Brisbane, Australia (CNN) – The US State Department has approved Australia’s request to purchase up to 220 long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles to arm its naval vessels and the US nuclear-powered submarines it planned to buy this week.
The deal will cost up to A$1.3 billion ($895 million), including maintenance and logistical support, according to a statement from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
“The proposed sale will enhance Australia’s ability to work with US naval forces and other allied forces, as well as its ability to contribute to missions of mutual interest,” the statement added.
The acquisition is part of the AUKUS deal between the US, Australia and the UK, a three-way pact to share technology and resources to build a new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines over the next two decades.
As part of the broader deal, the US will sell at least three Virginia-class submarines to Australia. In addition, Australia and the United Kingdom will build their own fleets of new nuclear-powered submarines to bolster allies’ capabilities in the Indo-Pacific. where China has set up its military installations.
Tomahawk missiles, first used in the 1991 Gulf War, fly at extremely low altitudes, at high subsonic speeds, and are controlled by multiple guidance systems tailored to the mission. According to the US Navy, they can be launched by US and UK submarines and US Navy ships.
So far, only Britain has bought Tomahawks from the US, but Japan recently announced its intention to buy hundreds of missiles that can travel more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) to bolster its defense capabilities.
Australia will buy at least three Virginia-class submarines from the US.
Australian Defense Secretary Pat Conroy told the country’s national broadcaster ABC on Friday that the Australian Defense Force’s (ADF) Tomahawks are in service ahead of the planned delivery of the first of three US-made Virginia-class submarines in 2033 could be available.
When the AUKUS 2021 deal was first announced, the Australian government said it was seeking Tomahawks to outfit the Royal Australian Navy’s Hobart-class destroyers.
“This is part of this administration’s agenda to give the ADF the best possible capability, give it a greater ability to perform a long-range strike and contain any potential adversary,” Conroy told ABC. “This is how we promote peace and stability by putting question marks in the mind of any potential adversary.”
While the multi-billion dollar AUKUS deal has the backing of Australia’s two main political parties, it was heavily criticized by former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating this week.
In a statement, Keating, who served as the country’s leader between 1991 and 1996, called it “the worst international decision by an Australian Labor government” in more than 100 years.
“Australia locks up its next half-century in Asia, subservient to the United States, an Atlantic power,” he wrote.
Regarding the submarines, Keating said “the fact is we just don’t need them”, arguing that more diesel-electric powered submarines – an extension of Australia’s Collins-class submarine fleet – would be enough to defend the Australian coast.
The AUKUS deal is expected to cost up to US$245 billion (Australian dollars 368 billion) over 30 years.