A MODEST rise in defence spending, to $100 billion over four years, will buy 12 new Growler electronic attack aircraft and upgraded Collins class or new submarines as part of the government's white paper released on Friday.
The paper marks a renewed, conciliatory approach to China and retains previous promises to have the 100 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft operational by 2020.
It also shows the government has reduced the future options for 12 new submarines down from four or five to two - either an upgraded Collins model or entirely new submarine designed overseas but built in Australia.
While the white paper has guaranteed a minor increase in defence funding, it has not reached the 2% of GDP the security establishment has long been lobbying for.
The paper has also taken a fourth air warfare destroyer off the agenda for the foreseeable future, despite some defence figures advocating a need for the fourth destroyer.It will also bring forward replacement of the Navy's Armidale Class patrol boats, currently used primarily on border patrol operations across the north.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the 12 Growler aircraft would cost about $1.5 billion over the next four years.
She said the white paper also outlined a longer-term view for defence spending, laying out the usual forward estimates spend plus a further six years of funding guidance to provide more certainty.
Ms Gillard said while the government was now only considering upgraded Collins class submarines or an entirely new model, any such vessels would be built in Australia.
She said the government would put aside $25.5 million for mental health services for both serving and returned servicemen and women.
While the paper reaffirms many of the infrastructure and capability investments outlined in the 2009 white paper, it has considerably softened its approach to China.
Ms Gillard said while she would like to see more transparency from China in its own defence plans, she also saw the Asian giant as a partner to Australia.
However, she was diplomatic to ensure it was clear Australia's role was to help manage change in the Indo-Pacific region, and that major allies remained the same.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith said Australians were living in difficult times, and although the modest spending increase was not as big as some in the industry wanted, the aspiration to a defence spend worth 2% of GDP remained.
Defence White Paper:
- $100 billion to be spent on defence
- $1.5 billion for 12 new Growler electronic attack aircraft
- $25.5 million on mental health for troops, ex-troops
- 12 new submarines to be built in Australia
- Fourth air warfare destroyer off agenda
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