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Canberra to ramp up spending on defence communications

The long-awaited defence white paper has outlined plans for a significant increase in
spending on information and communication technology for the Australian defence
forces, including upgrades to networks and satellite capability. The federal government
has also mapped out a greater role for the private sector, with around A$1.6 billion in
funding over the next decade to develop new technologies for defence.

Launched by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and defence minister Marise Payne,
the defence white paper covers strategy for the next decade, with spending to rise to 2% of GDP by 2020-21 – an increase of almost A$30 billion. Of the A$195 billion of planned investment to 2025‐26, the government has allocated 9% for capital expenditure to boost intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, space, and cyber capabilities.

The white paper claims that underinvestment in information and communications technology over the last decade, coupled with the lack of a coherent enterprise-level strategy for Defence’s complex and rapidly evolving information and communications requirements, has led to serious degradation of its communications capabilities.
“Key capabilities need urgent remediation, in particular to address the shortcomings
of out-dated, and in some cases obsolete, systems that inhibit the conduct of day-to-day business within Defence, with overseas allies and partners, and with industry and the community more broadly,” the document noted.

It said that as technology life cycles continue to shorten, Defence must be able to
move more quickly to acquire contemporary information and communications systems.
The government plans to modernise the defence ICT architecture, which it
says will involve a challenging digital transformation effort. Defence will work with
the Digital Transformation Office on the new architecture.

Meanwhile, defence networks will be made more secure and key information management and operational communications and command and control systems will
be upgraded. The whitepaper stated that priority will be given to strengthening the
resilience and redundancy of satellite-based communications.

Space systems generally will be given a spending boost under the government's
plans. It noted that the ADF and its partners are reliant on space-based satellite systems to support networked capabilities and to communicate and fight when deployed
on operations. To ensure the security of space-enabled capabilities, the government
will strengthen Defence’s space surveillance and situational awareness capabilities,
including through the space surveillance radar operated jointly by Australia
and the United States, and the relocation of a United States optical space surveillance
telescope to Australia.

INDUSTRY ROLE: As well as the whitepaper, the government released a Defence
Industry Policy Statement that will guide collaboration between industry and the
ADF. The statement streamlines numerous existing Defence industry and innovation
programs under two broad initiatives funded at around A$1.6 billion over the
decade to FY 2025–26.

The first initiative is a new Centre for Defence Industry Capability, which will be
led by an advisory board comprised of private sector and Defence representatives.
The centre will drive the strategic partnership with Defence, involve industry in governance of the industry programs and provide a range of business and skilling services. The second initiative is a new approach to innovation through closer collaboration between Defence, industry and research organisations to jointly develop “gamechanging innovation and commercialisation opportunities”.

Funding for innovation will comprise around A$730 million over the decade in a
Next Generation Technologies Fund to invest in strategic technologies. A further
A$640 million will be made available for a new Defence Innovation Hub to undertake
collaborative innovation activities from initial concept, through prototyping and testing
to introduction into service.

Chairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council John Pollaers said
the creation of a Centre of Defence Industry Capability was a good idea, although its
test will be in how well it drives collaboration between industry and defence research.
“It should enable pre-competitive private-public partnerships in research and development
– and strengthen pathways to commercialisation of that research – rather than
just offering business information and other support services,” he said.

“The Defence industry has all the hallmarks for accelerating Australia’s technology
development and diffusion – factors like interoperability of manufacturing hardware
and software, trust across the supply chain, and advanced workforce skills at all levels,”
he noted. Pollaers also called on the government to direct more attention to supporting
Australia’s defence exports.
Geoff Long, Commsday