Defence gets $3.4bn boost to accelerate advance tech development

The Federal Government has announced a $3.4 billion investment over the next decade to innovate its defence technology sector, establishing as part of its plans a new program to hypercharge innovation: the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA).

This means that the planned transformation of Australia’s defence innovation ecosystem will stand at an additional $557.5 million above current planned spending.

The Defence Strategic Review, released in April, concluded that Australia had already lost its ten-year warning time for a major conventional attack (as an appropriate basis for defence planning), and now requires more support for innovations as well as better links between defence and industry.

The key element of the strategy overhaul, and part of the Government’s efforts to innovate the industry, will be the establishment of a new innovation accelerator, which it said will “lead the way in agile delivery of capability solutions to the Australian Defence Force”.

Among the priorities of the ASCA include a focus on hypersonics, quantum technology, information warfare, directed energy, trusted autonomy and long-range fires.

It will also focus on defined missions, solving the most relevant technical issues, and taking a more flexible and agile approach to procurement that will “ensure game-changing ideas are developed into capabilities that give the ADF an asymmetric advantage”.

The Government said the program will also be a boon for jobs creation across the Australian defence industry that commercialise these technologies.

ASCA, which is set to be up and running by 1 July 2023, includes a phased 18-month development, testing and refinement period to shape its operating model. It will be guided by senior defence representatives, the Vice Chief of the Defence Force, Chief Defence Scientist and the Deputy Secretary, Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group.

The program supersedes the Defence Innovation Hub and Next Generation Technologies Fund, which the Defence Strategic Review identified as no longer fit for purpose in Australia’s current strategic environment.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister, Richard Marles said: “The Defence Strategic Review clearly identified that Australia must invest in the transition to new and innovative technologies for our Defence Force.

“This is precisely what the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator will deliver.”

Marles added: “Central to this will be our ongoing work to operationalise Pillar Two of the AUKUS agreement, which seeks to develop and provide capabilities such as undersea warfare and hypersonics for Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States.”

Minister for Defence Industry, Pat Conroy, added that ASCA program “will respond to our highest priorities, bringing essential capabilities to our forces at the speed of relevance”.

“Delivering emerging disruptive technologies into the hands of the warfighter is critical.”

“Innovation must translate into acquisition, and the Defence Accelerator will address the very real and urgent need to turn emerging technologies into game-changing capabilities. Linking technology development to speedy acquisition will also create many more jobs in the Australian defence industry.”

The Review found that information and communications technology (ICT) is a critical component of Defence and its modern warfighting capability, underpinning the defence force’s preparedness.

However, a major constraint in this area has been the limited number of senior staff, which has resulted in issues with scale and timely delivery. This was evidenced by project slippage and value loss to industry integrators.

Further to that, despite being among the most complex ICT networks in Australia, Defence’s Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG) maintains a smaller leadership team than that of Services Australia or the Australian Tax Office (ATO), which both have much smaller ICT footprints and classified network architectures.

Additionally, the Review found that the CIOG had become too reliant on individual contractors and was already heavily outsourced. On top of this, there were insufficient ADF and APS staff to manage these contractors
and providers, requiring substantial rebalancing.

Recommendations from the Review included:

  • The appointment of a dedicated senior official for Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG) capability management leadership, as well as a dedicated senior official accountable for the secret network, and a rebalancing of the CIOG workforce to a 60:40 APS- and ADF-to-contractor ratio.
  • Enhancement of Defence’s cybersecurity arrangements, in close collaboration with the Australian Signals Directorate.
  • Increasing the capability of Defence’s cybersecurity operations within the Chief Information Officer Group, with legacy systems and platforms to be decommissioned.