Australian Defense Budget Faces Deep Cuts
May. 14, 2012 - 09:22AM
By NIGEL PITTAWAY
MELBOURNE — Funding for Australian land and air programs and naval operations will be reduced under a plan that cuts 971 million Australian dollars ($980.5 million) from Australia’s defense budget to help reverse a growing national deficit and return the budget to surplus.
The contribution toward deficit reduction from the 25.7 billion Australian dollar defense budget is the first of four planned that will total 5.4 billion Australian dollars. Australian media have reported that the national deficit will rise to 44 billion Australian dollars this year. The government wants to turn that into a 1.5 billion Australian dollar surplus.
Although funding for Australian military operations in Afghanistan, East Timor or the Solomon Islands will not be adversely affected, a small number of projects will be canceled and others deferred.
Steaming time for the Royal Australian Navy will be reduced and some Army Abrams M1A1 tanks and M113AS4 armored personnel carriers will be mothballed. The Army’s program to acquire a self-propelled howitzer will be scrapped in lieu of more M777 155mm towed howitzers.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith had already flagged the self-propelled gun cancellation and announced that the purchase of 12 of Australia’s first 14 Joint Strike Fighters would be delayed by two years. The budget has subsequently announced the deferral of a second batch of 58 aircraft by 12 months.
The Royal Australian Air Force is to receive two F-35As for test and training in the U.S. in 2014, but the first aircraft now won’t arrive until 2019. Studies are underway to determine if the planned withdrawal date of the 71 remaining F/A-18A/B Hornets can be extended.
Other major programs to be deferred by at least a year include a new maritime patrol aircraft to replace the aging AP-3C Orion fleet and the Australian Defence Force’s new pilot training scheme, to be acquired under Project AIR 5428.
The Air Force’s seven-strong C-130H fleet will be withdrawn from service over the next two years or so and its tasks distributed among other airlift assets. The government estimates this will save 250 million Australian dollars.
Reductions also will be made in administrative costs and the number of civilian Australian Public Service personnel.
“The reprioritization of defense expenditure has been designed to have minimum impact on the delivery of core defense capabilities,” Smith said. “The decisions taken to determine defense’s contribution to the budget bottom line have all been carefully designed to protect our servicemen and -women and our defense operations.”
In addition to the financial imperative, the government said its defense budget will focus on improving airlift, land mobility, submarines, afloat support, communications and interoperability, and electronic and cyber warfare.
“In order to contribute to our strategic requirements, defense will progress on a number of core white paper 2009 projects in 2012-13, including replacement of the Caribou transport aircraft [battlefield airlifter], consideration of the Growler electronic attack capability, the acquisition of medium and heavy trucks, and upgrades to aircraft [AP-3C, C-130J] and ships [Anzac frigates],” Smith said.
One of the projects in the white paper is the Future Submarine program to build 12 large, conventionally powered boats to replace Australia’s troubled Collins-class submarines. Prior to the budget, Smith said the government had approved 214 million Australian dollars for detailed studies into the Future Submarine design.
“They have finally commissioned the work that should have been commissioned before the Future Submarine was described in the 2009 white paper,” said the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Andrew Davies, co-author of a recent report into a looming submarine capability gap around 2030.
Although the defense budget has received mixed reactions domes-tically, Davies said military capability will not be greatly harmed provided additional cuts are not made.
“What we’ve seen is a confluence of two things: political factors and the final nail in the coffin of the 2009 white paper, which was never achievable, but whose demise was hastened by the budgetary situation,” Davies said. “I think it’s a tacit admission that defense planning has been terrible.”