Australia commits to decade of growth in defence spending

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The Australian government has committed to increase defence funding by an average 3% a year in real terms through to 2017-18. In its first budget announced since winning power late last year, the Labour government says that in 2008-9 it will invest over A$4.8 billion ($4.2 billion) in major acquisition programmes, more than A$4.5 billion in upgrades and ongoing support, and A$26.8 million for rapid acquisitions to support current operations.

The government says it will also assess new capability proposals, including upgrading the Royal Australian Air Force's fleet of 12 Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical transports (below).

 
© Australian Department of Defence

Australia's budget also commits A$372.5 million this year to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, which advises the government on the purchase of defence equipment, and also manages the Capability and Technology Demonstrator Programme, which fosters technology innovation in the local defence industry. Around A$61 million has been allotted to the programme over the next three years.

The government aims to publish by the end of this year a new Defence White Paper that will guide Australia's future defence planning and spending. It will also include a full review of the Department of Defence's major capital investment programme.

Australia has placed numerous major equipment orders over the last few years, including air force contracts for five Airbus A330-based KC-30 multirole tanker/transports, four Boeing C-17 strategic transports, 24 F/A-18F Super Hornet multirole fighters and six 737-based Wedgetail airborne early warning and control system aircraft.

Discussing the RAAF's emerging systems at the RUSI Air Power conference in London in early May, chief of air force Air Marshal Geoff Shepherd said: "Over the next 10 to 15 years we need to fundamentally rethink our business. Our goal is to become one of the best strategic air forces in the world."

In addition to acquiring new aircraft, also expected to include 100 conventional take-off and landing Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighters to be delivered from around 2013, Shepherd says other priorities include transforming the air force's structure to support effects-based operations and to gain decision superiority. Education and training will also be addressed, he says, noting: "cultural change is required".