People, power, posture - modernising the Australian Defence Force to meet the challenges of the future

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

Media contact

Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

Release content

21 February 2024

I acknowledge that we are on Ngunnawal land and pay my respects to elder's past, present and emerging.

As the Assistant Minister for Defence and the Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women who have served our nation in the past and continue to do so today.

Ewen Levick, Publisher of Australian Defence Magazine,

Senior Leaders of Defence,

Members of Defence Industry,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Albanese Government is building a modern Australian Defence Force to meet the challenges of the future and keep Australians safe.

Australia’s strategic circumstances remain deeply complex.

Clarity in our strategic policy, posture and planning – both with the Australian people and with the region – is more important than ever before.

And that is what the Government is delivering, from the commissioning of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) to the implementation of its recommendations.

The DSR is our blueprint for the government to enhance the people, power and posture of the ADF.

Broadly speaking, that means the focus of the Government’s decisions are on ensuring we can deliver a faster response to threats; longer range deterrence; to develop and rapidly translate disruptive technology into capability; an integrated force that is capable of responding to the risks we face and a highly-skilled Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The actions we’ve taken to reprioritise Defence’s capabilities in line with the DSR’s recommendations have resulted in a realignment of funding and projects.

I acknowledge up front that some of these decisions have been difficult.

But it is prudent for a new government to assess the adequacy of the defence of the nation and make the necessary changes to policy to maximise deterrence, denial and response options to ensure we can protect Australia’s national interests.

And we need to ensure that taxpayer dollars are spent wisely so that we get the platforms, weapon systems and facilities that the ADF needs into service, on time and on budget.

That hasn’t always been the case in the past.

It is incumbent upon a responsible government making large investments to ensure they meet strategic aims and deliver value for money for taxpayers.

That is what the Australian people expect.

We are getting on with the job of implementing the recommendations of the DSR, and we are making the policy decisions and investments that will deliver a more focused and integrated ADF.

Yesterday’s announcement on the Surface Combatant Fleet Review is a signal example. 

After inheriting the oldest surface fleet Navy has operated in its history, the Government’s blueprint will see Navy equipped with a major surface combatant fleet over twice as large as planned when we came to government, with more surface combatants in the water sooner.

You will start to see an increased tempo of policy announcements in the next six months.

The most important capability in the ADF is our people.

During my time as Assistant Minister for Defence I’ve spent time on bases all around the country and it has been my privilege to meet with ADF personnel engaged in the great work of defending and protecting our national interests.

Their respect for the history of the ADF and their determination to be worthy of that heritage is inspiring, as is their commitment to make full and best use of the training they have received in order to serve the nation.

Australians are proud of the ADF, and the ADF is proud to serve the nation.

The Government is committed to growing the ADF to meet the nation’s security challenges through the next decade and beyond.

We have a real challenge on our hands to recruit and grow the number of ADF personnel.

The Albanese Government is investing in a suite of measures to support recruitment and retention in our ADF.

Defence must reshape and reskill its workforce to transition to new capabilities and build capacity in emerging capabilities such as nuclear-powered submarines, cyber, electronic warfare and space.

We need talented and skilled people and we are competing for them with employers from across Australia, in an environment of consistently low unemployment rates.

In this challenging environment and with growth targets increasing year-on-year, Defence hasn’t achieved its required recruiting outcomes over the past few years.

To help turn that around, we are focusing on education, career enhancement and of course, the incredible opportunity to serve the nation through avenues such as AUKUS and in relation to the space domain.

We’re introducing more flexible pathways to service including through lateral transfer from other nations’ militaries, re-enlistment of former personnel and transfer between full-time and part-time service.

We have introduced a $50,000 Continuation Bonus.

And we have overseen the biggest wage increase for the ADF in more than a decade.

One of the very first announcements I made in this role was the $46.2 million dollar expansion of the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme, with improved access to home ownership for eligible defence personnel earlier in their careers.

It was an election commitment that was delivered in our first Budget.

This reform is working with a 90 per cent increase in DHOAS applications. That means about 4,800 ADF members or veterans getting help to access a home loan.

We are continuing to listen to the ADF workforce and responding with initiatives they are looking for, including the expansion of ADF Family Health Benefits, increased investment in the Defence Assisted Study Scheme, and modernising ADF employment conditions, including allowances, leave provisions, and housing.

We are seeing encouraging results, particularly in retention.

But we’ll need to keep working on this over the short, medium and longer term.

The government is partnering with Defence industry to acquire new technology to develop longer range deterrence and quicker response to threats.

A key finding of the DSR was that the ADF must have the capacity to deter through denial any adversary’s attempt to project power against Australia through our northern approaches. 

After the 2020 Defence Strategic Update found that we could no longer count on a 10-year strategic warning time of major conflict, the former Government announced the accelerated establishment of the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise.

But no additional budget allocation was made.

The Albanese Government committed $2.5 billion over the forward estimates to accelerate the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise (GWEO) – an increase of more than $1.5 billion dollars.

We are investing in enhanced long range precision strike capability, investing $1.6 billion to double the number of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System launchers for the ADF. This will deliver a significant capability boost to Army, as well as taking an important step towards domestic missile manufacturing.

The DSR also found that more support is needed for innovation, faster acquisition and better links between Defence and industry to deliver essential ADF capabilities.

To meet this challenge the Australian innovation system must be harnessed to deliver military capability advantages much faster, in tangible ways – and the system has to deliver time and time again, for the foreseeable future.

That, in a nutshell, is the job of the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA) which commenced operations on the first of July last year.

We’ve funded it with $3.4 billion over the next decade.

Just one month after it was established ASCA went to market seeking sovereign solutions for small un-crewed aerial systems and within five months it sought partners for the first ASCA mission, as well as requesting white papers on Information Warfare and Quantum Technologies.

This year, ASCA (along with UK and US innovation programs) will support the first AUKUS Innovation Challenge, on electronic warfare.

AUKUS Advanced Capabilities – or Pillar Two, as it’s known – is making great strides in harnessing technological advances that will harden Australia’s capability edge and support strategic deterrence in the region.

In 2023 AUKUS partners successfully conducted testing and demonstration of artificial intelligence and autonomy, a common command and control architecture and autonomous undersea warfare capabilities.

Further trials of advanced capabilities are planned for 2024 and beyond.

New projects unveiled at the last AUKUS Defence Ministers’ Meeting included Deep Space Advanced Radar Capability, the AUKUS Maritime Autonomy Experimentation and Exercise Series, and using artificial intelligence to analyse trilateral sonobuoys data.

AUKUS partners are also stepping up collaboration between our respective defence innovation and industry sectors in 2024.

In addition to the AUKUS Innovation Challenge, the first AUKUS Industry Forum meeting will occur in the coming months.

While our international partnerships are critical, we are also doing more to enhance our national capabilities.

Within Defence, critical investment in cyber capabilities continues to advance, because they are essential to a genuinely Integrated Force.

In response to the DSR, the Government is strengthening the ADF’s ability to command and control its cyber, information and space capabilities whilst integrating with the other warfighting domains.

Demand for innovation in Defence is both urgent and persistent, and there will never be a point where the Government declares this job done.

It is going to be a critical focus for Government, the ADF and industry, for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, we have to continue bolstering capabilities such as the acquisition of the Redback Infantry Fighting Vehicle for Army and the acquisition of 20 C-130J Hercules aircraft for Air Force.

Yesterday the Albanese Government released its blueprint for a larger and more lethal surface combatant fleet for Navy, more than doubling the size of the surface combatant fleet under the former government’s plan.

Our strategic circumstances require a larger and more lethal surface combatant fleet, complemented by a conventionally-armed, nuclear-powered submarine fleet.

And our Government has injected an additional $1.7 billion over the Forward Estimates and $11.1 billion over the next decade in Defence for an accelerated delivery of Navy’s future surface combatant fleet and to expand Australia’s shipbuilding industry.

I want to talk briefly about drones and other un-crewed systems.

Firstly, because the war in Ukraine has brutally demonstrated the importance of these systems in modern warfare.

And secondly, because there is, in some sections of the media, a persistent myth that Defence is uninterested and uninvolved in these systems, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Defence has operated numerous drones or remote piloted aerial systems, for many years, including on operations.

There are currently just over 760 un-crewed aerial systems in Defence’s inventory.

Defence is trialling a variety of low-cost, expendable systems that can be produced at scale to inform investment decisions, in addition to highly advanced, extremely capable systems able to operate and survive in contested warfighting environments, with a focus on the requirements in Australia’s area of military interest.

Last year, Army tested several loitering munitions which can be deployed from maritime, land and air platforms. These trials will continue in 2024.

Army will introduce a loitering munition into service this calendar year.

The Government recently announced a $399 million investment in the MQ 28-A Ghost Bat, an Australian-born, Australian-made technology which teams drones with crewed aircraft.

And collaboration between Anduril Australia, Navy, the Defence Science and Technology Group on the Ghost Shark autonomous robotic undersea warfare vehicle is ongoing.

In addition to testing, all Defence capability has to undergo a legal weapons review to ensure it can be used in accordance with Australia’s legal obligations including international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.

And that is as it should be.

The Government is also investing millions of dollars in conjunction with Australian companies to develop counter-drone systems.

It is more important than ever to ensure the Defence estate remains aligned with our operational and capability priorities, now and in the future.

That’s why the Government accepted the DSR’s recommendation to undertake an enterprise-wide audit of the Defence estate and infrastructure.

We have received the findings and recommendations, which we are working through.

In the interim, we have an ambitious and challenging works program underway.

It has been focused on delivering three key priorities of the Defence Strategic Review:

Improving the resilience of our northern network of bases, ports and barracks.

Supporting the development of our nuclear-powered submarine capability, including a $1.5 billion dollar investment to get Submarine Rotational Force-West up and running at HMAS Stirling by 2027; and

Supporting the growth of our Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance enterprise, particularly its storage and distribution network.

I want to particularly focus today on the capital works we are undertaking in northern Australia, which come with many challenges, including skill and labour shortages, and escalating cost of materials and labour.

The Government has committed $3.8 billion dollars to deliver accelerated investment in northern bases infrastructure, including redeveloping the Larrakeyah Defence Precinct, refurbishing the RAAF Base Darwin airfield, upgrading HMAS Coonawarra maritime structures and upgrading four training areas and ranges across the Northern Territory.

This is one of the biggest, most complex, and urgent capital works programs undertaken in this country in living memory.

A resilient network of bases must also be supported by an effective logistics system across and into northern Australia.

And the announced changes to Army’s structure and posture will result in a growing presence in the north, which comes with a commensurate need to provide housing for them and their families.

There is huge complexity in delivering the infrastructure, improvements and upgrades that are needed at pace.

And while our bases have to support our personnel to do their jobs, they also have to support military exercises like Talisman Sabre and Pitch Black that bring militaries together and help ensure the collective security of our region.

There is no greater policy priority for the government than the safety, peace and prosperity of the Australian people.

We have a strong, effective defence policy that delivers that objective.

The DSR and the Government’s response to it, is the blueprint for that delivery in partnership with the ADF and defence industry.

We are using that blueprint to methodically and carefully build an ADF that that is well positioned to meet the challenges of the future.

Thank you.


Other related releases