* Australia commits to F-35 purchases, to buy Boeing
* New defence strategy accepts rise of China's military
* Australia says China-US need to build strategic
By James Grubel
CANBERRA, May 3 Australia announced a
significant boost to its military air power on Friday,
committing to buy up to new 100 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35
Joint Strike Fighters, as it shifts its focus back to
the Indo-Pacific as China and India beef up forces.
After more than a decade of having forces first in Iraq, and
then Afghanistan, Australia wants to focus on the military
challenges closer to home, in line with U.S. President Barack
Obama's 2011 "pivot" towards the Asia-Pacific.
In a new defence strategy, Australia reinforces that the
United States remains its closest ally, but also struck a
conciliatory tone towards top trading partner China, noting its
rising defence capabilities are a natural outcome from its
"The government does not approach China as an adversary.
Rather, its policy is aimed at encouraging China's peaceful rise
and ensuring that strategic competition in the region does not
lead to conflict," the defence strategy said.
In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua
Chunying noted Australia's assessment of China in the document
"as a partner and not an opponent" and its view that the
country's development was "beneficial to the region and world".
"We believe this embodies Australia's emphasis on developing
China-Australia relations," she told a news briefing.
As part of Australia's military buildup, Defence Minister
Stephen Smith said Canberra was committed to purchasing several
squadrons of F-35s and would also buy 12 Boeing Co EA-18G
electronic attack planes, modified versions of the 24 Super
Hornets already equipping Australia's air force.
"This important decision will assure a first-class air
combat capability for Australia through the transition period to
the Joint Strike Fighter, which will proceed on its current
schedule," Defence Minister Stephen Smith said.
Canberra's decision reinforces positive steps for the F-35,
coming on the heels of a decision by Norway to buy six F-35s a
year earlier than planned, and the Dutch parliament's decision
not to reassess F-35 rivals to replace aging F-16s, despite cost
overruns and development delays.
Australia's first two F-35s are due to be delivered in the
United States in 2014-15. Australia will initially buy 14 F-35s,
building up to three operational squadrons, of around 75 planes.
The first squadron is due in service from around 2020.
The decision to stick with the F-35 will give Australia a
mixed fleet of Super Hornets, Growlers and the new stealth
fighters, matching the U.S. navy capability until at least 2030,
The government also holds the option of buying a further 25
F-35s after 2030, to replace the Super Hornets when they are
withdrawn from service, bringing the total of F-35s to 100.
The new defence strategy is the first reassessment of
Australia's military priorities since 2009, and comes after the
2011 U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific. Part of that pivot included
U.S. marine rotations through a de-facto U.S. base in northern
The U.S. troop deployments and Australia's 2009 military
strategy both upset China, particularly when Australia bluntly
told China it needed to do more to explain its military plans
which it said had the potential to concern its neighbours.
China has sharply increased military spending over the past
three decades and its navy is now second in size only to the
U.S. fleet in terms of numbers, increasing concerns from
neighbours, like Japan and South Korea, involved in a series of
long-running territorial disputes.
Australia's new strategy stresses the need for both China
and the U.S. to build their strategic relationship, and says
Australia does not believe it will have to choose between its
alliance with the U.S. and its strengthening ties with China.
"Certainly there has been a lot of diplomatic varnish put on
the text of this white paper, and there is nothing in there that
should offend China outright," said Rory Medcalf, an analyst
from the strategic policy think tank the Lowy Institute. "This
white paper will certainly be one of the last steps in
rebuilding Australia-China relations."
The document also stresses the growing importance of the
Indian Ocean region, with India's military growth and with two
thirds of global oil shipments passing through the Indian Ocean.
The strategy said the United States was likely to remain the
strongest maritime power in the Indian Ocean, although China was
likely to increase its presence there in the coming decades, as
80 percent of China's oil imports go through the region.
With Prime Minister Julia Gillard's minority Labor
government under pressure to find budget savings to respond to
collapsing revenues, Australia's net defence budget has
contracted to around 1.56 percent of GDP, or A$24.2 billion. As
a percentage, spending is at the lowest level since 1938.
The new white paper makes no commitments on defence
spending, but says the government remains committed to a target
to increase defence funding to 2.0 percent of GDP when the
economic circumstances allow.