Australia to purchase US rocket launchers in significant boost for strike capability

Ukraine’s battlefield success with the HIMARS system has led to a surge in global demand.
Stephen Wright for BenarNews
2023.01.06
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Australia to purchase US rocket launchers in significant boost for strike capability U.S. Marines stand next to a M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System during a live fire drill that was part of annual exercises between the Philippine Marine Corps and U.S. Marine Corps at Capas, Tarlac province on Oct. 13, 2022.
Jam Sta Rosa/AFP

Australia said it will purchase U.S.-made mobile rocket launchers that can precisely strike far afield targets in a substantial boost for its military capability as China-U.S. rivalry in the region intensifies.

The weapons deal announced Thursday is the latest sign of the closer defense alliance between the United States and Australia in response to China’s growing military strength. 

Australia’s government said the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, which Ukraine’s military has used in recent months to inflict losses on Russian forces, will be deployed by 2026. 

“In the current strategic environment, it’s important the Australian Defence Force is equipped with high-end, targeted military capabilities,” Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said in a statement.

The HIMARS system has a range of up to 300 kilometers (186 miles), which is predicted to increase to about 500 kilometers as technological advances are made. Its weapon-locating radar can detect threats from land, air and sea. 

Mounted on rugged terrain trucks, the weapon is highly mobile while its long range allows it to operate well behind front lines.

Manufacturer Lockheed Martin says there are more than 450 of its “shoot and scoot” artillery launchers in use worldwide.

The Australian army’s existing rocket launchers have a range of only 30 kilometers (19 miles), Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, told state broadcaster ABC.

HIMARS will be a “massive increase in land strike capability,” he said. “The Ukrainian conflict has demonstrated its utility.” 

Australia did not say how many of the mobile rocket launchers it had agreed to purchase. In May last year, the State Department approved the possible sale of 20 HIMARS to Australia for an estimated U.S.$385 million.

The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency has said the system would “improve Australia’s capability to meet current and future threats” and enhance interoperability with U.S. forces and other allied forces. 

Australia on Thursday also said Norwegian defense contractor Kongsberg will replace an aging naval missile system and the combined cost of the two acquisitions would be more than 1 billion Australian dollars (U.S.$678 million).

China’s military buildup, its expansive claims to the South China Sea, a busy global shipping route, and its forays into Taiwan’s airspace have contributed to heightened tensions in East Asia for several years.

More recently, Beijing’s burgeoning influence with small island nations in the Pacific has also concerned the United States and allies such as Australia.

The United States and Australia have extended their defense alliance over the past decade with what they call force posture initiatives that have involved deployments of U.S. marines in the far north of Australia as well as joint air force exercises and military infrastructure investment.

U.S. force deployments in Australia are likely to soon include nuclear capable B-52 bombers, which analysts have said would give the United States more deterrence options against China in the region.

The United States is working towards equipping Australia with nuclear-powered submarines by the middle of next decade under an agreement announced in 2021.

Conroy said the effectiveness of the HIMARS system in Ukraine has caused a surge in global demand for it and led to the Australian government speeding up its purchase.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated news service.

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