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Australian Plan to Purchase Long-Range Missiles Worries Opposition - 2004-08-26

Australia plans to spend nearly $300 million on new long-range missiles. The Defense Minister says the missiles, capable of hitting land and sea targets, will be carried on F/A-18 fighter jets and maritime patrol planes. Opposition politicians, however, worry the plan could upset some of Australia's neighbors.

The federal government says it will acquire stealth cruise missiles that can travel up to 400 kilometers. They will be carried on the Australian air force's F/A-18 fighter jets and P3 Orion maritime surveillance planes, and should be operational within five years.

Australia will be the first country in the region with such long-range weapons.

The government says the plan will significantly enhance Australia's ability to defend itself.

Defense Minister Robert Hill says the new missiles will be an important part of Australia's airborne capabilities.

"The greatest advantage in it is that safety of aircrews. It means that weapons can be dispatched further away from the target," he explained.

The opposition Labor Party is warning the government's plan could cause friction with neighboring nations, especially Indonesia.

Labor's defense spokesman, Kim Beazley, criticized the government for not discussing the move with its regional partners.

Earlier this year, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said his government would consider joining the United States' missile defense shield.

Mr. Howard said it was "common sense" for his country to join the program.

Australia's enthusiasm for the U.S. missile strategy has worried some of its neighbors in Asia. China is unhappy about an Australian role in a program it dislikes, and Indonesia has warned it could spark a new arms race in the region.