A review of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) has called for a boost in cyber defence capabilities, urging the ADF to prepare itself for a "radically different" security environment.
The Defence Strategic Review 2023, released by the Albanese government on Monday, warns the ADF was structured for "a bygone era", and that it must evolve into an "integrated force" which harnesses effects across five domains, including: maritime, land, air, space and cyber.
The report said the ADF must enhances its cyber capabilities to "deliver the required responsiveness and breadth of capability to support ADF operations".
To achieve this, the report made suggestions for three key areas of cyber focus: delivering a "coherent" and "centralised" cyber capability development and management function; building and maintaining ADF's cyber workforce, and; integrating the defence and management of ADF's command networks and architectures.
The report stresses a need for network and architecture resilience in the face of "persistent penetration and network attack", and recommends an open architecture approach in ADF's hardware and software.
"Australia’s cyber and information operations capabilities must be scaled up and optimised," the report said.
"More countries are able to project combat power across greater ranges, including against our trade and supply routes, which are vital for Australia’s economic prosperity.
"Cyber warfare is not bound by geography.”
The review also highlights strong demand for innovation, calls for greater cooperation with industry and research bodies like universities, and suggests there is a problematic lack of appropriate staff in relation to information and communications technology.
“For one of the most complex ICT networks in Australia, Chief Information Officer Group (CIOG) has a smaller leadership team than Services Australia or the Australian Tax Office, which have much smaller ICT footprints and classified network architecture,” said the report.
A major point of criticism was directed at CIOG's heavy reliance on contractors and outsourcing, for which the report recommends a rebalanced ratio of staff to contractors.
Additionally, the report strongly encourages the establishment of an external "Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator", which would act as the “missing link between Defence and innovative Australian companies beyond the Defence primes”.
"This represents a document for today, and tomorrow. It is the most significant work that's been done since the second world war," said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
"It demonstrates that in a world where challenges to our national security are always evolving, we cannot fall back on old assumptions.
"All of this is making Australia more self-reliant, more prepared, and more secure in the years ahead."
More missiles, more bases
Outside of cyber defence, the review covers a vast range of recommendations for other areas of national security – totalling a government-estimated implementation cost of about $19 billion over an initial four-year budget period.
The Albanese Government has agreed with many of the review recommendations, and has identified a range of priority areas for immediate action, including: developing the ADF's ability to "precisely strike targets at longer-range" and manufacture munitions domestically; improving its ability to operate from Australia's northern bases; and deepening diplomatic and defence partnerships with key partners in the Indo-Pacific.
In action, these priority areas are expected to see the army's maximum range of its weapons increase from 40km to precision strike missile ranges in excess of 500km, as well as the development of a stronger network of bases, barracks and ports across Northern Australia.
The controversial AUKUS project was also mentioned among the government's priority areas, and was strongly supported throughout the defence review via calls for rapid progression and "enhanced lethality".
"Navy must have enhanced lethality – including through its surface fleet and conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarines – underpinned by a continuous naval shipbuilding program," the report said.
Notably, the report also calls for the Commonwealth to work with states and territories to develop “national resilience and response measures" for adverse climate change, specifically at the local level and largely without the need of ADF support.
This recommendation, among with others from the review, was only agreed upon "in principle".