DANIEL FLITTON July 13, 2012
Leaders should take a long-term view when deciding on defence spending, says the US's top commander in the Pacific, Admiral Samuel Locklear. Photo: Reuters
THE top US commander in the Pacific has noted defence spending in Australia has slipped below America's European allies and warned military planning cannot be turned on or off when economies go bad.
The Gillard government slashed defence spending in the May budget, next year taking the overall military budget to 1.5 per cent of the Australia's economy.
This is despite commitments in the 2009 defence white paper to build a new fleets of 12 attack submarines and buy additional fighter jets to met the threat of ''shows of force by rising powers'' in the region — widely interpreted as code for China.
Admiral Samuel Locklear, who heads US Pacific Command in Hawaii and has charge of forces across half the globe, told reporters in Canberra this morning that even in difficult fiscal times maintaining a credible deterrence and defence was important.
''We have the same issue in the United States. Your defence is not something you can turn on and off with a switch from year to year based on how bad the economies are, because you make investments in the military that are long-term investments, that require a lot of planning,'' Admiral Locklear said.
''If you're going to build a submarine force, you can take years to figure out how to make that cost effective and get what you need out of it.''
''So from a the Pacific commander's perspective - and I only want to speak for me - I would hope that as the Australians work through that, that they recognise and contemplate this.''
Admiral Locklear held talks today with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and yesterday met with Australia defence force chief, General David Hurley. He will later take part in a round table with intelligence analysts.
He said he had just come from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation where the standard for defence spending is 2.5 per cent of a country's economy.
''There are many nations that don't met that, from time to time, and so it's not for me to comment on how the Australian people decide to do it, but I would hope that in the security environment that we are in that there is a long-term view of defence planning that has the proper levels of resources behind it,'' he said.
''This is the same thing that I say to our own leadership in my own country, because we are faced with similar decisions.''
Admiral Locklear denied the US had any strategy of containment aimed at China, saying the decision to ''rebalance'' US forces in the Asia Pacific - with up to 60 per cent of the US navy to be based in the region - would have taken place even had China not existed.
He said the amount of goods transported across the ocean had quadrupled in recent years, making protection of sea essential for ''global commons''.
He backed the idea of joint exercises with Indonesia in the Northern Territory.