5 January 2023
JOURNALIST: More now on the billion-dollar Defence purchase. The Defence Industry Minister says that the decision to purchase the HIMARS weapons system and naval strike missiles has been endorsed by the officials overseeing a large-scale review of our military preparedness. Precise details of the cost have been kept secret, but the government says both products are crucial for the country’s defence in an uncertain strategic environment.
Minister Pat Conroy has been speaking with defence correspondent Andrew Greene.
ANDREW GREENE: Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy, thanks for speaking to the ABC. Give us an idea of the significance of today’s announcement. It’s been flagged for some time. What has actually now been done to secure these weapons?
PAT CONROY: The two important milestones we announced today was a contract signature with Kongsberg who make the naval strike missiles that we’re acquiring, and secondly us accepting the offer from the US government to acquire the HIMARS rocket system and the associated missiles that go with it. So, both of these are very significant announcements that really enhance ADF capability. In fact, the HIMARS system is the greatest expansion in Army strike capability in living memory, if not ever. And so it’s been a very important day for enhancing the ADF, responding to the strategic uncertainty that we face, and really demonstrating the Albanese Government’s commitment to enhancing the national security of Australia.
ANDREW GREENE: Minister, if we first look at the HIMARS purchase, that weapon has received a lot of publicity in the Ukrainian war, its successful use against Russian forces. Has that had any influence on the Australian Government’s decision to make this purchase?
PAT CONROY: The effectiveness of the HIMARS system in the Ukrainian conflict has certainly influenced the government’s decision here. Firstly, we’ve seen it being used very effectively by the Ukrainian military in response to Vladimir Putin’s illegal and unprincipled and unprovoked attack on the people and land of Ukraine. We’ve seen mobile rocket systems being very effective in defending Ukraine. And, secondly, that effectiveness has led to a massive increase in global demand for the HIMARS system, and that’s why the Australian government increased the speed of the acquisition. We moved from making a decision some time in 2023 to making a decision in 2022 because it was so important to retain our position in the production line for the HIMARS system.
And just to give you an idea of how big a step up this system is, the Australian Army will be going from having an ability to strike targets 30 kilometres away to eventually being able to strike targets at a range of greater than 499 kilometres. So, this is a massive increase in land strike capability that HIMARS symbolises, represents. And the Ukrainian conflict has demonstrated its utility.
ANDREW GREENE: That global rush to acquire HIMARS, has that forced the price up for Australia, and is that why the government’s being so secretive about exactly what this is costing?
PAT CONROY: The reason we’ve had to be circumspect about the total price for the acquisition of both HIMARS and the naval strike missile is around not giving away potentially useful information to potential adversaries. If we disaggregated the costs of both these systems a potential adversary would be able to work out the exact number of missiles we’re actually acquiring, which isn’t in our national interest. So that’s the only reason that we’ve chosen to be a bit more circumspect about the total cost. The combined acquisition cost of both these projects is between 1 and 2 billion dollars.
ANDREW GREENE: So if we look at where these weapons systems could be used, is it about the defence of the continent of Australia or is it really about being able to deploy to the archipelagic neighbouring countries in our region?
PAT CONROY: Well, this once-in-a-generation increase in Army strike capability really gives the Army and the ADF a lot of flexibility. Obviously, it has the ability to deter potential adversaries from engaging in attacks on the continental Australia with a range of up to 500 kilometres when a precision strike missile comes into service. That is obviously something that is a very significant deterrent to potential adversaries.
But one of the strengths of these systems is that they are so deployable. They are very easy to be transported. They can fit a system on two current RAAF aircraft – the Hercules and the C17. So, it can be deployed anywhere in the world at relatively short notice. So, this is a really fundamental asset for the Australian Defence Force.
ANDREW GREENE: Now, you’ve made these announcements ahead of the Defence Strategic Review – that’s due to be out in March. Is it an indication or a preview of what to expect in that document – ie, long-range strike capability at the expense of more traditional platforms like tanks or armoured vehicles?
PAT CONROY: Well, I won’t get ahead of the recommendations of the Defence Strategic Review which hasn’t made its final report to the government. But, I can say that the heads of the review, the leads – Sir Angus Houston and Professor Stephen Smith – were consulted in these decisions to make sure that they were comfortable with it and they were consistent with where the DSR was heading. And, look, the Albanese Government has made no secret of the fact that we think given the strategic uncertainty we face - the greatest strategic uncertainty since World War II – that we need to give greater strike capability to the Australian Defence Force. And both these announcements do that. And we’re very confident that it’s consistent with both what the DSR will recommend and what the government’s response to the DSR will be next year.
ANDREW GREENE: Minister Pat Conroy, thanks for joining us.
PAT CONROY: Thanks, Andrew. Have a great day.
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