Canberra — As part of a major upgrading of its defense forces, the Australian government is planning soon to let contracts worth about $2.6 billion (Australian) for the construction of six conventionally-powered submarines. The submarines will be built in Australia, based on either a Swedish or West German design, according to Defense Minister Kim Beazley Jr. They will be the largest, longest-range, and most lethal conventional submarines operating anywhere in the world when they come into service in the 1990s. The submarines are one of the major capital items in a new federal defense plan.
Also included are three over-the-horizon radars that will be developed in Australia to provide a cover across the its whole northern region. Last month Beazley presented to parliament a defense white paper that contains the first major review of Australian defense planning and policy for over a decade.
The white paper was generally well-received, the main doubts expressed being over the capacity of Australian governments over the next 15 years to find A$25 billion for projects detailed in the plan. The key strategy adopted by the government is ``defense in depth'' or ``layered defense,'' and it emphasizes a new commitment to defense self-reliance. Beazley told the federal parliament: ``This strategy dictates that we develop an Australian defense force capable of meeting any hostile force within our area of direct military interest with successive layers of forces capable of detecting, identifying, and engaging any hostile approach.''
The policy also gives an important role to offensive operations. Along with the three over-the-horizon radars, the government is planning a secret communications base in western Australia to intercept satellite and other electronic messages in the Indian Ocean and south pacific areas. Its primary role will be to monitor Soviet military satellites. The statement emphasized the labor government's commitment to its alliance with the United States, including retaining the ANZUS alliance and keeping all US bases in Australia. He rejected claims from the left-wing of the Labor Party, which wanted the government to close down so-called ``spy'' bases run by the US.
``Australia's hosting of the joint Australia/US defense facilities at Pine Gap, Nurrungar, and North West Cape contributes substantially to the maintance of global stability,'' Beazley said.
The facilities at Pine Gap and Nurrungar are seen as playing a central role in the verification of arms control and disarmament agreements as well as giving the United States confidence in its ability to detect missile launches and monitor nuclear explosions.
The joint defense facility at North West Cape permits reliable transfer of messages to US ships and submarines operating in the Indian Ocean and western Pacific. It is part of a complex system of communications supporting the global military balance. ``The joint facilities in Australia contribute directly to mutual deterrence between the superpowers, a necessary intermediary stage on the path to complete disarmament,'' the white paper states.
More specifically, these facilities are seen as having real significance in efforts to make substantial progress towards arms control. Their early warning function is important in the avoidance of accidental war and contributes to a stable balance.
At the same time, Beazley emphasised that Australia would be retaining its defense links with New Zealand, despite that country's effective withdrawal from the Anzus Treaty over its refusal to allow US nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships to visit.
Beazley stressed the importance to Australia of developing defense ties with other countries in the South Pacific, and he said this was being done in cooperation with New Zealand. The government's concerns about developmemts in the Pacific were later taken up by Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who criticized attempts by Libya to penetrate the region. Hawke warned nations in the area that entering agreements with Libya would be a ``very grave mistake.'' He said that ``Libyans had never brought any mollifying or cohesive influences to any situation.'' Their record was one of terrrorism and destablization. ``Libya has got no concrete legitimate, peaceful reason for coming into this region'' he said.
Hawke's statement was part of a concerted drive by western countries to try to prevent Libyan influence from spreading in the region.