5 Aug. 2007

Australia's Own Military-Industrial Complex

Perhaps the most important story in this weekend's papers was from Frank Walker:
AUSTRALIA'S defence industry hopes to cash in on a new international arms race sparked by the US decision last week to sell $73 billion in military hardware to its allies in the Middle East.

To ensure Australia gets a slice of the action, the Government is about to launch its own international arms dealer, a high-placed official to promote overseas sales of Australian-made war machines.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson is expected to announce the person to head the new Defence Export Unit within weeks.

Defence experts said the most likely Australian-made military equipment that could be sold to Persian Gulf states included fast troop-carrying catamarans and the Bushmaster armoured vehicle.

"Australian defence firms could get a slice of the action as we have developed some excellent niche technology and equipment," Australian Defence Magazine editor Greg Ferguson said.

"The new government unit will use the muscle and reputation of the Australian Defence Force to push the overseas sale of Australian defence products."

Australian National University professor of strategic studies Hugh White said the massive US arms sales deal to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and the Gulf states opened up opportunities for Australia.

"The aim of the US is to armour-up these countries to contain Iran, which has a long coast on the Persian Gulf," Professor White said. "It would be ideal for the Australian-built, high-speed catamarans which could be used for military transports."

The latest $73 billion US arms deal is the biggest by the Bush Administration but follows $31 billion in US arms sales in the past two years.

Australia was a key buyer, including $2 billion for Boeing's Globemaster transport planes, $16 billion for Lockheed's Joint Strike Fighter and $2 billion for Boeing's Super Hornet fighter.

The Government's massive $55 billion defence spending on warships, planes and tanks is creating a booming defence industry in Australia and thousands of new jobs. Australia's top 40 defence companies now have a turnover of $6 billion a year, but only $400 million comes from overseas sales.