CANBERRA, Australia, June 18 (UPI) -- Australian warships entering service beginning in 2013 could be equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles as well as advanced U.S.-made air warfare missiles.
"It's an option that future governments will seriously look at to augment our future strike capability," defense expert Andrew Davies of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute told The Australian newspaper.
Australia, mindful of China's military buildup and the threat posed by North Korea's missile programs, has stepped up modernization of its military forces and is working with the United States and Japan to develop a regional anti-ballistic missile network.
Key to modernization is the building of three destroyers equipped with the advanced U.S.-made Aegis anti-aircraft and anti-missile tracking and fire-and-control system and its missiles -- the SM-2 and SM-3.
The government of Prime Minister John Howard is expected to officially choose the design of the warships, which will be built in Australia, this week. A Defense Ministry board recommended a Spanish warship design, but the country's navy chief favors a U.S. design still on the drawing boards but modeled on the U.S. Arleigh Burke class of destroyer.
Howard has said the ships will initially be equipped with the SM-2 missile for shooting down missiles and aircraft but could later be fitted with the more advanced SM-3s.
Tomahawk cruise missiles are designed to hit ground targets and have a range of at least 600 miles.