Australia will increase its active defense personnel by one-third by 2040, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced, describing the move as part of efforts to keep the country safe “in an increasingly uncertain global environment.”
The force would grow from 18,500 troops to 80,000 over 18 years, at a cost of some A$38 billion ($27 billion), the prime minister said Thursday during a visit to an army barracks in Brisbane.
Morrison, who is expected to call a general election in May, told a news conference that it was “the biggest increase in the size of our peacetime defense forces in Australian history.”
He said the military build-up was a recognition by his government of “the threats and the environment that we face as a country, as a liberal democracy in the Indo-Pacific.”
The Australian leader said some of the new troops would support a future fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, promised as part of a new Australian-British-American defense alliance, AUKUS.
Australia says it plans to arm the submarines with conventional weapons, but has not yet decided on the details of the program, including whether to go with a fleet based on U.S. or British nuclear-powered attack submarines.
Forged at a time of growing Chinese influence in the Pacific region, the AUKUS alliance would make Australia the only non-nuclear weapons power with nuclear-powered submarines capable of traveling long distances without surfacing.
Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the force buildup, which would focus on uniformed troops, would provide a credible deterrent against expansionist military threats.
Beyond submarines, the new forces would be deployed in areas such as space, cyber operations, naval assets and autonomous land and sea vehicles, Dutton said.
“This is absolutely necessary,” he said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recent invasion of Ukraine.
“People who believe that President Putin’s only ambition is for Ukraine don’t understand the history that our military leaders understand.”
The defense minister reiterated warnings about the strategic threat to Australia in the Asia-Pacific region, where China is expanding its increased power.