The Australian government is launching a $156-plus USD billion effort to upgrade warships, land, and air defenses as North Korea continues its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development, and as a hedge against a more assertive China.

Canberra plans to upgrade air defense systems on nine frigates, purchase 100 U.S.-made stealth fighters, and buy new French-designed submarines, in addition to armed drones.

The frigate upgrades will allow the ships to integrate more effectively with U.S. and Japanese warships. The technology will enable these ships “to engage threat missiles at long range, which is vital given rogue states are developing missiles with advanced range and speed,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told a naval conference in Sydney. “We must have the capability to meet and defeat them.”

The warships will be chosen from three designs offered by BAE Systems PLC, Italy’s Fincantieri SpA and Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, and equipped with the Aegis missile defense system built by Lockheed Martin and currently in use in the U.S. and Japanese navies.

The Aegis system allows warships to track and intercept multiple targets at a distance. Common combat system could help all three nations share data and protect one another in the event of a conflict.

“Enhancements that may be offered in the future are numerous. One of those may be ballistic missile defense,” Australia’s navy chief, Vice Admiral Timothy Barrett, said.

By 2030, more than half of the world’s submarines will be in Asia; China now has more attack subs than the U.S. does.

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