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EXCLUSIVE: DSTG reorganises to tackle Australian defence challenges

Chief Defence Scientist Tanya Monro, AC, at the ADSTAR 2022 summit. She has initiated a major change process within DSTG and predicts that the information domain will become increasingly dominant (top – HMAS Diamantina’s Operations Room). Photos: Defence

“it’s now really clear that we need the asymmetry that Science and Technology provides because of the worsening geopolitical circumstances, and we need to find ways to accelerate taking those good ideas that come from R&D and pulling them through to capability.”

Gregor Ferguson

Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist, Professor Tanya Monro AC, couldn’t have put it much more succinctly. The professional head of the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) made it clear in an exclusive  interview with EXthat Australia’s worsening strategic environment has resulted in a complete change in the way the organisation handles science, technology and commercialisation.

“I think without question the whole information domain is going to become increasingly dominant,” she says. “And I mean everything from human influence right through to information warfare. All of our platforms are information platforms.”

Professor Monro, who was appointed in 2019, believes it is a 140 degree shift in defence science policy compared with 20 years ago, rather than a full 180 degree shift, but it is highly significant nonetheless.

A former Chief Defence Scientist once told EXthat DSTO (as it was then called) didn’t do R&D anymore, except in a very narrow and targeted way – its role was to help Defence become a smart buyer and sustainer. But 20 years on, DSTG is focussing on technology development, future-proofing the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and building the scale of R&D effort needed to tackle Defence’s challenges and not simply to understand them.

To achieve that scale, along with the sheer breadth of research expertise needed to address the ADF’s needs, DSTG has vastly expanded its external research networks, most notably with the ADSUN – the Australian Defence Science University Network – alongside its existing HPRNet or Human Performance Research Network.

A related issue is that DSTG was being spread very thin – at one time it was processing, or trying to process, about 1,500 separate client requirements. With a small professional workforce this worked out at about 1.1 scientists per requirement so, as Professor Monro points out, the organisation was only ever one retirement or one illness away from losing an essential but very fragile capability.

And it is looking hard at commercialisation – the process of taking Intellectual Property (IP) from the laboratory or workshop and getting it quickly into the hands of warfighters as a useable product or service. Why the focus on speed? “The reason why there’s such a very, very, strong focus is because what we want is to be able to make sure that there’s an industry landscape that can respond to acquisition requirements,” she says.

Sovereignty and speed are related: if you can do something in-country you may be able to do it much faster than if you’re waiting for a foreign contractor (and government); and you can do it in secret, if necessary. But you can only achieve stuff in-country if the companies and skills exist to do so, a view which has underpinned defence industry policy since 2016 and informs DSTG’s change process.

“So, part of it is about creating the right ecosystem where we can actually have commercial options in Australia that can not only solve defence problems but play into international supply chains,” says Professor Monro.


To achieve all of this, some of DSTG’s biggest changes have been internal. The Australian Defence, Science Technology and Research Summit 2022, or ADSTAR, highlighted the changes that had taken place within DSTG, many of them previously unnoticed. The key takeaways for most attendees at ADSUN were the organisation’s focus on resilience, sovereignty, innovation and disruption.

The organisation has a new structure. Its focus on disruptive innovation and a swift transition to frontline service is new. And its encapsulation of Defence’s future challenges in the Science, Technology and Research Shots, or STaR Shots, signals a new way of attacking the ADF’s operational challenges.

The 2016 Defence White Paper was the first step on this journey of change. It identified the discrete technology investment priorities which would be pursued under the Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF), which DSTG administers.

The Defence Science and Technology Strategy 2030, titled ‘More, together’, introduced the STaR Shots: these are not discrete technologies, but far more complex problem statements. They are an acknowledgement that technology may be an essential part of the solution, but it isn’t the only part. There may be new ways of doing things that can add vital leverage to the technology you put in the hands of the warfighter, so the eight STaR Shots are designed to focus the organisation’s resources in a much more useful way.

For example, the Disruptive Weapon Effects STaR Shot is described as “Delivering emerging and disruptive weapon capabilities for multi-domain combat in highly contested environments.” Unpack that bald statement and two things jump out at you: firstly, no actual technology is specified; secondly, the breadth of knowledge and expertise required to deliver (or defend against) a disruptive weapons effect goes well beyond the stovepipe of a single technology. The potential for lateral thinking by teams of experts from a variety of very different backgrounds is almost unlimited.

To pull all this together, under Professor Monro DSTG has undergone a major re-structure. Its divisional structure has been reshaped into three main parts: Enabling; Program Delivery; and Capability Development. Within that structure lie ten research divisions, most of which host and support much of the research effort in related STaR Shots

The Enabling part has six leaders. Mr Ivan Zlabur is Chief Engineering Advisor while Dr Nigel McGinty is Chief Technology Officer for Strategy and National Security; he works with two Chief Technology Officers for Innovation and Strategic Research – Professor Michelle Gee and Mr Richard Bartholomeusz.

Then the actual divisions begin: Mr Mark Bazzacco is Chief of Operations Enablement Division which provides the essential enabling services that make defence R&D possible while Dr David Kershaw is Chief of Science Strategic Planning and Engagement Division which drives the strategic direction of DSTG’s R&D and shapes the organisation’s engagement with the universities and research providers who make up Australia’s broader science, technology and innovation eco-system.

Program Delivery has four Chiefs: Dr Shane Canney who is Chief of Air and Space Division; Mr Andrew Seedhouse who is Chief of Cyber, Intelligence and National Security Division; Dr Peter Shoubridge who is Chief of Land and Joint Warfare Division; and Dr Anthony Szabo who is Chief of Maritime Division.

Finally, the Capability Development part also has four Chiefs: Dr Katerina Agostino who is Chief of Human and Decision Sciences Division; Dr Dale Lambert is Chief of Information Sciences Division; Professor Emily Hilder is Chief of Platforms Division; and Dr Sylvie Perreau is Chief of Sensors and Effectors Division.

Some of these Chiefs are doing roughly the same jobs they were before and in which they have built up a formidable amount of expertise and experience. But some of the recent appointees have a clear mandate to effect change in the way the parts of DSTG work together and in how the organisation relates to its external customers and partners.

And the reason for these changes is simple: the ADF needs them. “The ADF is the reason we exist,” says Professor Monro firmly. And to support the ADF in this new, rather scary world, DSTG’s job is changing: “We do everything, from the technology horizon scanning and foresighting so that the military understands the impacts that emerging disruptive technology will have on their future operations.”

Threats and Opportunities

While DSTG responds to its main customer’s concerns as it has always done, it also needs to explain to that customer that there are often other things it hasn’t considered that could represent either a threat or an opportunity – or both. And it needs to identify ways of mitigating the threats and exploiting the opportunities. So which are the technology areas that DSTG needs to focus on in the future?

“In many ways, if you look at the names of my four Capability Development positions, it gives you a pretty clear sense of what I think are the core broad areas,” Professor Monro tells EX2. “I think without question the whole information domain is going to become increasingly dominant. And I mean everything, from human influence right through to information warfare. All of our platforms are information platforms.

“All the way through from peace time to acute large-scale conflict, we’re now in a world where information is the dominant paradigm and thus the dominant vulnerability. And so, I think that’s undoubtedly the first, second and third answer to your question.”

“Then, I think that ultimately the things that are most important now are the ones that give that asymmetry where, through a sustainable application of both human and financial resources, Australia can deliver a deterrent,” she adds.

The deterrent effect of useable combat capability can’t be under-estimated she says: this could be the uncertainty in a potential adversary’s mind when he doesn’t know what undersea assets we might have and what they’re capable of doing, or the certainty that that the ADF’s satellite communications are resilient and can be reconfigured quickly to go on working no matter what has been thrown at them.

“To me, that is what matters.”

The word ‘useable’ is significant: speed of transition into service is also important, she says, “Because potential adversaries are moving fast. And what we cannot afford is…to be locked into technology that is already non-competitive by the time it hits initial operating capability.”

Unpack that statement in your own time: it underlines the change process that Professor Monro has been driving within DSTG and a broader movement for change that is becoming more apparent across Defence as a whole.

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