Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 13:49 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 13:49 | SYDNEY

Our missile defence conundrum


Sam Roggeveen


23 June 2010 14:35

Back in December 2007 I wrote that 'no proposed Australian missile defence system would be able to protect the continent'. That remains true, but not because the Government or Opposition are in principle opposed to the idea of protecting the Australian homeland. Rather, it is because there has never been an affordable way to protect continental Australia from long-range ballistic missiles. That may now be changing.

Don't bother clicking on that link; it's indecipherable to anyone but a missile wonk. The layperson's version of the story is that US defence contractors are working on a new version of the SM-3 missile, which is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles. SM-3 has had some encouraging test successes against medium-range missiles, but this new version will be designed to hit intercontinental-range missiles (ICBMs) as they ascend from their launchers (the 'boost phase').

The other important fact to know here is that Australia's Air Warfare Destroyers will be designed to carry SM-3. So if this new version becomes a reality, Australia has the option of buying it.

That raises some thorny diplomatic issues. If there is an affordable way to protect Australia from possible attack by North Korean ICBMs, could a responsible government ignore it? On the other hand, if we buy this system and cooperate with the US, Japan and perhaps South Korea on missile defence, how do we avoid looking like we are trying to neutralise China's small ICBM force?

Photo courtesy of the US Navy.