Australia’s long-standing support for its Pacific Island neighbours through the Pacific Patrol Boat Program (PPBP) has enabled smaller nations in the region to bolster their maritime surveillance capabilities and firmly establish their maritime zones.
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The Commonwealth government has since been working towards replacing the original vessels with 19 larger and more capable Guardian Class patrol boats, that were progressively gifted to 12 Pacific Island countries from late 2018, along with two further vessels to be gifted to Timor-Leste in 2023 under the Pacific Maritime Security Program (PMSP).
The Guardian Class patrol boats are packaged with long-term Australian sustainment, training, infrastructure, and advisory support to equip Australia’s Pacific partners with capacity to effectively collect, analyse, manage, and share maritime security information – internally, with neighbours, and with the region.
Stability and security
The Commonwealth government’s investment in the PMSP and continuing work with its Pacific partners in supporting regional surveillance capability is key to shaping Australia’s strategic environment and the implications of the challenges that have emerged in the Indo-Pacific.
Australia’s enduring security co-operation with Pacific countries covers a broad scope including defence, law enforcement, transnational crime, climate and disaster resilience, border management and human security.
Since 2001, Australia has provided financial, technical and legal support to Pacific Island states to establish their maritime zones, negotiate shared boundaries and submit extended continental shelf claims. With Australian support, eight Pacific countries were able to establish their maritime zone limits in national legislation, 10 countries submitted extended continental shelf claims, and nine countries were able to negotiate or amend 15 shared boundary treaties.
Defence has stepped up its support for regional countries to conduct co-operation patrols and has enhanced the capability of regional maritime co-ordination centres through new equipment. In addition to the boost in support under the PMSP, the second component of the PMSP saw the enhanced capacity of the Pacific Island neighbours to locate and stop illegal activity within their Exclusive Economic Zones and adjacent high seas with region-wide civilian contracted aerial surveillance. Implemented in 2017, the contracted fixed wing capability is supporting targeted, intelligence-driven maritime patrols.
As the drivers of change identified in the 2016 Defence White Paper have accelerated faster than anticipated, Australia now faces an environment of increasing strategic competition; the introduction of more capable military systems enabled by technological change; strengthening ties with the Pacific nation neighbours has become even more valuable than ever before.
This year, two Guardian Class patrol boats were delivered under the PMSP, the HMPNGS Rochus Lokinap, was delivered to Papua New Guinea in June and the RVS Takuare, was delivered to Vanuatu in July.
The Guardian Class patrol vessel, RVS Takuare, was delivered to Vanuatu on the island nation’s Independence Day, at a ceremony in Henderson, Western Australia. The twelfth vessel to be handed over under the PMSP was accepted by His Excellency Samson Fare, Vanuatu’s high commissioner to Australia, on behalf of the Republic of Vanuatu, joined by senior Australian Defence representatives via live stream from Canberra.
The delivery highlighted the contribution of the partnership to local industry, which strengthened the ties between the nations, according to Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price, who attended the handover ceremony.
“Our relationship is founded on shared values, interests and friendship,” Minister Price said. “I wish to congratulate Vanuatu on its 41st Anniversary of Independence and extend my best wishes to the people of Vanuatu and to the ni-Vanuatu community here in Australia.
“I am pleased that our security partnership is supporting Vanuatu’s COVID-19 economic recovery through local jobs, alongside Australian industry involvement.”
Vanuatu’s Deputy Prime Minister Alatoi Ishmael Kalsakau Maau’Koro noted the significance of the delivery, highlighting the value of the Australia-Vanuatu relationship.
“This is an emphatic demonstration of caring at the highest level, expressed in no better way than on Freedom Day for our Republic by this generous gesture of giving by the people of Australia, and represents a new call on nationhood in our expression of security and maritime surveillance,” the Deputy PM said.
The Commonwealth government’s 30-year investment and commitment to supporting its Pacific neighbours is integral to a stable and resilient security environment, following the key challenges that have emerged in the Indo-Pacific, that prompted the formation of the new AUKUS trilateral partnership.
Continuing the legacy of the PPBP, the succeeding PMSP has considerable value for Australia and the Pacific region. In contributing to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific, enduring investment in sovereign defence capabilities and boosting the Pacific regional maritime security is key.
This article originally appeared in the Defence Connect maritime special edition, which can be viewed here.