The government’s REDSPICE cyber security program – a $9.9 billion centrepiece to last week’s budget – has come at the cost of a $1.3 billion Sky Guardian drone project which has already set taxpayers back $10 million, senate estimates revealed on Friday.
Despite the $9.9 billion headline figure championed by the Treasurer in his budget speech, a look at the budget papers showed funding for REDSPICE – a 10-year initiative that will supposedly create 1,900 government cyber security jobs – was largely re-allocated from elsewhere within Defence, and that less than $600 million was new money.
Exactly how Defence would reallocate this funding was a mystery until Senator Penny Wong asked the question to Associate Defence Secretary Matt Yannopolous last week.
Part of the money was from offsets within the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) from projects whose “scope has been subsumed in the REDSPICE”, Yannopolous said.
But there was also a “project cancellation” which the Defence Secretary – who quickly glanced around the room to see if he could announce it publicly – confirmed was the $1.3 billion Sky Guardian project first announced in November 2019.
An unmanned drone, the General Atomics MQ-9B Sky Guardian was set to be procured for its airborne surveillance and precision strike capabilities.
Around $10 million of taxpayer money had already been spent on the project.
Department of Defence CFO Steven Groves said a further $236 million for REDSPICE came from an “ICT remediation project, around modernisation and mobility”.
Much of the remainder of the REDSPICE funding has been provisioned against “approved and unapproved” money from the SEA 1000 Attack class submarine program which was famously cancelled last year in favour of nuclear-powered submarines.
The final cost of the canned submarine program is expected to exceed $5.5 billion.
The REDSPICE cyber security spend was largely welcomed by industry when it was announced last week with local security companies and advocates welcoming the attention to cyber.
But Labor has warned an ongoing cyber security skills shortage could make it near impossible to fill the claimed 1,900 roles created by REDSPICE over the coming years.
Shadow Defence Minister Brendan O’Connor described the pool of cyber security talent as “heavily contested” and said there was already a “massive backlog in security clearances” exacerbating the problem.
“Given the rapidly escalating cyber threats facing the nation, Australians can’t afford for REDSPICE to become the latest major defence capability project that never makes it from announcement to delivery,” he said.