Australia

June 21, 2018

Background

Due to its strategic position in the South Pacific Ocean and historical ties, Australia is a key ally of the United States.

In the past, Australian defense policy has generally been opposed to the development of major ballistic missile defense systems. The 2013 Australian Defence White Paper  states that Australia does not advocate the development of a national ballistic missile defense (NBMD) system, stating that such a system would “potentially diminish the deterrent value of the strategic nuclear forces of major nuclear powers.” Australia itself does not possess nuclear weapons, but “relies on the nuclear on the nuclear forces of the United States to deter nuclear attack on Australia,” according to the 2013 white paper. Australia claimed that it does support U.S. deployment of BMD in response to missile threats from North Korea and Iran, and “will continue to participate in exercises and research programs with key partners” in order to “remain fully informed of global developments in ballistic missile defense.”

Recently, a shifting strategic environment has caused Australia to reconsider its approach to missile defense, and in the 2016 Australian Defense White Paper, missile defense was presented as available option to defend the country and its deployed forces against emerging ballistic and cruise missile threats in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East regions. Within the 2016 White Paper, it is stated that “Australia and the United States have established a bilateral working group to examine options for potential Australian contributions to integrated air and missile defense…” As recently as October 2017, Australia has been considering integrating missile defense capabilities on ships and land.[i]

Capabilities

As of May 2015, Australia does not currently have an ability to intercept ballistic missiles, according to the information provided by Australia’s Parliamentary Library. The Australian Navy, however, is currently constructing a class of Air-Warfare Destroyers, which will be equipped with Aegis missile defense systems. In May 2018, the third of three Hobart-class Aegis destroyers was launched; the destroyers are operational and equipped with SM-2 interceptors for air defense. The Aegis Missile defense systems can be retroactively upgraded to incorporate ballistic missile defense capabilities, but it is uncertain if Australia will choose to do so.

In October 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that nine warships set for construction in 2020 will be fitted with long-range anti-missile defense systems in response to the aggression by rogue nations, most notably North Korea. Australia’s proposed frigates will use the Aegis combat systems in conjunction with SAAB Australia technology. The decision to use the Aegis system will allow for international cooperation between Australia, the United States, and Japan all of which would now possess ships with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system.[ii]

Jindalee radar network with a range between 1,000 and 3,000 km

 

Australia has developed and deployed the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) , an over-the-horizon radar (OTHR) network that monitors air and sea movements within 37,000 km3 . It has a range of 3,000 km and can monitor maritime operations, wave heights and wind directions. Unlike conventional micro-wave radar, OTHR uses radio reflection from the ionosphere.

In September 2011, U.S. scientists commented on the Jindalee, saying they were “impressed by its range and capability and confirmed it could detect a missile launch far away in Asia” and said that it could be a “highly effective part” of the missile defense shield being developed by the United States.

Australia’s Air Defense Capabilities

System Role Number Deployed Platform
SM-2 Medium-range air defense Deployed on four vessels Adeliade-class frigate (4)