Australia's Defence White Paper Reflects Malcolm Turnbull's Innovative Political Strategy

25/02/2016 11:25 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Stefan Postles via Getty Images
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 11: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull listens to Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss announce his retirement in the House of Representatives on February 11, 2016 in Canberra, Australia. Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss and Trade Minister Andrew Robb will retire at the next election. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Capable, potent, agile. It's the new ethos of Australia's military, as laid out in the Turnbull government's first defence white paper, which has the technophile Prime Minister's fingerprints all over it.

The budget for Australia's defence will almost double over the next decade, rising from $32 billion next financial year to nearly $59 billion by 2025-26. Around $448 billion will be poured into the coffers of army, navy and air force over the 10 years, with Thursday's white paper -- the first commissioned by the new Turnbull government -- to tip an additional $30 billion over previous plans.

The big ticket items include 12 "regionally superior" submarines to replace an ageing Collins-class fleet in what is being called the "largest defence procurement program in Australia's history", nine anti-submarine frigates, 12 new patrol vessels, big investments into upgrading many existing Australian Defence Force bases -- including Sydney's Garden Island, with an estimated pricetag of $700million over the next decade -- upgrading our fleet of Abrams battle tanks, and new Chinook battlefield lift aircraft. Those are the big, headline-grabbing pieces everyone wants to read about.

But a deeper dive into the white paper shows that capability, potency and agility is the name of the game here, with some startling futuristic technology including cyber and space warfare units, information gathering, unmanned surveillance aircraft, light helicopters, space telescopes and $2 billion for night-fighting equipment.

“Cyber attacks are a direct threat to the ADF’s warfighting ability given its reliance on information networks. 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,” the white paper sets out.

The document claims 1200 cyber security attacks were detected in 2015, including some against Australian government agencies.

“The cyber threat to Australia is growing. This threat represents a real and present risk to our national security and economic prosperity.”

The white paper sets out plans for unmanned surveillance, intelligence and reconnaissance aircraft including seven MQ-4C Tritons, which have the capability to fly 8000 nautical miles on 24-hour missions, providing 360-degree imagery of an area of up to 2000 square miles. The Tritons are to be acquired from the 2020s.

Australia will also focus on cyber warfare, with up to five long-range “electronic warfare support aircraft,” to be based on a Gulfstream commercial airframe, which are said to “substantially enhance electronic warfare support… in electromagnetic environments manipulated by hostile forces.” Up to $3 billion has been earmarked for this program.

On the offensive side, 12 Growler electronic attack aircraft are on the way from 2018. The E/A-18G model is said to be able to “disrupt, disable and/or confuse adversaries’ systems such as radar and command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems. "They will work in tandem with fighter and strike aircraft as “a potent air combat package,” the paper outlines.

Upgrades to the Jindalee radar network and Australia’s air-defence systems, as well as a new space telescope, are also outlined, while the defence force will also invest in a new fleet of light reconnaissance and attack helicopters from 2025.

The light choppers will work in small squadrons, with a range of fighting, intelligence, surveillance and communications technology onboard.

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