Australia Joins India & Japan To Invest Billions In Boosting Its Navy & Counter Chinese PLA-N Aggression

Australia is planning a massive upgrade of its Navy to keep the Chinese dragon at bay. However, it is not alone. India, along with the Philippines, Japan, and Taiwan, are beefing up their naval might.

China Flaunts ‘Carrier-Compatible’ GJ-11 Sharp Sword UCAV At Singapore Air Show As It Prepares For Naval War

In response to an intensifying Indo-Pacific arms race, Australia unveiled a ten-year plan on February 20 to double the number of major warships in its fleet from 11 to 26 and hike the defense spending by an additional US$ 11.1 billion over the period.

After a thorough evaluation, Australia will purchase 11 new general-purpose frigates. The first three will be purchased from abroad by the end of the decade, and the remaining eight will be constructed domestically in Western Australia, according to the country’s recent announcement.

“It is the largest fleet that we will have since the end of the Second World War,” said Defence Minister Richard Marles.

In addition to these warships, the Navy will also purchase six sizable “optionally crewed” surface vessels to create an “enhanced lethality surface combatant fleet.”

These uncrewed ships are being developed in collaboration with the United States and will be outfitted with long-strike missiles. Each vessel will reportedly have 32 Vertical Launch Missile System (VLS) cells. Although they don’t need a crew, the Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said they will be crewed anyway.

Next up, the three Hobart class air warfare destroyers will be modified with air defense and long-strike capabilities, while the planned Hunter class frigates fleet to be built in Adelaide will be reduced from nine to six vessels. The number of Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) to be built has been slashed in half, in addition to reducing the number of Hunter frigates.

When the Hunter class of warships enter service in the upcoming ten years, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and its manufacturer, BAE, claim to be among the most sophisticated anti-submarine warships in the world.

It will likely deprive the Navy of 25% of its fleet of frigates shortly, raising concerns about Australia’s potential involvement should hostilities break out before the plan is finished.

However, Australia, which is located in one of the world’s most strategic regions — at the confluence of three oceans — has decided to increase its maritime force in the face of rising threats by China in the Indo-Pacific region.

The new plan essentially aims to introduce quicker “shoot and scoot” ships and increase the Navy’s arsenal of missiles, bringing the total Australian public investment in the fleet to A$54.2 billion over the next ten years.

As the Australian Defence Force tries to push itself deeper into the Pacific, additional anti-ship and long-range missiles will also be added to the ANZAC-class frigates and Hobart-class destroyers. This entails putting in Tomahawks for extended range and swapping out Harpoon anti-ship missiles with naval attack missiles.

Tomahawk Cruise Missile | Raytheon
Tomahawk Cruise Missile

“After inheriting the oldest surface fleet navy has operated in its history, this blueprint will see navy equipped with a major surface combatant fleet over twice as large as planned when we came to government, with more surface combatants in the water sooner,” Australian Defense Minister Marles said.

The upgrade of the naval forces was announced a year after Australia’s Defence Spending Review revealed the largest strategic change in its military posture in nearly eight decades, contending that fierce competition between the US and China had characterized the Pacific region.

The Defense Strategy Review of the previous year concluded that the military was no longer “fit for purpose” and that the Navy required a better assortment of warships to project power in the contested Indo-Pacific.

China’s military build-up was described in the review as the “largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War.”

HMAS Anzac (FFH 150) - Wikipedia
HMAS Anzac (FFH 150) – Wikipedia

Besides the big additions planned, some reductions are also in store. Australia’s oldest warship, HMAS Anzac, is still in service and will be decommissioned right away. The Chief of the Royal Australian Navy, Vice Admiral Mark Hammond, said it was a “serious investment and a serious challenge for our Navy to step up and deliver.”

Australia has been relentlessly working to counter the prevailing Chinese threat in the Indo-Pacific, especially as China continues to make forays into the Southern Pacific region, which has traditionally been Canberra’s area of influence.

As widely reported earlier, it is also acquiring nuclear Virginia-class submarines from the US and building its nuclear submarines with the UK under the AUKUS agreement. Australia is putting money where the mouth is. However, it is not the only one menaced by an expansive and aggressive China.

China Threat Triggers Naval Modernization

There is one other country that has been at the forefront of naval expansion: China’s long-standing adversary in the region, India. To strengthen its position in the Indian Ocean, the country is buying 15 maritime patrol aircraft for about $3.5 billion.

Six Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) and nine Medium Range Maritime Reconnaissance (MRMR) aircraft will be purchased by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) and the Navy, respectively. These aircraft will be based on the Airbus C-295 transport, which the Air Force has 56 of. TATA’s Advanced Systems is to manufacture 40 of the 56 aircraft in India.

EADS CASA C-295 - Wikipedia
EADS CASA C-295 – Wikipedia

According to experts, India’s increasing rivalry with China is driving the country to invest more in infrastructure and technology as well as to buy more sophisticated planes, ships, and submarines. The Navy now receives 19% of India’s rapidly growing defense budget, which hit $72.6 billion last year — up from roughly 14%.

With the approval of a critical agreement to purchase 31 Predator drones from the United States, the Navy has advanced its capabilities to a new level, as highlighted by Indian Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar.

India’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities are anticipated to be greatly enhanced by acquiring these drones, especially in the maritime sector. Around USD 4 billion worth of weaponry and other equipment are included in the contract, which is meant to be used for operational deployment.

The Indian Navy is also acquiring Heavy Weight Torpedos (HWT) to bolster its underwater fleet. The Navy has made significant advancements in its sub-surface capabilities with the induction of Scorpene class submarines, which will likely be augmented in due course with additional submarines.

The Indian Navy has been quietly ramping up its drone capability. It has been exploring the designs for Landing Platform Docks (LPDs) to accommodate UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), UCAVs (unmanned combat aerial vehicles), and uncrewed fighter jets.

Significant money is flowing to strengthen its defensive and offensive capabilities in the Indian Ocean as India seeks to prepare against expanding Chinese and Pakistani presence in the region.

It must be noted that the Navy has also been flexing its muscle in the Indian Ocean, dislodging pirates and rescuing vessels.

Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile - Wikipedia
Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile – Wikipedia

Besides Australia and India, several Indo-Pacific countries have recently hiked their defense spending and announced naval modernization to combat China in the region. The two most prominent states to take the route are Japan and the Philippines.

Japan has earmarked about 734 billion yen ($5.15 billion) for Type-12 cruise missiles and US-made Tomahawks, in addition to the planned development of next-generation long-range missiles.

The construction of two Aegis-equipped warships and the conversion of Izumo-class carriers for short take-off and landing operations (STOL) are also on the cards.

The Philippines, on its part, has acquired anti-ship BrahMos cruise missiles from India to counterbalance China’s growing presence in the region and has approved the acquisition of the country’s first-ever submarine.

Two more frigates of the Jose Rizal class are also enlisted for procurement. The country is making significant strides in offshore patrol capability by acquiring offshore patrol vessels, especially from South Korea.

The self-ruled island state of Taiwan, which China wants to occupy, has also been bolstering its naval capability. This became evident when it launched its first indigenously-developed submarine last year.

In addition, Taiwan has been spending its defense budget on the acquisition of large warships and amphibious vessels and investing significantly in anti-ship missiles to accumulate its area denial capability.