The development of critical technologies identified in AUKUS Pillar II like quantum and artificial intelligence will be “prioritised” as part of the Albanese government’s response to the Defence Strategic Review.
The government has also backed a shake up at Australia’s defence science agency to match new priorities outlined in the review like nuclear-powered submarines and long-range missiles, while the additional defence research agency promised during the election has been renamed.
Now known as the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator, the agency will be up and running “as quickly as possible” to help local industry get past defence prime contractors to deliver “asymmetric advantage” directly to Australia’s defence forces.
“Technology and Asymmetric Advantage” is a key theme of the fast tracked Defence Strategic Review 2023, according to the public version released on Monday.
During conflict, asymmetric advantage is a military action deployed against an adversary that may have no effective response. It can also mean the application of dissimilar capabilities, tactics or strategies to circumvent an opponent’s strengths, rendering them ineffective or too costly.
The review recommends a strategic shift towards developing advanced asymmetric advantages like undersea warfare and hypersonics to deliver a qualitative advantage in “critical military technology areas” or at least keep pace with adversaries.
This would be a significant move away from Australia’s “no longer feasible” reliance on the US-led broad-based regional capability edge that has existed since the second World War, according to the review.
The US will still play a huge role, including under the AUKUS security pact. In addition to nuclear-powered submarines, the three nations have agreed to share information on certain technologies like quantum, AI, electronic warfare and advanced cyber to help deliver advanced capabilities to their respective defence forces.
The Defence Strategic Review has recommended AUKUS Pillar II Advanced Capabilities “be prioritised in the shortest possible time”.
The Albanese government accepted the recommended acceleration, as well as the establishment of a new dedicated senior role to oversee it.
A recommendation to align Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) funding and resources to the priorities outlined in the review has also been accepted.
The new priorities have been outlined after the review found Australia’s defence forces are no longer “fully fit for purpose” in “radically different” strategic circumstances, mainly a rapid military build-up by China.
A national Defence Strategy in 2024 will give more detail but the government on Monday outlined six priority areas in response to the review. They are the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines; a long-range strike capability and munitions build-up; expanding bases in northern Australia; the defence workforce; translating disruptive technologies; and deepening ties with key Indo-Pacific partners.
“Defence must have a national science and technology system that enables the development of disruptive military capabilities, including harnessing advanced and emerging technologies to provide asymmetric advantage for the ADF,” the review said.
“Defence’s science and technology system must be optimised to deliver capability by focusing on Defence’s strategic priorities and developing scale through leveraging national and international partners.”
It is unclear how this alignment of DSTG resources will occur. Exactly how well DSTG programs are currently functioning in achieving those priorities is also not clear. A late-2021 review of its major innovation and technology programs understood to be critical has never been released.
While DSTG will be more closely aligned with the priorities of defence, a new research agency should operate outside it, the review said.
The Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA) – an Albanese government election commitment that has had no funding and little detail until Monday – can provide the “missing link between Defence and innovative Australian companies beyond the Defence primes”, according to the review.
“It is our view 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,” it said.
Defence industry minister Pat Conroy confirmed the ASCA is the Australian Strategic Research Agency Labor committed to in the 2022 election campaign but did not fund in its first budget last year.
“We’re really focused on getting this organisation up and running as quickly as possible,” Mr Conroy told InnovationAus.com on Monday.
“And that’s driven the structure that we’ve chosen for it. But ASCA will be critical in driving defence innovation, in providing opportunities for Australian based companies to provide technical solutions to challenges that the ADF is seeing in the field right now or over the next decade. But you can expect further announcements on that.”
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