Australia to Buy US-Made HIMARS in Boost to Defense Systems

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Australia announced Thursday it will boost its defense capabilities by spending more than 1 billion Australian dollars ($700 million) on new advanced missile and rocket systems, including U.S.-made HIMARS which have been successfully used by Ukraine's military.

In Ukraine, the mobile, truck-mounted HIMARS have proved crucial in enabling Ukrainian forces to hit key targets, including a recent strike on a single building that killed at least 89 Russian soldiers.

The Australian government said the HIMARS it was buying included launchers, missiles and training rockets and would be in use by 2026. It said the system had a current range of 300 kilometers (186 miles), which was expected to increase with technological advances.

The government said it had also signed a contract with Norway-based Kongsberg to buy Naval Strike Missiles for navy destroyers and frigates, which would replace aging Harpoon anti-ship missiles from next year.

Citing confidentiality for security and operational reasons, the Australian government, led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, did not give a cost breakdown of the two systems or say how many of each it was buying.

But last year the U.S. State Department approved a potential foreign military sale, saying Australia had requested to buy 20 Lockheed Martin-made HIMARS and related equipment at an estimated cost of $385 million.

"This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States," the U.S. Defense Department wrote at the time. "Australia is one of our most important allies in the Western Pacific. The strategic location of this political and economic power contributes significantly to ensuring peace and economic stability in the region."

Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles said it was important the military was equipped with high-end capabilities as it sought to deter potential threats to national security.

"The Albanese Government is taking a proactive approach to keeping Australia safe -- and the Naval Strike Missile and HIMARS launchers will give our Defence Force the ability to deter conflict and protect our interests," Marles said in a statement.

Australia and the U.S. in recent years have become increasingly concerned about China's growing assertiveness in the Pacific. Those concerns were heightened after China signed a security pact last year with the Solomon Islands, prompting the U.S. to push ahead with plans to reopen an embassy in the capital, Honiara.