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Billions committed to modernise Defence ICT

by Jon Cottam •
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$270 billion will be invested in Defence capabilities out to 2030, according to an announcement by the Morrison Government last week. The announcement was accompanied by the release of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update (DSU) and 2020 Force Structure Plan (FSP) to guide the investment. The significant injection of funding to grow ICT (and related capabilities) as part of this investment highlights ICT’s critical role in Australia’s national security future.

The DSU and FSP do not signify an abandonment of the 2016 Defence White Paper. Instead they reflect a reconsideration of the strategic environment that has undergone significant change since the White Paper’s release.

Importantly, the documents acknowledge the need for effective capability for Australia to counter “‘grey-zone’ activities” which cannot be addressed through our new fighter jets, warships and submarines. Grey-zone activities seek to manipulate the actions of countries without the use of conventional force and “are facilitated by technological developments including cyber warfare” according to the DSU.

Information and Cyber” capabilities will receive a significant boost of some $15 billion over the next decade. Recent attacks on Australia’s critical infrastructure and government systems highlight the timeliness of the funding announcement. While Australia’s cyber defences will receive greater funding, the Morrison Government also has more expansive plans for Australia’s ability to conduct cyber operations.

While Defence already possesses “offensive cyber capability”, the capability to attack a hostile actor’s cyber systems and integrated infrastructure, it has taken a backseat to conventional military capability. As the DSU highlights, Defence will grow “offensive cyber and operational cyberspace capabilities” that will support ADF operations. In addition, Defence asserts that domestic industry can support improvements to the way in which Defence communicates and shares critical information.

Some $15 billion will be channelled into “the Defence enterprise”, including the “acquisition of a space-based imagery capability to enhance coverage of the Indo-Pacific region.” The ADF will also see improvements in the way it trains, including more advanced simulations.

Space capabilities will see an injection of some $7 billion to 2030 to support operations. There will be “investment in space situational awareness, including sensors and tracking systems” according to the DSU. In addition, Defence seeks to strengthen Australia’s defences against attacks on these capabilities, with domestic industry to also play a key collaborative role.

When coupled with Australia’s new airpower and sea power, these improved cyber capabilities will enhance Australia’s power projection. Increased space and imaging capability will enhance readiness, understanding of the prevailing global environment and support operations.

The FSP lists areas of technology that together “will inform Defence’s approach to ICT investment and technology pathways.” There is no firm commitment from Defence to adopt these technologies but the language does skew towards their uptake:

current and emerging technologies Defence will consider over the next five years include next generation wireless networks, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, augmented analytics, and edge computing. Over the next six to ten years, Defence ICT capability is likely to need to include robotics, blockchain, immersive technologies, artificial intelligence and quantum computing. 

In regard to sustainment, the FSP introduces the ICT Capability Assurance Program in order to maximise use of existing capabilities and enable their ongoing use while newer capabilities are being introduced.

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