While new investments in 12 future submarines to replace the Collins class or increasing the size of the planned P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance fleet to 15 aircraft made headlines following the launch of the 2016 Defence White Paper, the ‘key enablers’ that are considered to be an essential part of realising the full potential of high-tech systems as they enter service account for a quarter of the Integrated Investment Program (IIP).
“An essential feature of the new Integrated Investment Program is to ensure that future investment decisions take account of the need to balance investments in equipment against essential investment in critical infrastructure and information communications and technology,” said Minister for Defence Senator Marise Payne in a speech at the White Paper launch.
“These are the areas that underpin our Defence Force; that bind our capabilities and ensure that Defence operations are as effective as possible. We would be undermining our investments in the most current ships and aircraft if we cut corners on the infrastructure and technology that supports them.”
The largest area of proposed increase in the Defence workforce is in the enabling function, the IIP notes, with about an additional 1,100 Australian Defence Force (ADF) and 400 Australian Public Service (APS) positions required to be filled as a result of the Force Structure Review’s emphasis on finding ways to strengthen enabling capabilities.
And the IIP allocates more than $5 billion in additional funding over previous plans to meet information and communications technology (ICT) needs out to 2025-26.
“There has been underinvestment in key enablers over the decade, including in the area of information and communications technology. This underinvestment has been compounded by Defence’s struggle to establish a coherent enterprise-level strategy for its complex and rapidly evolving information and communications technology domain,” the IIP states.
“One of the highest priorities in the development of the Integrated Investment Program has been to address the systemic underinvestment in information and communications technology that has led to serious degradation across the network. Key areas of the network need urgent remediation, in particular to address the shortcomings of outdated and in some cases obsolete systems that inhibit the conduct of day-to-day business within Defence, with overseas allies and partners, and with industry and the community more broadly.”
Other priority areas for investment include: continuously developing, monitoring and maintaining critical infrastructure from airfields to wharves, port facilities and key ADF bases; and logistics systems, and fuel and explosive ordnance facilities. And the IIP also emphasises the importance of upgrading training and weapons ranges, testing facilities and health services, which enable training and exercises to support advanced weapons and systems.
The strategic, longer-term requirements of the ADF examined by the Force Structure Review include increased Defence activity, engagement and presence in northern Australia, such as upgrades to bases like RAAF Base Tindal and infrastructure requirements relating to the US force posture initiatives.
Long-term infrastructure priorities in the Northern Territory include: developing options to establish naval facilities with greater capacity to support the larger future maritime force, and enhancing airbase capacity to support not only the ADF but also visiting aircraft operated by allies.
The IIP also flags the development of options for establishing a new Northern Advanced Joint Training Area with the capacity for hosting large-scale amphibious training, and a rail link from the main line to RAAF Tindal to support the transport and handling of explosive ordnance and bulk fuel.
“The current ranges and training areas are becoming degraded, and in some cases are becoming increasingly not fit for purpose,” the document warns. “A high priority in this Integrated Investment Program is to ensure that these training and testing facilities are appropriately upgraded to support the introduction of new ADF weapons systems in the coming decades, as well as ADF electromagnetic warfare and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems.
“This will allow more realistic training to take advantage of the full capacity of advanced weapons and systems. Integration with non-kinetic effects and simulation systems will also be a priority.”
Overall, the permanent ADF workforce is set to grow to number about 62,400 over the decade to 2025-26, with approximately 4,800 new or reallocated positions, including up to 2,300 existing positions that will be reallocated to higher-priority activities.
“While the acquisition decisions announced today will no doubt attract some attention, it is our people who are the foundation of Defence’s capability, effectiveness and reputation,” the Defence Minister said. “To meet the demands of the higher-technology future force set out in this White Paper, the government will undertake the largest single rebalance of the Defence workforce in a generation.”