May 3 - Australia announces plans for a major boost to its military air power. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
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STORY: Australia announced a significant boost to its military air power on Friday (May 3) and committed to long-term plans to buy up to 100 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 Joint Strike Fighters as it shifts its military strategy back to the Indo-Pacific region.
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 released on Friday, Australia reinforced that the United States remains its closest ally, but also had a conciliatory tone towards China, Australia's top trading partner, noting its rising defence capabilities are a natural outcome from its growing economy.
"We also recognise that China's rise and its subsequent military modernisation is changing the strategic order of our region, and that the U.S.-China relationship is pivotal to our region of the world," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said.
The new defence strategy is the first reassessment of Australia's military priorities since 2009, and since the U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific, which included U.S. marine rotations through a de-facto U.S. base in northern Australia.
As part of Australia's military build-up, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said Canberra would buy 12 Boeing Co EA-18G electronic attack planes, modified versions of the 24 Super Hornets already equipping Australia's air force, as a stopgap until the F-35 arrives.
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.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith also said the government would proceed with plans for 12 new conventional submarines but he ruled out buying the submarines off the shelf, opting instead for new designs to be built in Australia.
With Prime Minister 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.