMARS in Southeast Asia or the Pacific, as the US Marine Corps has been exercising with the system under the presumption that it may need to be deployed somewhere in the region.
Particularly in the event of hostilities including a potential clash over Taiwan or in the South China Sea. This missile sale aligns with US efforts to create a missile wall in the Pacific.
Asia Times has reported on US missile projects such as the Typhon, OpFires and Long Range Hyper-sonic Weapon (LRHW) projects, which may be deployed in the First and Second Island Chains to deter China’s expansion into the Pacific.
The US sale of HIMARS to Australia may also align with its efforts to enable Australia to support implementing an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) bubble in the region. The developments are the latest in Australia’s efforts to build its long-range strike arsenal.
Asia Times reported earlier on Australia’s US$235 million purchase of 80 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile – Extended Range (JASSM-ER) missiles with a range of 935 kilometers that can be launched from its F-35s or F/A-18 jets.
Australian Defense Magazine reported in October 2022 that Australia was planning to manufacture HIMARS rockets and rocket boosters for the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).
Although Australia’s alliance with the USA remains the cornerstone of its strategic security, the report notes that Canberra’s worst-case scenario would be a potential adversary setting up a nearby presence from where it could target Australia or isolate it from its allies.
For now, however, this possibility is still remote. In 2019, the Solomon Islands government rejected China Sam Group’s attempt to lease Tulagi Island, which has a deep-water harbor suited for military purposes.
At the same time, there is a strong case against Australia’s efforts to create a strategic missile deterrent. In a 2019 United States Studies Center article, Ashely Townsend and other writers argue that Australia cannot independently deter China.
Still, they wrote Australia can complicate China’s efforts at coercion by supporting US deterrence efforts, building domestic and regional resilience, and encouraging collective action in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
In article for The Strategist, Daniel Molesworth writes that while Australia has spent billions of US dollars on HIMARS and other missiles, without dedicated surveillance and target acquisition capabilities provided by drones such as the MQ-9B Sky Guardian, Australia could not expect to launch effective long-range fires.
Molesworth mentions that without such capabilities, Australia’s long-range missile arsenal would end up being an unjustifiable expense that misses its desired deterrent mark.
Asia Times / ABC Flash Point News 2023.