Australia is now the seventh-largest importer of major arms in the world and the biggest customer of the largest weapons producer, the US.
Australia buys 10 per cent of all American weapons exports.
Figures from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) show Australian imports of major arms – large-scale military materiel such as warships, fighter planes and tanks – jumped by 83 per cent in the five years to 2013, a reaction to increasingly volatile Asian relations and fears the region is set on the path of a dangerous arms race.
The SIPRI figures measure arms trade, not only by monetary value, but by the capability of the weapons purchased, averaged over five years to eliminate fluctuations of large single-year purchases. It is regarded as the most accurate measurement of trends in arms production and trade.
In recent years Australia has bought combat helicopters from France, German armoured personnel carriers, radar systems from Sweden, Howitzer artillery guns from Britain, air-refuelling tanker aircraft from Spain, as well as fighter aircraft, helicopters, military transport aircraft, Shadow drones, Hellfire anti-tank and Sidewinder air-to-air-missiles from the US.
The Australian Defence Force has also leased Heron drones from Israel.
And the accelerated weapons spending is set to increase further.
Defence was the only area of government expenditure not to be cut in last month's federal budget; its allocation was boosted by 6 per cent – about $1.5 billion. And the government has committed to spending $12.4 billion buying a further 58 new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
The JSF program, of which Australia is one of nine customers, is the world's most expensive weapons project ever.
India, Pakistan and China are the world's biggest importers of weapons, despite China's massive, and growing, domestic arms industry. In total, arms sales to Asia and Oceania account for 47 per cent of the global trade.
SIPRI senior fellow Siemon Wezeman said Asian economies were developing and had money to buy expensive weapons, but also the region was racked by instability.
Antagonism exists across Asia. Tensions between China and Japan have been growing over the contested Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. And China's dispute with the Philippines and Vietnam over claims in the South China Sea reached a flashpoint last month when Vietnamese and Chinese ships collided as China attempted to install an oil rig in an area of ocean claimed by both countries.
Australia is not immune from the regional pressures. Part of its increased spending was part of a “normal, cyclical modernisation of your armed forces”, Mr Wezeman said.
But Australia is also seeking to increase its military capabilities.
"There is a clear sense of potential threat and that threat is a five-letter word starting with C, though it is not always mentioned," he said.