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Canberra mulls defence overhaul as subs decision nears

Australia is preparing to tackle potential adversaries that can launch attacks without setting foot in the country.

Defence Minister Richard Marles has received 108 recommendations following an urgent review into the military and says his response will position the nation to handle emerging threats.

“We live in a globalised, networked world where so many potential adversaries can do our country enormous damage without ever having to set foot upon our shores,” he told parliament on Wednesday.

“Time will tell but I believe this document will be a blueprint for defence thinking for many decades to come.”

Defence secretary Greg Moriarty said a task force within his department would implement the review’s recommendations.

“It’s an enormous agenda we need to deliver quickly. Business as usual is not an appropriate response,” he said.

Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing, Mr Moriarty and senior military figures were also quizzed about a nuclear submarines deal with the United States and Britain.

Mr Moriarty said the AUKUS agreement would also accelerate the acquisition of guided weapons.

Navy Vice Admiral Jonathan Mead said co-operation under the three-way deal had been unprecedented, with hundreds of Australians going through nuclear facilities and training programs overseas.

“These were limitations that had been in place for decades and, just in the past 12 months, the US and the UK have made significant inroads in allowing access,” he said.

“This signifies the magnitude of the commitment from our partners.”

The Australian government is set to unveil the design and timeline of its nuclear submarine acquisition in the coming weeks.

“The direction from government is to ensure we safely, securely and as quickly as possible deliver this nuclear-powered submarine program,” Vice Admiral Mead said.

Using off-the-shelf US submarines before Australia acquires its own nuclear submarines could bridge the capability gap.

Australia is keeping secret whether American B-52 bombers stationed in the Top End will carry nuclear weapons.

Upgrades to a RAAF base in the Northern Territory will enable the US to station up to six nuclear-capable bombers there on rotation.

Mr Moriarty told senators Australia remained compliant with its obligations under international nuclear treaties, including one prohibiting the stationing of nuclear weapons.

“There is no impediment under either treaty to the visit of foreign aircraft to Australian airfields or transit of Australia’s airspace, including in the context of our training and exercise programs,” he said.

“Successive Australian governments have understood and respected the long-standing US policy of neither confirming nor denying the presence of nuclear weapons on particular platforms.”

American bombers have visited Australia since the early 1980s and conducted training since 2005.

source: denipt