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Australia to double warships for 'biggest navy' since WWII

February 20, 2024

Australia has announced plans to boost defense spending and procure several combat-ready warships. Canberra wants to build up its naval capabilities due to concerns over tensions with China and Russia.

Royal Australian Navy's Anzac-class frigate HMAS Arunta
Australia is poised to develop significant naval capabilityImage: Issei Kato/AA/picture alliance

Australia announced Tuesday it will more than double the Royal Australian Navy surface combatant fleet, spending AU$11.1 billion (roughly $7.25 billion, €6.7 billion) over the next decade.

The plan will see Australia increase its current fleet of combat-ready warships from 11 to 26 alongside 25 minor war vessels to contribute to civil maritime security operations.

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

Concerns over China and Russia 

Canberra has for years been looking to build up its naval defense capabilities in response to a massive build-up of firepower by rivals China and Russia.

Australia's 2023 strategic review said that competition between the US and China was defining the Pacific region, leading to the "potential for conflict."

"What is critically important to understand is that as we look forward, with an uncertain world in terms of great power contest, we'll have a dramatically different capability in the mid-2030s to what we have now," the defense minister said.

"That is what we are planning for and that is what we are building," Marles added. 

In 2021, Australia announced plans to buy at least three US-designed nuclear-powered submarines as part of the AUKUS security pact with Washington and London.

What do we know about Australia's plan to buy new warships?

Australia will get six Hunter class frigates, 11 general-purpose frigates, three air warfare destroyers and six state-of-the-art surface warships that do not need to be crewed.

The plan would see Australia increase its defense spending to 2.4% of GDP by the mid-2030s, up from current expectations of 2.1%.

"This decision we are making right now sees a significant increase in defense spending ... and it is needed, given the complexity of the strategic circumstances that our country faces," Marles said.

Some of the ships will be built in the southern city of Adelaide, ensuring more than 3,000 jobs, but others will be sourced from US designs, and a still undecided design to come from Spain, Germany, South Korea, or Japan.

sdi/lo (AFP, Reuters)