Defence white paper lands: Cyber-threat is huge, spend is small

Let's hope the ADF gets the best security pros, 'cause there won't be many of them

The Australian government has revealed its Defence White Paper and it seems most of the AU$25 billion discussed in the context of all-the-cybers is going to be spent on drones.

The electronic warfare and electronic security spend is much more modest, both in systems and in personnel. In total, the white paper devotes nine per cent of the future defence budget to “ISR, EW, space and cyber” [ISR – intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; EW – electronic warfare; The Register].

That's in spite of the usual hand-waving such a document contains regarding the cyber-threats: “State and non-state actors now have ready access to highly capable and technologically advanced tools to target others through internet-connected systems and we are seeing greater use of offensive cyber operations. This trend is likely to continue”.

Similarly vague: “To counter the growing threat of cyber attack, the Government is improving our national cyber security capabilities. Defence’s cyber security capabilities will be strengthened to protect the Australian Defence Force's (ADF’s) warfighting and information networks. Defence will contribute to the Government’s enhanced national cyber security efforts, which include better coordinated cyber security capabilities and working with industry and academia to counter the threat of cyber attack.”

There's a lot less “cyber” the spending that at first glance. The government's at-a-glance outline (PDF) doesn't break down the headcount, but the hires will cover support for new platforms like the F-35 JSF, the P-8A Poseidon aircraft, naval craft, communications, counter-terrorism, and intelligence collection and analysis.

The ten-year spend, the white paper says, will direct AU$195 billion to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, space, electronic warfare and cyber security.

The white paper suggests 1,700 personnel should be added to these functions over the next ten years, 900 in the Australian Defence Force and 800 in supporting civilian roles.

The full white paper (PDF) notes the civilian public service positions – there will be another 300 in other areas – will come from cuts in other departments, which will make the Department of Defence probably Canberra's least-loved cohort among their peers.

With the aforementioned 900 ADF positions also covering F-35 support, aircraft and ships, special forces, surveillance and intelligence, what's left for information security may not amount to much.

Facilities dollars will towards an expansion to the Jindalee Operational Radar Network, a C-band optical space surveillance telescope to be operated out of Western Australia, and as many as five long-range electronic warfare aircraft.

Satellite communications for the ADF will get a boost with upgrades to ground stations, as well as additional mobile land terminals.

For the tinfoil hat brigade, there will also be upgrades the the Harold E Holt Communications Facility in Western Australia, and the HMAS Harman facility in the Australian Capital Territory.

Space enthusiasts will be pleased that the ADF considers debris among the spectrum of threats: “Satellite systems are vulnerable to space debris, which could damage or disable satellites, and advanced counter-space capabilities, such as anti-satellite missiles, which can deny, disrupt and destroy our space-based systems. It is therefore important to be able to detect and track objects in space so Defence can plan to manage the effects of any possible damage to our space-based capabilities”.

Quantum engineers will be throwing their hats into the air, or not, as the case may be. They at least get thrown a bone, along with lovers of ray guns: "Over the next two decades, other technological advances such as quantum computing, innovative manufacturing, hypersonics, directed energy weapons, and unmanned systems are likely to lead to the introduction of new weapons into our region." ®

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