Australia to buy 220 Tomahawk cruise missiles from US

Australia will buy Tomahawk missiles, which can be launched from ships or submarines, in a deal worth almost $900m.

US Navy Tactical Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile escorted by F-14 Tomcat fighter jet in flight, photo
A US Navy Tomahawk cruise missile is escorted on its flight path by a US Air Force F-14 Tomcat fighter jet [File: AP]

Australia plans to buy up to 220 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States after the US State Department approved the sale in a deal valued at nearly $900m.

The deal, which the Pentagon said involves up to 220 Tomahawk cruise missiles and technical support, comes just days after Australia announced it would buy three nuclear-powered attack submarines – with an option to acquire two more – from the US amid concerns over China’s growing military presence in the Indo-Pacific.

Australian officials said the new nuclear-powered submarines would be able to fire Tomahawk missiles.

“Australia is one of our most important allies in the Western Pacific,” the US Department of Defence said in a statement on Friday. Australia’s strategic location “contributes significantly to ensuring peace and economic stability in the region,” the department said.

“By deploying the Tomahawk Weapon System, Australia will contribute to global readiness and enhance the capability of US Forces operating alongside them globally,” it said. The Tomahawks – jet-powered cruise missiles used primarily by the US and United Kingdom – will cost an estimated $895m.

“The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region,” the defence department added.

Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles said Australia required longer-range missiles.

“Making sure we have longer-range strike missiles is a really important capability for the country,” Marles told Australia’s Channel Nine. “It enables us to be able to reach out beyond our shores further, and that’s ultimately how we are able to keep Australia safe.”

Pat Conroy, Australia’s minister for the defence industry, international development, and the Pacific, said the missiles could be fired from the Virginia-class submarines that Australia announced it will buy from the US.

“We certainly want the best possible capability for the Australian Defence Force, so that includes the ability to strike opponents as far away as possible from the Australian mainland,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “The cruise missiles are a critical part of that, as are the submarines that launch them,” Conroy said.

“We face the greatest strategic uncertainty since 1945. We face a regional arms race and a responsible government such as ours is dealing with that by investing in the best possible capability,” he said.

“This is how we promote peace and stability, by putting question marks in any potential adversary’s mind,” he added.

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating this week launched a blistering attack on the submarine deal, saying that “it must be the worst deal in all history” because of the huge cost.

Australian officials have estimated the cost of the submarines at between 268 billion and 368 billion Australian dollars ($178bn to $245bn) over 30 years.

Officials have also pointed out that investment in the submarine project, which will eventually see Australia and the UK jointly develop a new submarine model, will create some 20,000 jobs in Australia.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the government had been transparent about the cost of the project.

“The assessment that has to be made is does the purchase, and then us building our own nuclear-powered submarines, increase the capacity for us to defend ourselves by more than 10 percent? You bet it does,” Albanese told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“That’s why it represents good value.”

Japan last month also announced plans to upgrade its military in an effort to deter China, including buying 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles for deployment as soon as 2026.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies