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Defence’s S&T Strategy 2030

3D visualisation of network security by DST researchers. This is not a new image, which demonstrates the ongoing importance of cyber and network security to Defence. They are ubiquitous: they underpin most of the nine NGTF technology investment priorities as well as the eight STaR Shots listed in the new defence S&T Strategy 2030. Photo: DST

Defence’s Science and Technology Strategy 2030, titled ‘More, Together’, was launched earlier today by the Chief Defence Scientist, Professor Tanya Monro, AM. It signals a fundamental shift in how Defence, principally via DST, engages with Australia’s defence R&D and innovation eco-system.

In simple terms, the Strategy aims to enhance DST’s engagement with Australia’s broader R&D and innovation eco-systems, in both academia and industry; and hasten the development and fielding of the technologies that Defence will need to prevail in a contested environment.

DST lists the three key objectives of the Strategy:

  • Focus on larger S&T programs supporting Defence strategic priorities
  • Increase scale by partnering within the national S&T enterprise and international partners
  • Deliver impact and a capability edge through streamlined and secure innovation pathways

Importantly, emphasises Professor Monro, this is not DST’s Strategy – it is the agreed S&T Strategy for Defence. It’s an acknowledgement that the disruptions and discontinuities that we can anticipate (though not predict) will impact every Group and Service across Defence: most of them will be S&T enabled, and Defence as a whole wants to both counter them and harness that same S&T to generate disruptions and discontinuities of its own. To use the words of professor Monro’s predecessor, Dr Alex Zelinsky, it’s about future-proofing defence: making it resilient against strategic surprise, and able to spring strategic surprises of its own.

And there’s an interesting cultural focus: the video that launched the new Strategy included the line, “to find what works, we need to know what doesn’t”.

The Strategy’s title, “More, together” is a blunt message. DST lacks the manpower and resources to be experts in everything the ADF may need to do. So, for Defence to grasp and exploit the threats and opportunities posed by S&T it needs the resources of DST’s growing network of university, research and industry partners: essentially, it needs what Professor Monro has termed a ‘whole of Australia’ defence Science & Technology (S&T) enterprise.

The Defence S&T Strategy 2030 is built on three strategic pillars:

  • One Defence S&T capability – leading, shaping and growing Australia’s defence S&T enterprise and the coordination of S&T capability to support Defence’s needs
  • Brilliant People, Collaborative Culture – developing a highly skilled and collaborative workforce, recognising diversity in partnerships and building a shared culture.
  • Outstanding research infrastructure powering innovation – providing the necessary physical and digital research environments, building Defence precincts and embracing opportunities to share infrastructure.

It also includes eight STaR Shots (for Science Technology and Research Shots):

  • Information Warfare
  • Disruptive Weapon Effects
  • Quantum Assured PNT
  • Battle Ready Platforms
  • Agile Command and Control
  • Resilient Multi-Mission Space
  • Remote Undersea Surveillance
  • Operating in CBRN environments

These are more a problem statement than a discrete technology challenge. Professor Monro characterises them as operational or mission challenges: they represent the paint points the customer anticipates in the future. The nine technology investment priorities addressed by the Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF) remain an important S&T focus: they are the specific areas where Australia needs thought leadership, expertise and investment in order to support the STaR Shots.

The list of STaR Shots in the new Strategy differs significantly from DST’s first tentative list of 10 STaR Shots, issued for discussion in 2019. After considerable discussion, both internally and with industry and external research partners, the list has evolved. Their focus is the concept of prevailing in a contested environment; they are aspirational, to the extent they are something the ADF can’t do today; and they all have a three-star sponsor who cares deeply about the capability in question.

Three pillars

The ‘One Defence S&T Capability’ pillar simply acknowledges that DST needs its broader external network, and that network needs to serve the needs of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Defence’s One Defence S&T Capability will be formalised in a Strategy Implementation Framework to be released in due course that sets out priorities for defence S&T investment.

This pillar is designed to help grow the nation’s defence S&T capabilities, including innovation precincts that facilitate Defence access to R&D infrastructure and research partners with specific and unique expertise.

‘Brilliant People, Collaborative Culture’ acknowledges the sheer quality of Australian researchers; it also acknowledges and challenges Australia’s historical antipathy to the idea of academic and even business collaboration. This pillar is the platform for a culture of leadership that can promote collaboration, both internally within DST and Defence, and externally, between DST and its S&T partners and between those partners.

However, collaboration isn’t just about focussing S&T resources on specific problems: it’s about delivering better S&T outcomes. Therefore, DST wants to improve its understanding of user needs and the user context by rotating more of its people through user and partner organisations. It also wants earlier and better engagement with the ADF, so that those user needs can shape and refine even quite basic research and make it more relevant and more likely to find an operational application.

What DST doesn’t want to see is the development of exquisite but pointless technology which nobody can commercialise because none of the users want or need it.

‘Outstanding Research Infrastructure Powering Innovation’ acknowledges that sovereign S&T capabilities rely on access to high quality research infrastructure. DST is moving towards a model where it can share the cost of establishing infrastructure, such as the hypersonic shock tube at the University of Queensland, get secure access when required, and allow other researchers to use it the rest of the time. The important thing here is that this infrastructure, and the research teams and expertise it supports, doesn’t need to be at a DST site: DST will travel to tap into this expertise and use that infrastructure.

STaR Shots and Technology Investment

The eight STaR Shots, as mentioned earlier, describe missions. They don’t describe (or prescribe) technology solutions; they cross technology boundaries. DST is developing context scenarios for the STaR Shots which describe the threat or challenge a proposed solution has to counter, or the problem it’s meant to address. Interestingly, DST’s work in support of the Commonwealth government and other research partners on the current COVID-19 crisis is an illustration of how the STaR Shot addressing CBRN environments might work. There’s not a single, specific technology focus, and multi-agency collaboration across the entire national S&T portfolio is essential to deliver the outcomes needed.

The clever bit is getting new solutions and technology into frontline service and doing so quickly. The new Strategy explicitly addresses this also. Each STaR Shot will have a developed path for introduction into service – essentially a pathway to market for researchers and industry innovators.

And the Strategy’s integrated research program includes objectives with short (1-3 years), medium (3-5 years) and long term (5-10 years) horizons. The process of getting new technologies ready for service, or even for a user trial, will be set out in a separate document shortly, but DST is looking to major exercises such as Talisman Saber and RIMPAC and activities such as wargaming to test and refine technologies and some of the thinking and assumptions behind them. The aim is to increase Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) rapidly and get new technologies and ideas into service as quickly as possible.

Taken together, the Defence S&T Strategy 2030 and the eight STaR Shots are designed to help the ADF prevail in contested environments that aren’t specified because they can’t be predicted. The STaR Shots are designed to help the ADF get to the fight, shape how it operates and deliver the most appropriate effects. They need to demonstrate a capability advantage – and to achieve that, they’ll need to draw on DST’s traditional smarts in modelling, simulation, wargaming, prototyping, experimentation and running trials.

And on top of that, DST still needs to bring expertise to bear from its other, ongoing S&T activities, ranging from initiatives such as countering improvised threats, to developing medical counter-measures, to enhancing the Nulka anti-ship missile decoy. These activities won’t stop.

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