Prime Minister Scott Morrison will warn Australians to prepare for a more "dangerous and disorderly" post-COVID world as he announces a $270 billion ($288b) cash splash today on long-range maritime missiles and land strike capabilities as tensions with China intensify.
The Prime Minister says that tensions are rising across the region, citing recent border clashes between India and China and tensions in the South China Sea.
"The risk of miscalculation – and even conflict – is heightening,'' the Prime Minister warns.
"The simple truth is this. Even as we stare down the Covid pandemic at home, we need to also prepare for a post-Covid world that is poorer, more dangerous and more disorderly."
Despite Covid-19 blowing a massive hole in the federal budget, the Prime Minister will reaffirm he will offer a 10-year funding model that goes beyond the current pledge to reach 2 per cent of GDP this year.
The programme includes major upgrades to the Tindal RAAF base in the Northern Territory, that Morrison has previously described as "the sharp end of the spear" for Australian and US air operations in the Indo-Pacific.
The Prime Minister will warn the Indo-Pacific region is the epicentre of rising strategic competition, signalling a shift in Australia's defence focus.
"Our region will not only shape our future – increasingly it is the focus of the dominant global contest of our age,'' Morrison says.
"Tensions over territorial claims are rising across the Indo-Pacific region – as we have seen recently on the disputed border between India and China, in the South China Sea, and in the East China Sea.
While the 2016 Defence White Paper previously saw an equal weighting across three areas: Australia and its northern approaches; Southeast Asia and the Pacific; and operations in support of the rules-based global order, the new blueprint will call on the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to prioritise its geographical focus on the immediate region – from the northeast Indian Ocean, through maritime and mainland Southeast Asia to Papua New Guinea and the South West Pacific.
ANU Professor Paul Dibbs has previously flagged the A$1.1 billion upgrade to the RAAF base at Tindal as pivotal, because it will lengthen the runway so that US B-52 strategic bombers as well as our own KC-30 air-to-air refuelling aircraft can operate from there.
"The second development is the announcement by the US State Department that Australia has been cleared, at a cost of about A$1.4 billion, to purchase 200 AGM-158C long-range anti-ship missiles (LRASM), which can be fired from our F/A-18 Super Hornets and the F-35s when they are delivered,'' Dibb wrote.
"The significance of these two developments occurring at the same time should not be underestimated and certainly not in Beijing. Morrison described the upgrades to Tindal as being 'the sharp end of the spear' for Australian and US air operations in the Indo-Pacific.
As the Australian Strategic Policy Institute's Peter Jennings observed, the decision to expand the Tindal air base is a giant strategic step forward and could be the basis for a greater leadership role for Australia in the region.
"When the upgrade, including major runway extensions, fuel stockpiles and engineering support, is completed, Tindal will be the most potent military base south of Guam. And — for the time being at least — it is beyond the reach of Chinese conventional ballistic missiles."
The new defence blueprint will also increase the Australian Defence Force's ability to influence and deny operations in the 'grey-zone' of intelligence and offensive cyber capabilities.
"Disinformation and foreign interference have been enabled by new and emerging technologies,'' the Prime Minister says.
"Relations between China and the United States are fractious as they compete for political, economic and technological supremacy."
However, the Prime Minister warns it is important to acknowledge that China and the US are not the only actors of consequence.
"Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, the countries of Southeast Asia, and the Pacific all have agency – choices to make and parts to play,'' he says.
"We must be alert to the full range of current and future threats, including ones in which Australia's security and sovereignty may be tested.
"We know what we're about and what we stand for. We're about having the freedom to live our lives as we choose — in an open and democratic society, without coercion or fear.
"We won't surrender this – ever."
Information and cyber
(A$15b) – Bolster offensive and defensive cyber capabilities, enhance electronic warfare and command and control systems and improve intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems. Between A$1.9 to A$3b in offence defensive and offensive cyber operations and to counter cyber-attacks on Australia, Defence and deployed forces. Between A$3.3 to A$5b for strengthen Defence's network resilience from malicious actors. Between A$2 to A$3b in signals intelligence systems and expanding and upgrading systems for delivering top secret information and communications to strengthen Defence's warfighting capability
Maritime (A$75b) – Expanded maritime force to provide greater capability for anti-submarine warfare, sealift, border security, maritime patrol, aerial warfare, area denial and undersea warfare. Between A$168 to A$183b for the acquisition or upgrade of navy and Army maritime vessels out to the 2050s. Between A$5 to A$7b in undersea surveillance systems. Between A$400 to A$500 million in long range Maritime Strike missiles.
Air (A$65b) – Expanded air combat and mobility and new long range weapons and remotely piloted and autonomous systems will be introduced. Between A$10 to A$17b investment in fighter aircraft. Between A$700m to A$1b for Operational Radar Network expansion. Between A$3.4 to A$5.2b to improve air launched strike capability. Between A$6.2 to A$9.3b in research and development in high speed long range strike, including hypersonic research to inform future investments Between A$7.4 to A$11b for remotely-piloted and autonomous combat aircraft, including air teaming vehicles.
Space (A$7b) – Investment to improve resilience and self-reliance of Defence's space capabilities, including to assure access to capabilities, enable situational awareness and deliver real-time communications and position, navigation and timing. Between A$4.6 to A$6.9b in upgrades and future satellite communications systems, including communications satellites and ground control stations under sovereign Australian control. Between A$1.3 to A$2b to build our Space Situational Awareness capabilities.
Land ($55 billion) – Investment to ensure land forces have more combat power, are better connected, protected and integrated with each other and with our partners. Between A$7.4 to A$11.1b on future autonomous vehicles. Between A$7.7 to A$11.5b for long range rocket fires and artillery systems including two regiments of self-propelled howitzers. Between A$1.4 to A$2.1b for Army watercraft including up to 12 riverine patrol craft and several amphibious vessels of up to 2000 tonnes to enhance ADF amphibious lift capacity.
Defence Enterprise (A$50b) – Investment key infrastructure, ICT, innovation and science and Technology programmes critical to the generation of Defence capabilities. Between A$6.8 to A$10.2b in undersea warfare facilities and infrastructure. Between A$4.3 to A$6.5b to enhance Air Force's operational effectiveness and capacity in the Northern Territory. Between A$900m to A$1.3b to upgrade key ports and infrastructure to support Australia's larger fleet of amphibious vessels. Between A$20.3 to A$30b to increase the supply of munitions and between A$1 to A$1.5b to explore expanding industry capacity for domestic guided weapons and explosive ordnance production capability.