AUSTRALIA needs an army of 12 battalions, up to 200 advanced combat aircraft and 18 submarines to prepare for future strategic challenges including the rise of China, a new study warns.
Professor Hugh White, visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy, said this would be expensive but not unaffordable, requiring around 2.5 per cent of GDP, up from the current two per cent.
Professor White, principal author of the 2000 Defence White Paper, said most people understood that China’s rise was transforming Asia, but few acknowledged the obvious consequences for Australia’s security.
He said that in the upcoming 2009 White Paper, set to be released before the end of the month, the Government could choose to hedge its bets and defer key announcements.
But he said in a paper released yesterday that the least the government should do was commit to building a defence force able to achieve strategic objectives set out in the 2000 White Paper.
Prof White said there was a big gap between present forces and the tasks they were supposed to be able to perform and that gap would only grow.
“Even with eight battalions, Australia would today be hard-pressed to deploy more than about 3000 troops to a major crisis in our region for a short deployment of up to a few months,” he said.
He suggested a minimum of 12 battalions, each with around 800 troops.
Professor White said the navy needed to be structured to deny Australia’s sea approaches to an enemy, requiring a force with fewer surface ships and more submarines.
Australia now has six highly capable Collins class boats which reach end of life around 2025.
“In my view, Australia should soon start steadily to expand the submarine force to 12 boats, and eventually to 18,” he said.
Professor White said the RAAF traditionally enjoyed a significant margin of superiority over regional air forces, with current plans to maintain that superiority through buying 100 advanced Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
He said improving regional capabilities meant the arbitrary figure of 100 was almost certainly too low and the government needed to consider buying up to 200.
Professor White said China was set to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy, ending the era of uncontested US primacy.
The US had various options ranging from acquiescence to meeting the challenge head-on. To meet the challenge, the most obvious approach would be to build a regional coalition, including Australia, to balance China’s power.
But in any conflict, he said, Australia would face the uncomfortable choice of siding with the US, with our future utterly dependent on the outcome, or standing aloof in the certain knowledge that we would then be on our own in an uncertain region thereafter. [AAP]
What is interesting is how much less Australia pays for defense compared to the United States. According to the article Australia is currently spending 2% of GDP on defense where America spends currently 4.2% of GDP. What I wonder is if the ADF does get a extra money for their expansion who are they going to recruit to fill the ranks with the current recruiting crisis they are currently going through. If you can’t fill the force you have now, how are going to fill an expanded force in the future?