Australian Defence Strategic Review (DSR) soon to be released

In today’s online ABC News (31 Jan 2023), Mick Ryan, a recently retired Australian Army major general, has summarised the challenges of the Australian Defence Strategic Review (DSR) soon to be released. Ryan served in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan, and as a strategist on the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. He has written a book, War Transformed, about 21st century warfare.

About the Defence Strategic Review

Two independent experts have been appointed to lead the review; former Minister for Defence, Professor the Hon Stephen Smith and former Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston AK AFC (ret’d). They aim to explore and make recommendations on the structure, preparedness, posture and investment priorities of the Australian Defence Force.

The DSR was announced last August by the Prime Minister, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, the Hon Richard Marles MP.

The Defence Strategic Review will outline the investments required to support defence preparedness and mobilisation needs to 2032-33. It will help to maximise the potential of the Nuclear Powered Submarine Taskforce and other AUKUS partnership initiatives in Australia’s best strategic interests.

Australia’s military challenges

Ryan summarises the range of security challenges that Australia faces:

  • China is undertaking the largest peacetime military build-up in recorded history. It is attempting to coerce our neighbours to step away from relationships with the United States and Australia.
  • Russia is conducting a campaign to subjugate the Ukrainian people. Both nations are using a mix of older forms of war and new, advanced weapons using autonomous systems and sophisticated algorithms.
  • Australia must assure its regional neighbours that a military build-up is focused on enhancing the collective security of our region and is no threat.

Challenges for the DSR

Ryan summarises the key challenges for the Australian DSR. He suggests we must:

  • Find new ways of thinking about national security so that we can adapt quickly to strategic developments.
  • Deliver defence capabilities at a faster rate. As change in the strategic environment has sped up, delivery of new defence capability has slowed down. The review must identify how to close this widening gap.
  • Identify how to achieve the difficult balance between long-range strike and close combat. There will be an “understandable bias” to long range strike weapons with a focus on missiles and drones.
  • Improve Australia’s sovereign capability. With more demand for government investment in domestic defence production as we can no longer rely on ready access to foreign-made weapons.
  • Create a compelling narrative that convinces the government, and the Australian people, of the need to expand investment in defence. “No serious defence expert in this country believes that 2 per cent of GDP is sufficient” with a figure of 3 per cent or even 4 per cent being suggested.

Suggestions for what we need

In summary, Ryan suggests that because the future remains uncertain the Defence Strategic Review should direct the Australian Government to invest in “a range of lethal, networked, survivable and logistically supportable land, sea, space, air and cyber military capabilities that can adapt to both anticipated and unimagined contingencies”.