The Guardian 1 February, 2006

Military splurge

Denis Doherty

Sending Australian troops on adventures at the behest of the US is set to continue apace in 2006. The Howard Government has quarantined the military from budget cuts while slashing funds for services needed for the Australian people. The military budget is now larger than the education budget and the military is engaged in a new spending spree.

The military establishment has a new minister, Dr Brendan Nelson, but this will change nothing basic. The Howard Government is firmly committed to backing the US, in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, in Iran, North Korea and containing China.

With so much money to spend the Australian Defence Force is being courted by many arms traders. One of these is the US Navy which is in Sydney for a January 31 "conference". Its main purpose is to persuade the ADF that two huge transport vessels, costing about $1 billion each, should be purchased from them.

With a government willing to do anything to provide welfare for the rich US arms corporations and their mates in the Bush administration, anything is possible.

These ships are designed to place 3000 ADF personnel and their equipment anywhere in the world. They will carry the new Abrams tanks, helicopters, artillery, armoured troops carriers, logistics and other equipment needed to create the new independent battle groups to be introduced in the $1.5 billion army restructuring announced last December.

Last year the Government bought 59 second hand Abrams tanks from the US military. The Guardian reported at the time these tanks are too heavy for use in our region and that the ADF had no sea or air transport capable of moving them. As well as the new transport ships, the military is planning to buy "heavy airlift" (i.e. Abrams lifting planes) McDonnell Douglas Galaxy craft at $200 million each

Contracts have already been awarded for three theatre missile defence air warfare destroyers. Gibbs & Cox, a United States based company, is the designer and Raytheon Australia,the Air Warfare Destroyer Project Combat System-System Engineer for the ships which will cost $2 billion each.

Australia has never before had such a force projection capability as these two items put together. They mean that Australia could put a force of 3,000 on the streets of Korea, independent of the US military. The Communist Party of Australia maintains that current Australian military policy is aggressive and not defensive. This new equipment is proof of its concerns.

The Air Force purchase of ground attack "Strike-Fighters" (100F-35s) is facing technical hitches in production, blowing their cost out to more than $160 million each. This purchase is predicted to become a bigger scandal than the F-111s. As costs rise, the number purchased will fall. It has already fallen from 100 to 60 or 50.

The situation is so alarming that even Opposition Leader "Bomber" Beazley said on ABC Radio on Australia Day that he felt the Australian military should be used for the defence of our country.

Australia’s defence needs are moderate and affordable, based on our geography and building good relations with our neighbours. The exorbitant military purchases which do nothing for our defence must be stopped and the resources saved diverted into socially useful spending.

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