Despite regular debates over Australia’s relative power and its role in the region, its defence expenditure has been in the top 15 national expenditures worldwide for over two decades.
Whilst the Australian defence budget, like that of all developed countries, fell significantly during the Global Financial Crisis, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) is in the midst of a significant modernisation program, providing various opportunities for investment in the Australian defence industry.
The election of the Coalition saw the Government promise to return its defence spending to a minimum of 2 per cent of GDP after it fell to 1.6 per cent of GDP in the 2012-2013 financial year. So far the Coalition Government has carried through on this promise. The 2017-18 Budget maintained the Government‘s commitment for the Defence budget to grow to two per cent of GDP by 2020-21. If achieved this will be three years earlier than the Coalition’s 2013 election commitment. In total the Government will provide Defence with $34.6 billion in 2017-18 and $150.6 billion over the four-year Forward Estimates.
Defence White Papers play a prominent and important role Australian defence policy making. They aim to provide a coherent report which links an assessment of the nation’s strategic environment with defence capability requirements, and ultimately a procurement plan. In February 2016 the Coalition Government delivered the 2016 Defence White Paper, which reaffirmed and expanded Australia’s military modernisation plans.
The 2016 Defence White Paper commits Australia to a large naval shipbuilding program, including the construction of nine highly capable Future Frigates and twelve Offshore Patrol Vessels. The document also affirms Australia’s intention to undergo a “rolling acquisition” of twelve “regionally superior” Future Submarines which will form the core of Australia’s future maritime capabilities. As well as maritime capabilities, the White Paper commits to a significant boost in Australia’s intelligence and air combat capabilities through the purchase of 7 MQ-4C Triton unmanned surveillance vehicle and 72 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters.
The White Paper describes the future force structure of the ADF as a “balanced joint force structure.” This means that the ADF’s force structure will be determined equally by the ADF’s three principle tasks: to deter, deny and defeat attacks on or threats to Australia; to make effective military contributions to support the security of maritime South East Asia and the South Pacific, and; to contribute military capabilities to coalition operations that support Australia’s interests in a rules based global order. This final strategic objective has driven an increased focus on interoperability with the military of the United States and Australia acquiring long range maritime capabilities for ‘peer-to-peer’ warfare.