The US State Department has approved Australia’s request to buy up to 220 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles, making it only the second US ally to obtain the US-made weapon after the United Kingdom.
According to a statement from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the deal will cost as much as 1.3 billion Australian dollars ($895 million), including maintenance and logistical support.
“The proposed sale will improve Australia’s capability to interoperate with US maritime forces and other allied forces as well as its ability to contribute to missions of mutual interest,” the statement added.
The deal’s approval comes the same week the US, Australia and the United Kingdom provided more details of AUKUS, their three-way pact to share technology and resources to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.
Under that deal, the US will sell at least three Virginia-class submarines to Australia. Additionally, Australia and the United Kingdom will build their own fleets of new nuclear-powered subs to boost the allies’ capabilities in the Indo-Pacific, where China has been building its military assets.
First deployed in the Gulf War in 1991, Tomahawk missiles fly at extremely low altitudes at high subsonic speeds and are controlled by several mission-tailored guidance systems. According to the US Navy, they can be launched from submarines made by the US and the UK, as well as from US Navy ships.
So far only the UK has bought Tomahawks from the US, but recently Japan announced its intention to buy hundreds of the missiles, which cover a distance of more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), to boost its defense capabilities.
The Tomahawks could be used by the Royal Australian Navy’s Hobart-class destroyers and are also compatible with the Virginia-class submarines that Australia plans to buy from the US as part of the AUKUS deal.
Australian Defense Minister Pat Conroy told the country’s national broadcaster, the ABC, Friday the weapons were a necessary deterrent.
“This is part of this government’s agenda to give the ADF the best possible capability, to give it greater ability to provide long-range strike and keep any potential adversary at bay,” Conroy told the ABC. “This is how we promote peace and stability by putting question marks in any potential adversary’s mind.”
While the multibillion-dollar AUKUS deal has the support of Australia’s two major political parties, it came under intense criticism this week from former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating.
In a statement, Keating, who served as the country’s leader between 1991 and 1996, called it “the worst international decision by an Australian Labor government” in more than 100 years.
“Australia is locking in its next half century in Asia as subordinate to the United States, an Atlantic power,” he wrote.
Referring to the subs, Keating said, “The fact is, we just don’t need them,” arguing that more diesel-electric-powered submarines – an expansion of Australia’s Collins-class submarine fleet – would be sufficient to defend Australia’s coastline.
The AUKUS deal is expected to cost up to $245 billion (368 billion Australian dollars) over 30 years.