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Abstract: Australia’s response to the emerging centrality of cyber space in the conduct of future war has been slow and fragmented. The Australian play-book is not blank but it looks very different from those of pace-setter countries: key chapters in their play books do not yet appear in ours. The dilatory tempo of Australian policy is true in different ways for various actors: the government, the armed forces, the private sector, and the strategic studies community. This paper describes a number of international benchmarks which might provide guideposts for a rapid catch-up in Australian capabilities for military security in the information age (for cyber-enabled war). The paper will be relevant to other middle powers, many of which are even more disadvantaged than Australia in national military policy for cyber space.
On the one hand, the paper looks at the future international policy environment. It calls out major trends in the policy settings of two countries of strategic interest to Australia: China and the United States. Both regard military dominance in cyber space as one of the primary determinants of success in war. The Australian government has not been prepared to canvas in public the centrality of cyber-enabled warfare nor craft policies and doctrines accordingly. The discussion of how Australian policy compares with that of China and the United States in this field lays the foundation the paper’s review of international trends in war avoidance (preventive diplomacy) and Australia’s need to shape those developments.
On the other hand, the paper previews trends in the technologies and characteristics of cyber-enabled war (attack technologies and defensive systems) and complex cyber-enabled war scenarios. The United States and China have taken decisions in 2015 that reveal their determination to race ahead to the next stage of the development of cyber arsenals. They seek to create conditions in cyber space that in war time could undermine the effectiveness of the weapons systems, deployed units and military-related civil infrastructure of an enemy as quickly as possible. The two major powers are placing considerable attention on disabling enemy cyber systems in the early stages of hostilities, or even on a pre-emptive basis. Trends in the technologies of cyber attack and defence are moving in a direction that will present almost insurmountable challenges to the security of many small and middle powers.
Australia will need to develop complex responsive systems of decision-making for medium intensity war that address multi-vector, multi-front and multi-theatre attacks in cyber space, including against civilian infrastructure and civilians involved in the war effort. Australia’s defence forces need to maintain distinct capabilities for cyber warfare at the strategic level. The capabilities need to be unified in both policy and doctrinal terms in a way that lays a clear pathway for mobilization of the country in very short time to fight a medium intensity, cyber-enabled hot war. This will require new technologies of decision-making that do not yet exist, even in most G20 countries.
The paper recommends that Australia builds a much more visible community of interest around the concept of cyber-enabled warfare with a recognised authoritative hub (a cyber warfare studies centre) that can unite political, military, diplomatic, business, scientific and technical interests and expertise. For reasons outlined in the paper, an ideal location for such a centre might be the Australian Defence Force Academy which might build off the foundations already in place at the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at the University of New South Wales Canberra.