Australia should introduce an Indian Ocean Patrol Boat Program, modelled on the Pacific Patrol Boat Program (PPBP), to increase its influence throughout the region and improve Western Australia’s defence industry, a new report has found.
The Regional Development Australia (RDA) Perth and RDA Kimberley Security and Defence in Western Australia: An Economic Perspective report, which outlines 25 key recommendations to boost WA's economic growth and stability and improve Australia's long-term national interests, has urged the federal government to consider the implementation of an Indian Ocean Patrol Boat Program.
The report argues that such a program is key to maintaining and enhancing Australia's standing throughout the region and fighting people smuggling, illegal fishing and piracy.
"In a highly fractious part of the world, such a measure would strengthen regional stability, and further enhance Australia’s profile and influence throughout the region," the report said.
Former defence and foreign minister Stephen Smith also argued the rise of India and Indonesia, and the increasing strategic challenges facing Australia in the Indian Ocean could be better addressed with an Indian Ocean Patrol Boat Program.
"Australia’s Pacific Patrol Boat Program ... has seen dividends paid to Australia and its regional partners in the Pacific," Smith said.
"Given the lessons learnt from the Pacific, and the shift of geo strategic weight to the Indian Ocean, a carefully targeted Indian Ocean Patrol Boat Program is well worth considering."
The report also notes that Australia's Pacific Patrol Boat Program has not only demonstrated how Australia can continue to strengthen its regional influence, but has also generated more work for Australia's defence industry.
"One such initiative that has had a significant impact is the Pacific Patrol Boat Program administered by Defence," the report said.
"This program serves as a possible model that could be replicated in the Indian Ocean region, as a means of enhancing Australia’s regional profile, contributing to regional stability, and generating more work for defence industry.
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"The success of the program has been acknowledged as having enabled Australia to strengthen its regional influence, particularly through the people-to-people linkages developed through the ongoing presence of Australian Navy and Defence advisers and attachés."
Defence is currently in the process of undergoing the Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Program, valued at $306 million, which will see Austal construct 21 new patrol boats between 2018 and 2023, that will be gifted to various Pacific countries.
The 39.5-metre, steel-hulled Guardians will be delivered to 13 nations from late 2018 as part of Australia’s $2 billion commitment to regional maritime security through the Pacific Maritime Security Program. Based on the current build schedules, delivery of the two vessels for East Timor will occur in June and September 2023.
The original Pacific Patrol Boat Program was launched in the mid-1980s with 22 vessels donated to 12 regional nations for use by their militaries, coast guards or police forces for border security, disaster relief and fisheries protection.
The full report RDA Perth & Kimberely Security and Defence in Western Australia: An Economic Perspective report can be viewed on the RDA Perth website.