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Australia’s DSR emphasises ‘impactful projection’, rapid innovation

The Australian government has released its long-awaited Defence Strategic Review, commissioned in August 2022, in the form of an unclassified version titled simply National Defence. It is presented as the most significant re-casting of Australia’s defence policy and posture since the celebrated Dibb Report of 1987. You can download a copy here.

It says the Australian Defence Force (ADF) must evolve into a genuine Integrated Force which harnesses effects across all five domains: maritime, land, air, space and cyber. The Review says that investing in the critical capabilities required in these domains will require divesting, delaying, or re-scoping other activities that do not advance the attributes of the Integrated Force. And its operational success will depend on that Force’s ability to apply what the Review describes as critical capabilities:

  • undersea warfare capabilities (crewed and uncrewed) optimised for persistent, long-range sub-surface intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike
  • an enhanced integrated targeting capability
  • an enhanced long-range strike capability in all domains
  • a fully enabled, integrated amphibious-capable combined-arms land system;
  • enhanced, all-domain, maritime capabilities for sea denial operations and localised sea control
  • a networked expeditionary air operations capability
  • an enhanced, all-domain, integrated air and missile defence capability
  • a joint, expeditionary theatre logistics system with strategic depth and mobility
  • a theatre command and control framework that enables an enhanced Integrated Force
  • a developed network of northern bases to provide a platform for logistics support, denial and deterrence.

The Review strongly supports both the acquisition of the previously announced nuclear-powered submarine and the establishment of an Australian Submarine Agency; and it also recommends ongoing commitment to a continuous naval shipbuilding program, though another review later this year may result in significant changes to Navy’s build program and Order of Battle.

National Defence also states the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) and the new Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA) must enable Australia’s research and industry sectors to focus their work on the development of advanced and asymmetric capabilities in key technological areas.

To enable all this, the Minister for Defence, Richard Marles, and the Minister for Defence Industry, Mr Pat Conroy, said in a joint statement:

“The Government has directed Defence to immediately begin work to:

  • Remove unnecessary barriers to acquisitions
  • Streamline strategically important projects and low-complexity procurements
  • Make faster decisions in the delivery of Defence projects
  • Develop practical solutions in close consultation with defence industry

These reforms will cut red tape and see Defence become a better partner with industry, which will help to deliver the capability the Australian Defence Force needs, when they need it.”

Later this year, they promise, the Australian government will also release a Defence Industry Development Strategy that will set out:

  • The strategic rationale for a sovereign defence industrial base
  • More targeted and detailed Sovereign Industrial Capability Priorities
  • A plan to grow industry’s workforce to deliver a viable industrial base and increase Australia’s defence exports
  • Reforms to defence procurement to support the development of Australian defence industry and respond to the Review
  • Mechanisms to improve security within defence businesses
  • A detailed implementation plan

Most of National Defence’s recommendations will be covered more than adequately by other specialist publications. This report in EX2 is concerned mainly with the contents of Chapters 9 – Technology and Asymmetric Advantage – and 12 – Capability Acquisition, Risk and Accountability.

Chapter 9, which is one of the shortest in the report, picks up on Chief Defence Scientist Prof. Tanya Monro AC’s persistent use of three words: Asymmetry, Acceleration and Urgency. It defines Asymmetric advantage and why it matters to Australia: it is no longer feasible to maintain a broad-based regional capability edge, so it’s vital to maintain parity or a qualitative advantage in critical military technology areas.

This Chapter ends with three recommendations: DSTG funding and resources should be aligned with the priorities identified in the review; the development of selected critical technology areas as part of AUKUS Pillar 2 should be prioritised in the shortest possible time; and a senior ADF officer or civilian official should be appointed to have sole responsibility and a singular focus on AUKUS Pillar 2 implementation to expedite capability outcomes.

The AUKUS Pillar 2 section of Chapter 9 notes the ‘trilateral delivery’ – in other words, joint R&D and acquisition – of enhanced capabilities: undersea warfare; hypersonics; autonomy and robotics; cyber warfare; and electronic warfare.  National Defencestates these will contribute to strengthening all of the AUKUS partners’ industrial bases and eliminate barriers to information sharing and technological cooperation. This suggests that change can be expected in the US government’s notorious ITAR (International Transfer in Arms Regulations) Regime

Chapter 9 also states the importance of a national and even international science and technology system that enables the development of disruptive military capabilities, including harnessing advanced and emerging technologies to provide the ADF with an asymmetric advantage.

Defence has committed to establishing an Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA) that provides the missing link between Defence and innovative smaller Australian companies – it will enable rapid development and then acquisition of strategically important high-technology capabilities. Importantly, the authors state that ASCA must be an unencumbered entity outside of Defence that receives capability priorities from Force Design Division and works with industry to develop innovative asymmetric capability solutions.

Which brings us neatly to Chapter 12 – Capability Acquisition, Risk and Accountability. The government agrees that defence’s current capability acquisition process “is not fit for purpose” and that Defence will make the necessary reforms to achieve more relevant and timely outcomes “with an emphasis on minimum viable capability.”

“There is a clear need for a more efficient acquisition process,” says National Defense. “The increasing volume and complexity of capability projects is overwhelming Defence’s capability system, its limited workforce and its resource base.”

“To enable Australian defence industry to deliver capability, acquisition processes must minimise the burden of working with Defence, particularly for small and medium enterprises,” the Review adds. “This will have the advantage of faster capability delivery while building depth in Australian defence industry where required.”

However, it says also that Defence must consider Australian industry content when it makes sense and delivers capability outcomes on time. “It is essential to ensure Australian sovereign defence industry capability is supported where it makes strategic sense.” One of its recommendations is that Australian industry content and domestic production should be balanced against timely capability acquisition.

So the DSR argues for a Science and Technology (S&T) base that can develop asymmetric capability quickly, both on a sovereign basis and as part of AUKUS Pillar 2, and get this into service faster thanks to a significantly enhanced capability development and acquisition process.

But there are no dollar figures attached to any of these proposals. We’ll need to wait until the Federal Budget on May 9 to see dollars allocated to specific programs – and the Navy will need to wait until an independent analysis of its surface combatant fleet is completed nearer the end of this year before it discovers what (probably major) changes are in its future.

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