SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Tuesday nine war ships set for construction in 2020 will be fitted with long-range anti-missile defense systems to counter the threat of rogue nations.
Australia's proposed frigates will use Aegis combat systems, produced by Lockheed Martin, in conjunction with SAAB Australia technology, Turnbull said.
Tensions in the region have spiked considerably in recent months as North Korea conducted a series of tests of its medium- and long-range ballistic missiles, some of which flew over Japan, as well as its sixth nuclear test on Sept. 3.
Pyongyang, which ultimately wants to target the U.S. mainland with a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile, has said its missiles could strike Australia.
"Recent events in our region have proven that Australia's future frigates must be equipped to defend Australia from the threat of medium- and long-range missile attacks," Turnbull said in a speech in Sydney.
Work on the frigates is set to begin in 2020, with BAE Systems, Navantia and Fincantieri all competing for the A$35 billion ($27.39 billion) contract.
The decision to use the Aegis ballistic missile defense systems brings Australia in line with U.S. and Japanese vessels, allowing international cooperation, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett, Australia's navy chief, told reporters in Sydney.
The proposed frigates are part of Australia's plan to increase defense spending by A$30 billion to be worth A$195 billion, or 2 percent of GDP, by 2021-2022 as Canberra seeks to protect its strategic and trade interests in the Asia-Pacific.
Australia selected French naval contractor DCNS last year to build its fleet of 12 submarines, ahead of other offers from Japan and Germany, one the world's most lucrative defense contracts.
($1 = 1.2776 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Colin Packham in SYDNEY; Editing by Paul Tait)