By Robert Dougherty

Australia will spend more than $2 billion upgrading air bases between RAAF Base Learmonth and the Cocos Islands.

The investment – which will also go towards bases in the Northern Territory and northern Queensland – is the latest announcement to emerge from the federal government’s much-anticipated Defence Strategic Review.

RAAF Base Learmonth is one of three ‘bare bases’ used for training exercises and located on the North West Cape peninsula of WA, 30km south of Exmouth.

The airfield provided protection for a US Navy submarine base during World War II before being formally established for Australian use in the 1950s. It was subsequently upgraded by No 5 Airfield Construction Squadron in the early 1970s.

The DSR has been described as the biggest shake-up in Australia’s defence policy in decades and will result in $19 billion being spent to implement its immediate recommendations.

The new money forms part of a wider $3.8 billion package in priority funding over the next four years to deliver upgrades for the nation’s northern bases network.

Under other recommendations, the Australian Army would be optimised for long-range strike capability and littoral operations in northern land and maritime spaces, while the RAAF would support operations in the north through surveillance, air defence, strike and air transport.

The report recommended major works on northern air bases, including improvements to runway and apron capacity, fuel supply and storage, accommodation and security.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles said the government has directed Defence to deliver upgrades and development of the northern bases network as a matter of priority.

“As the Defence Strategic Review rightly observes, our northern bases are a huge asset and critical to Australia’s ability to project,” he said. “Our immediate investment in these bases will ensure our Defence Force is able to operate from them effectively.

“This is an important opportunity which will ensure the ADF has the infrastructure and capabilities it needs into the future.”

More than $1 billion in funds has been set aside for upgrades to land and joint estate capabilities centred around training area upgrades in the Northern Territory, Robertson Barracks in Darwin, and Lavarack Barracks in Townsville.

Around $600 million will be put forward for maritime estate investments, including HMAS Coonawarra, HMAS Cairns, and the Harold E Holt Naval Communications Station, as well as an extra$200 million contributed for the acceleration of additional projects.

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said investment in the north will build defence capabilities that Australia needs for the future.

“This (investment) will mean more opportunities for defence industry in northern Australia, which will mean more jobs in communities across the north,” he said.

Earlier this week, Australian Aviation reported how the DSR ruled out buying the B-21 Raider in favour of long-range missiles that will be fired by Australia’s fleet of 72 F-35s and 24 Super Hornets.

Currently, plans are in place to buy Raytheon’s Joint Strike Missile (JSM) alongside Lockheed Martin’s Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM).

JSMs are designed to be fired from fifth-generation F-35s and are significantly able to change course in flight. They differ from more regular missiles because they can fly at low altitudes where they can evade radars.

Raytheon says the JSM, which has a range of 275km, is the only fifth-generation cruise missile designed to be launched from the internal weapons bay of the F-35A.

Lockheed’s LRASMs, meanwhile, with its range of 560km, use “semi-autonomous guidance and target cueing data” to locate and destroy targets. Unlike the shorter-range JSMs, they can be fired by both F-35s and Super Hornets.


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