Australia turns massive defense importer

When you gut your industrial base certain things flow in due course. Via the ABC:

A push to make Australia a “top 10” weapons exporter appears to be faltering, with analysis suggesting the country has instead become one of the world’s largest arms importers, second only to Saudi Arabia.

Figures compiled by the renowned Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show Australia last year fell from the world’s 18th largest military exporter to now be ranked 25th.

At the same time Australia jumped from being the fourth-highest weapons importer in 2017, to the world’s second biggest military purchaser in 2018.

In 2018, payments for expensive new aircraft such as Joint Strike Fighters as well as French work on the Future Submarine project are believed to have helped push Australia close to the top of global defence import rankings.

Last year the Turnbull government launched a bold plan to make Australia one of the world’s top 10 exporters, with a new loan scheme for defence companies that wanted to sell their products overseas.

“We expect that in the next nine years because of the investments of this government we’ll move to being in the top 10 defence exporters in the world, and so we should be,” former defence industry minister Christopher Pyne predicted when launching the strategy.

One of the country’s leading defence analysts, Andrew Davies, says he is not surprised Australia is struggling to overtake other nations.

“Getting up that league table is actually really hard, and I don’t think there’s any realistic prospect of climbing into the top 10,” he said.

“Not moving up the table doesn’t mean that the defence sector isn’t expanding, because everybody’s trying to sell more, so it’s entirely consistent that Australia could be exporting more and not moving up the table.”

Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price, who is this week flying to the United States to promote the work of Australian military companies, has questioned SIPRI’s figures and insists the Coalition’s export goals remain on track.

“The Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute system for measuring defence exports does not capture a large amount of Australian industry defence exports, particularly our niche capabilities in sustainment and upgrade services,” Minister Price told the ABC in a statement.

“Becoming a top-10 global defence exporter is an ambitious target.

“A strong, exporting industrial base generates economic growth and creates jobs, which is why we’re striving to be in the world’s best.”

Dr Davies agrees there are some legitimate doubts about the figures but believes they can be relied upon to observe global trends in the weapons trade.

“I think everyone who uses those figures realises that there’s some issues with the methodology but they use the same technique every year, so I think in trend terms it’s fair to draw inferences from it,” he said.

The world’s top weapons importers

Rank 2018 Rank 2017
1 1 Saudi Arabia
2 4 Australia
3 6 China
4 2 India
5 3 Egypt
6 10 Algeria
7 8 South Korea
8 7 UAE
9 16 Qatar
10 14 Pakistan
11 21 Japan
12 23 Turkey
13 18 United States
14 9 Iraq
15 28 Thailand
16 13 Vietnam
17 25 Norway
18 11 UK
19 22 Singapore
20 17 Israel
21 20 Morocco
22 5 Indonesia
23 29 Azerbaijan
24 12 Oman
25 15 Italy

The world’s top weapons exporters

Rank 2018 Rank 2017
1 1 United States
2 2 Russia
3 3 France
4 4 Germany
5 9 Spain
6 11 South Korea
7 7 China
8 6 UK
9 5 Israel
10 10 Italy
11 8 Netherlands
12 13 Turkey
13 14 Switzerland
14 12 Ukraine
15 16 South Africa
16 21 Sweden
17 17 UAE
18 28 Brazil
19 23 Canada
20 24 Finland
21 15 Norway
22 19 Czech Rep.
23 27 Belarus
24 26 India
25 18 Australia

There isn’t much point being defense self-sufficient anyway when you only have 18 days of petrol before being conquered.

David Llewellyn-Smith

David Llewellyn-Smith is Chief Strategist at the MB Fund and MB Super. David is the founding publisher and editor of MacroBusiness and was the founding publisher and global economy editor of The Diplomat, the Asia Pacific’s leading geo-politics and economics portal.

He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.

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  1. TailorTrashMEMBER

    Sell “export” houses to China and use the money to buy defence equipment ……..getitintaya Straya !

    • China doesn’t need to invade Australia.
      The CCP can sit back and wait while millions of Chinese are willingly let into the country.
      A quiet, peaceful invasion by stealth.

    • Yes, and further, a relatively large number of the automotive supply chain businesses also had defence contracts. Auto provided the critical mass and cash flow and its loss left insufficient and more sporadic contracts defence to sustain business.

  2. We should buy all our defence equipment from China : this is more efficient as our politicians will unconditionally surrender at the first sign of aggression.

    • You just know for certain that there are people in Australia who would have you believe that it is racist that we don’t buy our defence technologies from China.

  3. It is telling, to consider that during WW2, Australia manufactured aircraft of its own design. Sweden, a comparable nation, still does.