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Australia gets tooled up with cruise

Long-range stealth capability spooks Indonesia

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Australia has caused a certain amount of unease in Indonesia by announcing its intention to acquire long-range stealth cruise missiles, The Australian reports. The missiles are intended to plug the gap between the retirement of Australia's F-111 fleet in 2010 and the arrival of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) - slated for deployment around three years later.

The Howard government will choose from three options: the Lockheed Martin joint air-to-surface standoff missile (JASSM), a "2000-pound, precision strike cruise missile that has a range of 400km and flies autonomously to its target after launch"; Boeing's 250km-range SLAM-ER; and the Swedish/German Taurus KEPD 350, able to penetrate 350km. Whichever is eventually selected, the missiles will be slung under the RAAF's F/A-18 fighters and its P3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft.

The Indonesian's reaction to the announcement is understandable. Jakarta tooks years to forgive Australia after the Menzies government "ordered the F-111 in 1963, with the specific instruction that it be capable of reaching Jakarta carrying nuclear weapons". In 1993, the Australians ordered a further 15 of the aircraft without informing Indonesia - an event which caused further rumpus.

For their part, the Australians may consider they have good cause to strengthen their strike capability. Indonesia's bloody invasion of East Timor in 1975 - during which five Australian journalists were killed, apparently by Indonesian forces - threatened briefly to provoke robust Australian retaliation, and soured relations between the two countries for years. Indeed, a report published yesterday by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute concludes that Australians "rate Indonesia as their greatest military threat", and notes: “Notwithstanding improved bilateral relations particularly during the 1980s and 1990s, the public’s concern about Indonesia has increased almost consistently since opinion polls first began to track it in the late 1960s.” The report does, however, conclude that: "This worry does not seem to be justifed, either by Jakartas intent, or by the level of Indonesian military capability." ®

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