As a Western nation on the southern periphery of Asia, Australia confronts tectonic changes in the strategic landscape of the Asia-Pacific. In recent years, Australia has responded by strengthening its alliance with the United States and steadily expanding its defense force. Following the release of the Australian government's 2016 Defence White Paper, further expansion is planned, including an ambitious domestic naval construction program; at the core of which is 12 new French-designed submarines--the largest conventional submarines ever attempted.
Challenges and uncertainties lie ahead for Australia. Economic conditions are likely to make it difficult to fund the ambitious military expansion, and the decision to build vessels locally adds undoubted risk to the program. Even if everything goes to plan, local construction will mean that vessels are delivered much more slowly than the geopolitical environment is changing. Caught between an increasingly assertive China--Australia's largest trading partner--and the grave uncertainties heralded by the Trump presidency, Australia's plans may turn out to be too little, too late.