Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton announced a fast-tracked $2.7 billion missile acquisition package Tuesday in response to concerns about China. File Photo by Dean Lewins/EPA-EFE
April 5 (UPI) -- Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said Tuesday that the country's military is getting a $2.7 billion upgrade years ahead of schedule over growing concerns about global threats that include an increasingly assertive China.
As part of the defense package, Australian fighter jets will be equipped with long-range strike missiles by 2024, three years ahead of schedule, Dutton announced Tuesday. The missiles, manufactured by U.S. defense companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, have a range of 560 miles.
The Australian navy will also receive long-range naval strike missiles from Norway's Kongsberg by 2024 for its frigates and destroyers, which will more than double their current strike range.
"We're very worried about what's happening in the Indo-Pacific," Dutton told Australia's Channel Nine News. "The Chinese government is on a course in relation to Taiwan. They're amassing nuclear weapons and we want to make sure that our country has the capability to deter any act of aggression against our country."
Dutton called Chinese President Xi Jinping an "autocrat" and said that the massive growth of Beijing's navy and its increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea is "very worrying."
"This is not something we're talking about in the 2040s," he added. "There's a potential of conflict within our region within just a couple of years, and we should be realistic about that threat."
A security pact agreed upon last week by China and the Solomon Islands -- a tiny nation located just 1,200 miles from Australia -- has also raised alarm bells, sparking fears that Beijing would gain its first military foothold in the South Pacific.
Australia is "concerned about China's motivations and the activities and the power imbalance that they bring to the relationship with the Solomons," Dutton told Melbourne's Radio 3AW Tuesday.
The minister also pointed to Russia's invasion of Ukraine as a spark for accelerating the missile acquisitions.
"It's certainly about making sure that we can deter any act of aggression against our country from China or anyone else and I think the circumstances in Ukraine have been, frankly, a wake up call to the world," Dutton said.