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Australia shakes up army in shift to long-range deterrence

Australia last month locked in a deal to buy potent long-range Tomahawk missiles from the US. (Reuters pic)

SYDNEY: Australia announced today a “major restructuring” of the army featuring a new long-range strike capacity, as it adapts to China’s growing military clout in the Asia-Pacific region.

The shake-up responds to a strategic review in July that called for a sharp shift towards long-range deterrence – using missiles, submarines and cyber tools to keep adversaries at arm’s length.

“This is an important step forward for our army. This builds an army which will be able to project,” defence minister Richard Marles told reporters in the northeastern city of Townsville.

“This is the basis upon which we will be creating the army we need for Australia’s future,” he said.

The overhaul will create specialised combat brigades in three bases: in the northern city of Darwin, a light, easy-to-deploy force; in northeastern Townsville, a force with more heavy armour tanks to “bring to bear the greatest lethality in any conflict”; and in the eastern city of Brisbane, a mixture of both capacities.

Hundreds of personnel will be redeployed over the next five-to-six years, Marles said, describing it as a “major restructuring of the Australian army”.

The revamp also creates a new brigade in the South Australian capital of Adelaide with long-range fire capacity and integrated air and missile defence.

“This will be the cutting edge of army technology,” the minister said.

An existing regiment in Adelaide will also be refocused on quickly introducing new technologies and practices into the army, he said.

China’s military sway in the region forms the backdrop to Australia’s military restructuring, though Marles made no specific mention of Beijing in his announcement.

Describing China’s military build-up as the largest and most ambitious of any country since World War II, the July strategic review warned “the risks of military escalation or miscalculation are rising”.

Australia’s northern city of Darwin was bombed by Japan in World War II, but until recently defence planners believed they would get a decade’s warning before any new attack was imminent.

“The rise of the ‘missile age’ in modern warfare, crystallised by the proliferation of long-range precision strike weapons, has radically reduced Australia’s geographic benefits,” the review concluded.

Australian planners have viewed China’s military rise warily, fearing Beijing’s now-vast capabilities could effectively cut Australia off from trading partners and global supply chains.

Australia’s military are developing the ability to strike from air, land and sea, strengthen northern bases and recruit more troops in response to that threat.

Canberra has already announced a key tool in its new strategy – the development of stealthy, long-range nuclear-powered submarines that could retaliate with a barrage of cruise missiles and little warning.

Last month, Australia locked in a deal to buy potent long-range weapons from the US.

The cache of more than 200 Tomahawk cruise missiles – costing US$830 million – would be some of the “most powerful and technologically advanced” weapons in Australia’s arsenal, the country’s defence department said.