THE Australian navy will acquire a formidable arsenal of long-range cruise missiles for its new submarines, destroyers and frigates, able to strike at targets thousands of kilometres from Australia's shores.
The new-generation submarines and major surface warships will be fitted with land-attack cruise missiles with ranges of up to 2500km as Australia becomes the first Asian regional defence force to have the potent weapons system.
The cruise missiles will give the Government "options to conduct long-range, precision-strike operations against hardened, defended and difficult-to-access targets, while minimising the exposure of ADF platforms and personnel to attack by enemy forces", the defence white paper says.
Reflecting the Government's consciousness that the planned maritime defence build-up could provoke criticism from regional neighbours, the white paper asserts that acquisition of land-attack cruise missiles is "fully consistent with Australian treaty obligations and customary international law".
The core of the Government's thinking about the far more potent next-generation defence force is that the risk of a major conventional war in the Asia-Pacific region cannot be ruled out.
"It would be premature to judge that war among states, including the major powers, has been eliminated as a feature of the international system," the white paper says.
"Shows of force by rising powers are likely to become more common as their military capabilities expand. Growing economic interdependence will not preclude inter-state conflicts or tensions short of war, especially over resources or political differences."
The Defence Department, with a current annual budget of $22billion, has been charged with the massive task of finding up to $20 billion in savings and efficiency gains over the next decade to pay for more than $100 billion worth of hi-tech equipment.
The Rudd Government has also decided it will produce a new defence white paper every five years to update national security risk assessments and keep abreast of the rapidly changing strategic dynamics in the Asian region.
"Force 2030 ... will be a more potent force in certain areas, particularly in undersea warfare and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) surface maritime warfare, air superiority, strategic strike, special forces, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and cyber warfare," the white paper says.
"It is conceivable that, over the long period covered by this white paper, we might have to contend with major power adversaries operating in our approaches - in the most drastic circumstance, as a consequence of a wider conflict in the Asia-Pacific region."
The white paper embodies Kevin Rudd's pledge to maintain an annual real increase of 3 per cent in the Defence budget until 2018 and 2.2 per cent beyond that to 2030.
The Royal Australian Navy has emerged as the biggest winner from the new defence blueprint, to be launched in Sydney today by the Prime Minister, with both its surface and submarine fleets set for dramatic expansion from 2020.
As previously detailed in The Weekend Australian, the new white paper, titled Force 2030, will double the number of submarines to 12 and replace the Anzac-class frigates with eight larger ships equipped with helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles and sophisticated anti-submarine sonars.
The RAAF will get about 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters starting with three squadrons of up to 72 planes as well as eight new long-range surveillance aircraft, expected to be the P-8 Poseidon, to replace the ageing AP-3C Orion fleet. In addition, the air force will also get seven high-altitude long-range unmanned platforms, possibly the US-made Global Hawk.
The army's regular infantry forces will evolve into 10 battalion-sized "battlegroups" and will get a new fleet of 1000 protected vehicles to replace the current generation of armoured personnel carriers and the special forces will also get a range of new equipment including vehicles.
In addition to the 30 MRH-90 battlefield helicopters the army is also getting seven new CH-47F Chinook transport helicopters to replace its existing D models.
The new submarines will be larger than the existing Collins-class boats, with greater range and capabilities including strategic strike, intelligence collection and to carry uninhabited underwater vehicles for surveillance and reconnaissance.
The submarines are expected to be about 4000 tonnes in size and will be able to stay longer on patrol but the Rudd Government has ruled out nuclear propulsion for the new boats.
They will be built in Adelaide in what is set to become Australia's largest-ever defence industry project, lasting 30 years.
The three new air warfare destroyers, already on order, will be equipped with SM-6 long-range anti-aircraft missiles with a range of 400km.
The RAN will also get about 20 "offshore combatant vessels" of up to 2000 tonnes which will replace the existing range of Armidale-class patrol boats, mine counter-measures, hydrographic and other specialised smaller vessels.
"The future Offshore Combatant Vessel will be able to undertake offshore and littoral warfighting roles, border protection tasks, long-range counter-terrorism and counter-piracy operations, support to special forces, and missions in support of security and stability in the immediate neighbourhood," the white paper proposes.
The navy will also get a fleet of at least 24 new naval combat helicopters equipped with advanced anti-submarine warfare equipment including dunking sonars and air-launched torpedoes. The white paper places far greater emphasis on anti-submarine warfare given the anticipated rapid expansion of submarine fleets in regional navies, led by China, over the next generation.
The permanent defence force will grow to about 58,000 personnel from its current size of 53,000. Defence's existing formula to compensate for annual inflation indexation to its cost base will now be fixed at 2.5 per cent out to 2030, which will also help fund the new capital equipment program.
"The Government has committed to sustainable funding arrangements for the Defence budget in future years to provide funding certainty for planning and real funding growth to meet the growing cost of the military equipment we will need in an increasingly demanding world," the white paper says.