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Credit: Department of Defence, Government of Australia

Credit: Department of Defence, Government of Australia

Australian Government releases new national security science and technology policy agenda

On May 1, the Australian Government released its new National security science and technology policy agenda aimed at strengthening Australia’s national security.

Defence Science and Technology (DST) coordinates the government’s science and technology program for national security.

This policy delivers on commitments in the 2016 Defence White Paper. The science and technology policy and priorities were developed in consultation with the various national security agencies under a high-level inter-departmental steering committee.

The paper outlines the national security science and technology priorities, governance arrangements and engagement mechanisms as they exist now, these will need to co-evolve as arrangements are re-defined under the new national security architecture, with the establishment of the Home Affairs portfolio and the Office of National Intelligence.

A National Security Science and Technology Interdepartmental Committee (NSST IDC) established in March 2017 will review and endorse national security science and technology policies and priorities and promote cross-agency collaboration on science and technology, which will deliver efficiencies and reduce duplication. NSSTC will assist national security agencies to elucidate their science and technology requirements, and then foster collaboration with the innovation community to address these requirements.

Currently, many of the investments in science and technology that are being made across the national security community are by individual agencies with individual suppliers. NSSTC will play the role of raising collective awareness across the agencies of these investments, to potentially enable a more collective and efficient approach, and facilitate the pooling of resources across agencies who share common capability goals and requirements.

The agenda is focused on new science and technology policy priorities for national security. These include:

  • Cyber security: To anticipate vulnerabilities, strengthen cyber systems and critical infrastructure, and enhance national capacity to respond to and recover from cyber-attack, investment in science and technology is crucial to ensure that the government remain alert and responsive to evolving threats. Many of the agencies consulted noted the need for research to support the continued and growing requirement for scalable high assurance, resilient computing for multilevel security, secure gateways allowing agencies to have connectivity between the internet facing elements of their role and the sensitive information held within the agencies, as well as secure cloud based storage. S
  • Intelligence: Rapidly changing and advancing technologies are transforming how information is collected, integrated and exploited. Many of the agencies noted the need for greater automation with some highlighting that this should occur as close to the point of collection as possible. Further to this, the systems and services enabling intelligence exploitation need to be trusted by the user, with high integrity and reliability, underpinned by a quality assurance framework. The policy document notes that these efforts would need to operate within current policy boundaries, ensuring that the privacy of Australians is met.
  • Border security and identity management: The key theme to emerge in this priority area was the capability to identify objects, including explosives, chemical, biological or radiological agents, disease, drugs and other contraband. Many of the agencies consulted highlighted the continued need for science and technology to support development in biometrics broadly. This includes the need for the development of methods to enable both field deployable and scalable stand-off biometric capabilities. Challenges including the ability to compare biometric data from different quality data sets, as well as the need for secure real time linkages to internet facing capabilities.
  • Investigative support and forensic science: The ability to use information to deliver forensic and investigative support to our national security and law enforcement agencies is essential in ensuring effective prosecutions or the disruption of terrorist and trans-national criminal activities. New technologies are needed to enable the ‘in-field’ screening and analysis of items to provide timely, accurate, scientific information to support investigations. Research programs advancing the state of the art in traditional forensic science and technology, including that related to fingerprints, genetic material, illicit drugs, explosives and other trace and physical evidence are ongoing in academic, industry and government facilities. With the increase in the use of digital technologies some agencies identified a requirement for more advanced digital forensic tools to support investigations.
  • Preparedness to prevent and respond to incidents: This priority area covers the broadest range of topics. Important aspects within this priority include the enduring ability to prepare for, protect against, prevent and respond to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive events with an emphasis on remote means. Science and technology to support activities to counter violent extremism was highlighted as a need by some agencies. Methods and techniques to identify a threat from and to counter uncrewed aerial systems/vehicles is a common requirement, as well as using these uncrewed devices to provide tactical capabilities such as surveillance and communications
  • Technology foresighting:  Technology foresighting will monitor global technology trends and developments in emerging science to forecast future challenges and opportunities. DST has a cell which maintains a science and technology horizon scanning capability in partnership with international agencies, to provides a broad perspective on potential game-changing threats and opportunities. Technologies which are identified as having potential for disruptive impact are then examined in more depth. Emerging and Disruptive Technologies Assessment Symposia (EDTAS) are now a biannual event co-hosted by DST, with the focus on a new ‘disruptive’ or ‘game changing’ technology at each event. Recent symposia have looked at the themes of Trusted Autonomous Systems and Digital Disruption. Future symposia will explore themes of advanced sensors, materials science/advanced manufacturing and quantum technologies.

Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, said, “Australia needs to remain at the forefront of science and innovation so we can meet any new and emerging threats to our security. This is why the Government has released this new agenda, which replaces a decade old policy.

“We must work seamlessly across government and in collaboration with our industry and university partners to develop the best capabilities for protecting Australia against threats to our national security.

“This policy puts us in a strong position to harness the expertise and resources required to address national security challenges now and into the future,” he added.

The Chief Defence Scientist, Dr Alex Zelinsky, will address the policy highlights at the Science and Technology Innovation for Civil and National Security conference at CIVSEC 2018 in Melbourne.

Access the document here. 

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