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US approves sale of 220 Tomahawk cruise missiles to Australia in $895m deal irking China

The Independent logo The Independent 2023/03/17 Shweta Sharma
tomahawk © AP tomahawk

The US State Department has approved the sale of 220 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles for Australia in a move that has drawn criticism from China for “triggering a regional arms race”.

The deal, valued at $885m and which needs a final sign-off from Congress, will include the sale, maintenance and logistical support for the missiles, said Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency.

The missiles will first be deployed to existing surface ships to be used later on a new fleet of nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines which Australia is set to acquire from the US under the Aukus defence pact.

It comes as Australia is ratcheting up its defence spending to counter China’s growing military clout across the Indo-Pacific region.

More than a year after the US, UK and Australia announced the trilateral grouping to combine their submarine forces, the three countries on Monday unveiled details of a plan to provide Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines from the early 2030s.

China’s foreign ministry on Friday condemned the Tomahawk missile deal as well as the Aukus pact, saying they should not hurt the interests of third parties.

“We are aware of relevant reports. Any defense and security cooperation between countries should benefit regional peace and stability, and not be targeted at third parties or hurt the interests of third parties,” said Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for China foreign ministry, when asked about the deal.

“The relevant action has worsened regional tensions, severely damaging regional peace and stability, with the possibility of triggering a regional arms race.”

“China urges the relevant parties to abandon their outdated Cold War mentality and narrow geopolitical concepts,” Mr Wang said at a regular news briefing on Friday.

“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,” said the Pentagon.

With the deployment of the Tomahawk Weapon System, Canberra will “contribute to global readiness and enhance the capability of US Forces operating alongside them globally”, it added.

Australia’s defence minister Richard Marles said Australia needed longer-range missiles.

“Making sure we have longer-range strike missiles is a really important capability for the country,” Mr Marles told Australia’s Channel Nine. “It enables us to be able to reach out beyond our shores further, and that’s ultimately how we are able to keep Australia safe.”

Australia is facing “the greatest strategic uncertainty since 1945”, Pat Conroy, Australia’s minister for the defence industry, international development and the Pacific, told ABC news.

“We certainly want the best possible capability for the Australian Defence Force, so that includes the ability to strike opponents as far away as possible from the Australian mainland,” he said. “The cruise missiles are a critical part of that, as are the submarines that launch them,” Mr Conroy said.

Australia will now become the only US ally to obtain the Tomahawk weapon system after the UK.

Recently, Japan announced plans to buy about 400 Tomahawk missiles from the US to deter nuclear-armed China and North Korea.

Tomahawk missiles can fly at extremely low altitudes at high subsonic speeds, covering a distance of more than 1,000km.

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