1 May 2023

Government shifts focus to long-range missiles (and it wants them built in Australia)

| Andrew McLaughlin
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artist's impression of a PrSM luanch

Concept art of a PrSM being fired from an M142 HIMARS launcher. Image: Lockheed Martin.

Just two days after releasing the Defence Strategic Review (DSR), the federal government announced another study into how to deliver on one of the DSR’s key recommendations.

The DSR was initiated last September to restructure the Australian Defence Force’s (ADF) capabilities and acquisition processes in order to better face emerging threats in the region. It was authored by former Labor Defence Minister Professor Stephen Smith and former Defence Chief Sir Angus Houston.

Two key recommendations of the DSR were to reduce the scale of a couple of large Army armoured vehicle programs – the Project LAND 400 Phase 3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the LAND 8116 Phase 2 Hanwha AS9 Huntsman Self-Propelled Howitzer – and instead focus on acquiring longer-range missile systems.

The DSR’s missile recommendation wasn’t a new one. There are already active projects to acquire the M142 HIMARS long-range precision missile system and a vehicle-based anti-ship missile capability. The armoured vehicle programs were scaled down ostensibly to free up funding to accelerate and increase these missile programs.

READ ALSO After months of waiting, there were few surprises in the Defence Strategic Review

The 26 April announcement said the government will commit $1.6 billion to acquiring additional long-range strike systems and $2.5 billion into manufacturing some of these systems in Australia.

Apart from doubling the number of HIMARS and hastening their purchase, one of the acquisitions would be an acceleration of the developmental Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) program, for which Australia is a cooperative development partner with the US Army.

Manufactured by Lockheed Martin, the PrSM will provide precision strike capabilities against fixed and, in the future, moving targets at ranges of between 500 and 1000 km and will be compatible with the HIMARS launcher.

The government has been trying to establish local manufacturing programs for these missiles through the Sovereign Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance (GEWO) enterprise, which the Morrison Government announced in March 2021.

“What we inherited was a set of announcements here without any significant allocation of money,” Deputy PM and Defence Minister Richard Marles said in a doorstop interview on 26 April.

“We are more than doubling the contribution that the government is making towards establishing the manufacture of guided weapons in this country over the next four years.”


The HIMARS system is in high demand due to depleted ammunition stocks and growing demand from European nations. Photo: US Army.

Apart from the funding issues, there are likely also significant hurdles to be overcome in the form of the US’s extremely tight technology transfer and export control policies.

The 26 April release says the latest review is due to report in mid-2024 on the viability of “manufacturing guided weapons and their critical components to improve our self-reliance, with concrete, costed plans”.

It says the review will need to establish “critical enablers needed to underpin an expanded GWEO Enterprise, including increasing our testing and research capabilities and rapidly expanding our storage and distribution network to accommodate a growing GWEO inventory”.

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said, “What we’re talking about is a concrete plan being delivered to government early next year to enable us to start manufacturing guided weapons in around two years’ time from now”.

Interestingly, the government appears to have paused previous ambitions to acquire the 1600 km-range ship-launched BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile and instead focus on building up a more immediate land-based capability.

“That’s a question that we will consider and pursue,” Mr Marles told the ABC’s Insiders on 30 April.

“Tomahawk is something that we will consider over the journey. But right now, what we need is to get war stocks up in relation to, and platforms in relation to HIMARS and war stocks up in relation to them.”

READ ALSO Government announces new long-range missile capabilities

Systems being looked at for local manufacture are believed to include the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM), the Lockheed Martin JASSM-ER/LRASM, the Rafael Spike-ER anti-armour missile, and the Lockheed Martin M30 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) rockets fired by HIMARS.

The ambitious goal to manufacture these systems locally would mean, if approved, Australia would be less-reliant on global supply chains to replenish its own stocks in a time of crisis and could become a second-source supplier to other nations.

On face value, it appears a local manufacturing capability may be the only way Australia could accelerate its long-range strike ambitions, especially with HIMARS. The war in Ukraine has seen numerous HIMARS systems and thousands of missiles donated to Ukraine, and these stocks will need to be replenished. Meanwhile, European countries who have seen how effective it is against Russian defences are now queuing to buy the system.

To this end, last week, the US Army awarded a US$4.8bn (A$7.25bn) contract to Lockheed Martin to manufacture two more GLMRS production lots.

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Blake Hornsby10:56 am 08 May 23

With all the hype over the urgency of obtaining long range fires and strike etc. I’m a little confused that the tomahawk acquisition is potentially being put on hold for the time being. I would have thought that it would have been one of the more readily available off the shelf capabilities available at the moment. Given the demand for HIMARS and their rockets, the unavailability of PrSM and LRASM etc, tomahawk seemed to be a promising program. Also, given its range, it would have to be the longest range of all the weapons listed on the governments wishlist. However, given that 1600km is the longest range of any of these ( a rough opened ended suggestion, noting that JASSM- ER would be subject to tanked fighter range) I would’ve thought that it would be seen as a priority so that we’ve got availability as soon as possible.
What are peoples opinions on what constitutes long range strike? I would think in our region, it would have to be at least 3000+ km?

Australia needs a asymmetric defence plan , most legality for lowest cost . Misses and drones . The helicopter are a waste if money. The submarine are too late .

Tom Worthington3:17 pm 02 May 23

An interesting question is if Australia needs to acquire two incompatible truck based missile systems: one for land attack, and one for anti-ship. Newer missiles tend to be multi-purpose (the Precision Strike Missile for the US HIMARS is planned to be able to hit moving targets at sea). But even if different missiles are needed, could the same trucks be used?

Andrew McLaughlin5:08 pm 02 May 23

It was briefly studied early on whether a Bushmaster or HX series truck could be used for Australia’s HIMARS, and the answer was no. The HIMARS launcher comes as a complete integrated vehicle package.

Trevor Willis2:56 pm 02 May 23

Forget the 6 atomic subs on order at eye-watering costs and delays as well as missiles. We need to commence manufacturing DRONES. They are the armament required for Australia’s vast coastline. Base them at all RAAF Bases and operate them 24/7. They can observe intrusion into our waters by a possible enemy as well as being used to spot any illegal fishermen and refugee boats. Drones can be looked after and controlled by base staff without losing our military personnel.

@Trevor Willis
Agreed … I’m not sure how much an attack force drone costs, but I’m sure we could buy a sh*tload for $368b and as you say, patrol a much wider expanse on the coastline – and not only for possible invasion by enemey forces.

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