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Contributions to the national debate, by selected topic

Change in Australia’s strategic environment and the implications for defence strategy and policy

How the geopolitical partnership between China and Russia threatens the West

How the geopolitical partnership between China and Russia threatens the West

Paul Dibb
29 November 2019
We are in an era when the risks of major-power conflict are growing. The most likely contenders are China, the rising power, and the US, the formerly dominant power that’s now in relative decline.
The other worrying contingency is conflict between Russia and US-led NATO. But what about the third possibility: the prospect of China and Russia collaborating to challenge American power? The most dangerous scenario for America would be a grand coalition of China and Russia united not by ideology but by complementary grievances.
This paper examines Russian and Chinese concepts of great-power war in the 21st century, their views of the West and its military capabilities, and what risks they might both take to regain lost territories.
The paper concludes by examining how America might react, the implications of all this for the West, including Australia, and what sort of armed conflict might be involved.

Selected posts from The Strategist
• ‘Blowing up diplomacy on the Korean peninsula’, Malcolm Davis, 22 June 2020
• ‘White Paper update must not be about defending the 2016 status quo’, Michael Shoebridge, 8 June 2020
• ‘The US and Hong Kong: a chance to contrast freedom with repression’, Michael Shoebridge, 3 June 2020
• ‘Global action needed as Beijing ramps up pressure on Hong Kong and Taiwan’, Michael Shoebridge, 29 May 2020
• ‘Victoria’s Belt and Road Initiative deal undermines cohesive national China policy’, Michael Shoebridge, 22 May 2020
• ‘China won’t save the global economy this time’, Michael Shoebridge, 20 May 2020
• ‘Resolution, recovery and reinvention: how Australia can help Southeast Asia respond to Covid-19’, Huong Le Thu, 20 May 2020
• ‘How to deal with the increasing risk of doing business with China’, Michael Shoebridge, 16 May 2020
• ‘Is China in breach of its nuclear-testing commitments?’, Rod Lyon, 14 May 2020
• ‘US–China rivalry must not derail international inquiry into Covid-19’, Michael Shoebridge, 8 May 2020
• ‘Australia and New Zealand should plan to expand the trans-Tasman bubble to the Pacific islands’, Michael Shoebridge, 7 May 2020
• ‘Why Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam have been effective in fighting Covid-19’, Huong Le Thu, 16 April 2020
• ‘Geopolitics in the time of corona’, Rod Lyon, 1 April 2020
• ‘How much will coronavirus change the global strategic balance?’, Brendan Nicholson and Michael Shoebridge, 1 April 2020
• ‘Will the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty survive the 2020s?’, Rod Lyon, 20 February 2020
• ‘Solomon Islands and Kiribati switching sides isn’t just about Taiwan’, Michael Shoebridge, 24 September 2019
• ‘How Hong Kong plays out will define both China and our world’, Michael Shoebridge, 7 August 2019
• ‘China’s Cambodia gambit’, Malcolm Davis, 29 July 2019

Cyber policy, security and technologies and their application to Australian national decision-making and security


National security agencies and the cloud: an urgent capability issue for Australia

 an urgent capability issue for Australia

John Coyne, Michael Shoebridge and Albert Zhang
27 May 2020
This report argues for a rapid, large-scale investment in secure cloud infrastructure for Australia’s national security community, making the intelligence agencies an early focus. The report seeks to shift perceptions of new technology as capabilities, rather than as business enablers, and calls on agency executives to drive the required change.
US national security agencies already have at least five years lead over their Australian partner agencies. Decisions in the US now are not about whether to adopt cloud infrastructure and functionality, but how best to orchestrate and manage what has become a reasonably crowded and chaotic multi-cloud environment.
A major investment in secure national cloud capabilities must be made by at least the intelligence organisations, with big defence and other less agile agencies following suit. This report identifies four obstacles that agencies will need to overcome.
First, they have not planned or budgeted for a move such as this. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he has already kicked in to raise the defence budget and is hesitant to increase government spending further.
Second, agencies usually function independently. Cloud infrastructure, however, will be most effective as a joint initiative, at least between the intelligence agencies and defence organisations. This will require massive organisational and cultural shifts towards greater collaboration and interdependence. In addition, by leveraging the purchasing power across the national security community, Australia can get the best bang for its buck and share the responsibility for security.
Third, there is a lack of knowledge and skills in cloud computing in Australia that is part of a broader shortage of skills in science, technology, engineering and maths. To be able to operate cloud infrastructure efficiently and effectively in the long term, agencies will need to be able to build and retain expertise in those areas.
Last, establishing trust and assessing risk will be key issues. The number of providers that could work with the Australian national security community to build a cloud foundation is relatively limited. It includes global providers as well as credible Australian cloud providers that have designed their approaches with security and sovereignty in mind.
To succeed, organisational and cultural changes to overcome these obstacles need to be driven by ministers and agency heads. Chief information and technology officers and security staff have important and useful internal roles to keep systems and services running and identify new risks. Security, however, is merely one important factor in the decision-making process. The capability benefits of cloud infrastructure and services that we all understand when looking at the world’s tech giants must weigh heavily in the decision-making.
The report attracted widespread attention from industry and government. The authors continue to be actively engaged with both the public and private sectors on developing Australia’s national security cloud.

Selected posts from The Strategist
• ‘Cloud computing transformation must be led by ministers and agency heads’, John Coyne, Michael Shoebridge and Albert Zhang, 27 May 2020
• ‘Harnessing Defence’s technological strengths for combat and coronavirus’, Michael Shoebridge, 23 April 2020
• ‘Democratisation of technology: Iran shows Australia what’s possible’, Michael Shoebridge, 9 December 2019
• ‘How China’s 5G ascent could herald the end of big tech’, Michael Shoebridge, 3 December 2019
• ‘Lessons from the ANU cyberattack’, Michael Shoebridge, 4 October 2019
• ‘The cyber threat to satellites’, Malcolm Davis, 9 September 2019
• ‘Why Australia’s national security agencies need the cloud’, Michael Shoebridge, 30 July 2019

Capability assessment and change, including the implications of disruptive and emerging technologies for militaries and national security agencies


Accelerating autonomy: autonomous systems and the Tiger helicopter replacement

 autonomous systems and the Tiger helicopter replacement

Marcus Hellyer
11 December 2019
Accelerating autonomy: autonomous systems and the Tiger helicopter replacement examines how Defence can jump start the transition to greater use of autonomous systems.
Report author Dr Marcus Hellyer said that ‘Defence has slowly been developing trust in unmanned systems. It’s laid a foundation; now it’s time to do a lot more.’ The report argues that Defence needs to identify areas of capability in which autonomous systems can deliver disruptive innovation. Investing in those systems can deliver more capability at less cost than traditional manned systems.
The report makes the following recommendations for Defence:
• Double the budget of the Next Generation Technologies Fund and Defence Innovation Hub to boost investment in the development of emergent technologies—around $850 million over the next six years.
• Continue to prioritise autonomous systems and their enablers, such as artificial intelligence, for innovation funding.
• Retain the Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter in service beyond 2025 to at least 2030 and invest a portion of the funding saved in obsolescence management and limited upgrade of the Tiger—indicatively, around $750 million.
• Redefine the Tiger replacement in its Integrated Investment Program to clearly set out the effects sought rather than specify a particular platform solution, so that a full range of options to deliver those effects can be identified and explored; avoid acquiring another manned helicopter to replace the Tiger unless it can be clearly demonstrated after extended development, acquisition and evaluation that autonomous systems combined with other capabilities in or entering service will not be able to deliver the effects sought by 2030.

• Acquire a broader range of small, precision-guided munitions for the Reaper and other capabilities already in service or currently being acquired, at an indicative cost of around $300 million.
• Explore whether munitions these systems use can be domestically designed and manufactured. The munitions could also be integrated onto the autonomous battlefield aviation systems to be developed and acquired under other recommendations.
• Establish a funding line of $1 billion over the next decade in its investment plan to support experimentation with and acquisition of unmanned autonomous systems to deliver disruptive battlefield aviation effects.

Defence budget analysis, including analysis of cost drivers, implementation of the Integrated Investment Program and industry policy aspects.


Defence projects and the economy

Defence projects and the economy

Rob Bourke
21 August 2019
This report examines what the national economy stands to gain from nearly $100 billion of planned investment in new defence capital equipment, including submarines, frigates and military vehicles.
The report emphasises that, although the general public has been informed about some of the economic benefits of those projects, it has limited access to reliable information on most of their economic costs. Nor has the public been fully informed of how much of what goes into the projects will be produced in Australia.
The picture emerging from information available publicly contrasts with the image of vessel and vehicle projects as a major source of ‘jobs and growth’. At best, the projects appear to have a small positive impact on economic activity due to the substantial economic costs involved.
Author Rob Bourke said that ‘for such large projects whose economic benefits have been portrayed as being far above their economic costs, it’s surprising how little supporting evidence has been made available to Australian taxpayers.

‘With the economic upside of projects touted widely but the economic downside largely hidden from public view, it’s difficult to assess the merits of investments of national significance.
‘Government messaging suggests that projects add much more to the economy than they take away. The evidence available publicly paints a different picture: Australia potentially paying a lot to protect a little.
‘Vessel and vehicle acquisitions might now be difficult to alter. Nonetheless, the lessons in transparency that they provide are important to consider for future investments by Defence, especially with calls for its budget to move well above the current target of
2% of GDP.’
Selected posts from The Strategist
• ‘Australia’s defence budget in the age of Covid-19: unsustainable sustainment?’,
Marcus Hellyer, 23 June 2020
• ‘Australia needs to ensure it has the advanced missiles it needs’, Michael Shoebridge, 30 Jun 2020
• ‘Australia’s defence budget in the age of Covid-19: room for a cut?’, Marcus Hellyer,
1 June 2020
• ‘Australia’s defence budget in the age of Covid-19: where are we now?’, Marcus Hellyer, 15 May 2020
• ‘Urgent lessons for Australia in US defence budget’, Michael Shoebridge, 10 March 2020
• ‘Has the cost of Australia’s future submarines gone up?’, parts 1 and 2, Marcus Hellyer, April 2020