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Australia to spend A$9.9bn on intelligence and cyber capabilities

The Morrison government is investing in a landmark package of measures to shore up the intelligence and cyber security capabilities of the Australian Signals Directorate

The Australia government is spending A$9.9bn over the coming decade in a package of measures that will enhance the offensive and defensive cyber and intelligence capabilities of the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD).

Called Redspice, an acronym for resilience, effects, defence, space, intelligence, cyber and enablers, the package is said to be “the largest ever investment in Australia’s intelligence and cyber capabilities”.

It will double ASD’s size, creating 1,900 new jobs over the next decade, bolstering the government’s commitment to Australia’s Five Eyes and Aukus partners while supporting a secure Indo-Pacific region.

“This investment in ASD recognises the deteriorating strategic circumstances in our region, characterised by rapid military expansion, growing coercive behaviour and increased cyber attacks,” said Australia’s defence minister Peter Dutton.

“It acknowledges the nature of conflict has changed, with cyber attacks now commonly preceding other forms of military intervention – most recently demonstrated by offensive cyber activity against Ukraine.

“Redspice ensures Australia keeps pace with the rapid growth of cyber capabilities of potential adversaries. It provides new intelligence capabilities, new cyber defences to protect our most critical systems, and is a real increase in the potency of ASD’s ability to strike back in cyberspace,” he added.

Rachel Noble, ASD’s director-general, said Redspice will triple ASD’s offensive cyber capabilities while enhancing its intelligence capabilities and improving the defence of national systems and critical infrastructure.

“Significantly, ASD itself will be more resilient. This will be achieved by enabling the performance of our critical functions nationally and globally,” she added.

While not all of the 1,900 new jobs will be in Australia, they include internships and traineeships, and 40% of staff will be located outside Canberra.

However, Brendan O’Connor, the shadow minister for defence, questioned the government on how it plans to recruit more people to ASD amid the massive skills shortage in the cyber security sector after years of neglect.

“This skills shortage is compounded by the massive backlog in security clearances that the government has allowed to develop, leaving many recruits waiting more than a year before they can begin roles.

“The government has tripled the spend on for-profit security clearance contractors with no commensurate improvement in times. Redspice would significantly increase the pressures on this already clogged process,” he added.

Marcus Thompson, former head of information warfare for the Australian Defence Force, welcomed the new spending, which recognises “the threats we face in a changed global environment are more likely to come from the digital world”.

But he also warned that more is needed to shore up Australia’s multinational-dependent cyber resilience. While Australia’s greatest threats come from abroad, with the bulk of cyber investment also going abroad, he said “more than ever, we need to build stronger sovereign capabilities at home to support our national cyber resilience in a changed world”.

Some A$5bn of the Redspice budget is expected to be spent with Australian industry, including software, hardware, artificial intelligence and machine learning, secure communications, as well as workforce planning, recruitment and training.

Andrew Hastie, assistant minister for defence, said: “The Morrison government’s investment in the ASD will allow our cyber operators to punch back at our adversaries and protect Australia and our interests online”.

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