Australian Defence Review 2023 the Most Critical Since WWII


The Australian government has released its highly anticipated 2023 Strategic Defence Review, the first posture review undertaken in ten years and the most significant since the end of World War II.

The review, led by former Air Chief Marshall Sir Angus Houston and former Defence Minister Stephen Smith, made 108 recommendations on defence force design and structure, posture and preparedness, workforces, capability acquisition, risk and accountability, funding, national security coordination, implementation, future planning, and oversight.

The government has accepted 62 of the recommendation, with incumbent Defence Minister Richard Marles saying Australia needs to “change the calculus so no potential aggressor can ever conclude that the benefits of conflict outweigh the risks.”

Nonetheless, beyond saying Australia will need to reprioritize planned investments and make difficult decisions, no additional funding announcements accompanied Monday’s release beyond re-stating the AUD19 billion already announced and allocated over forward budget estimates will go towards implementing the recommendations.

“Work to implement the review starts today, ensuring our ADF and our Defence personnel have the capability they need to keep Australians safe,” said Marles.

The review did not hesitate to call out what approaches and protocols it said were “no longer fit for purpose,” including the longstanding Defence of Australia doctrine, which focused on deterring low-level threats from small or middle regional powers. Recommending it be discarded, the review suggests a National Defence doctrine that will require more engaged statecraft, deeper diplomacy, and more robust defence capabilities.

“The current ADF force structure is based on a ‘balanced force’ model that reflects a bygone era. It does not adequately address our new strategic environment,” the review says. It argues the ADF must become a more focused, integrated force that effectively operates across the land, sea, air, space, and cyber domains.

The review argues for a future integrated force to be effective, it will need multiple capabilities that it designates as critical needs, including crewed and uncrewed undersea warfare capabilities; upgraded integrated targeted capabilities; upgraded long-range strike capabilities across all domains; all domain maritime capabilities for sea denial operations; integrated amphibious-capable combined-arms land systems; a networked expeditionary air operations capability; upgraded all domain integrated air and missile defence capabilities; a joint expeditionary theatre logistics system with depth and mobility; a theatre command and control network to manage the hoped for integrated force; and a network of Northern Australia bases to provide logistics support and serve as platforms to deny and deter aggressors.

“Defence’s current approach to capability acquisition is not fit for purpose,” the review says. “The system needs to abandon its pursuit of the perfect solution or process and focus on delivering timely and relevant capability. Defence must move away from processes based around project management risk rather than strategic risk management. It must be based on minimum viable capability within the shortest possible time.”

The review says these capability requirements, and the need to address the chronic workforce challenges, will cost money and require trade-offs. Houston and Smith say new infrastructure and spending should first focus on tackling the critical capability needs.

“Defence funding must reflect the strategic circumstances our nation faces,” they said. “It will be challenging to effect.”


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