Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Australia to increase participation

Australia wants to increase its participation in the missile defense shield, placing parts of the system on three Australian navy ships:

Australia might buy U.S. missiles as part of the Bush administration's planned defense shield, the defense minister said Tuesday while acknowledging the plan could fuel a regional arms race.

The government announced in December that it would join the American plan to build a missile defense system, calling the threat of ballistic missiles too grave to ignore.

Details of that involvement were being hammered out with U.S. defense officials visiting Australia -- one of Washington's staunchest allies -- this week to negotiate a memorandum of understanding.

Defense Minister Robert Hill on Tuesday offered the first hint about the contents of the agreement being discussed, saying the government might incorporate the missile defense systems on three air warfare destroyers planned for the Australian navy.

Hill previously had said his country likely would help research the multibillion-dollar defense project and had no plans for a ground-based missile defense system on its own soil.

Hill said he was impressed by last month's successful firing of a Standard Missile-3 interceptor missile from a Navy Aegis cruiser that knocked a target rocket out of the sky over the Pacific.


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