What next now IS is crumbling

Appearing in Australian Financial Review, Defence feature, 29 November 2017

What next now IS is crumbling

With Islamic State on the verge of losing all its territory in Iraq and Syria the thinking has turned to what might happen next, and what the implications are for the region and the West.

“At the moment, IS has lost everything it controlled in Iraq except for some outlying pockets,” says Dr Rodger Shanahan, a Research Fellow at the Lowy Institute. “The situation in Syria is more complicated but it is really only a question of time until IS loses its territory there as well. There have been reports of the death of the IS leader and self-proclaimed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi although we probably should believe that only when there is clear proof. But even if he is still alive, he no longer has much to lead.”


Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi: no longer much to lead

The loss of territory also means the loss of the financial resources that had allowed IS to support affiliates around the world. It also robs IS of the ‘victory narrative’ that had been central to its propaganda message. Without financial and technological resources, its social media presence has diminished, and IS is likely to find itself competing for attention with other radical voices on the Net.


Some observers have suggested that IS might move to one of its ‘provinces’ and re-establish its operations there. Shanahan is doubtful.

“Basically, its leaders and key figures were Iraqi, and they have no desire to go to the backblocks of Nigeria or Pakistan,” he says. “For Arab jihadists the Arabs are the people to whom God’s last revelation was given and who spread the world of Islam. To them, the Arab world is the centre of the struggle. The remaining leaders of IS are likely to try and stay in Iraq, going underground and seeking shelter from sympathetic tribes in remote areas. They are likely to believe they can rebuild and regenerate.”

Shanahan believes that regeneration of IS or a similar jihadist group in Iraq is possible if the conditions that gave rise to the success of IS remain. He nominates education and employment opportunities as areas that the Iraqi government should focus on after the territorial defeat of IS.

“There is at least an awareness in sections of the Iraqi government that development and modernisation is needed, and not just in the big cities,” Shanahan says. “The Americans, who are likely to maintain a presence in the area after IS is gone, are also saying this to the Iraqis. Hopefully we will eventually see a truly national institution emerge in the form of the Iraqi military, rather than something which operates more like a blunt instrument for whatever group happens to be in office. As a result of the struggle to defeat IS we are seeing some green shoots of a national Iraqi identity emerge.”

Another hopeful sign is that Saudi Arabia has begun to re-engage with Iraq. This might be partly to build a coalition against Iran but also because the Iraqi government, having defeated an entrenched and dangerous enemy, has gained some prestige in the region.

The situation in Syria is more difficult than that of Iraq, with more players and conflicting agendas. Nevertheless, it appears that IS in that country will soon lose its last strongholds.

“Bashir Assad will end up feeling satisfied with the outcome,” says Shanahan. “We can only hope that when the dust settles he will decide that there has been enough killing, rather than deciding to conduct a purge. Yes, he owes a lot to the Russians, but there are long connections between Russia and Syria. The Russians made the right choice, in a strategic sense. There was a point where Assad was seriously wobbling, and the Russians had to decide between cutting him loose or doubling down. They chose the latter, and it paid off. In fact, Russia and Syria recently signed an extension of their lease on their naval facility at Tartus and a lease agreement for their Hmeymim airbase in Latakia. So the Russians can also see themselves as winners.

“The downside for Assad is that Iran has increased its influence in Syria but it was the price he had to pay in order to maintain his grip on power.”

Outside the Middle East, there is likely to be a reduction in terrorist attacks, as Islamic State’s profile reduces and its social media presence shrinks. However, there is the problem that radicals who had gone to Islamic State from Western countries are now returning, with enough training to make them dangerous. And there are jihadists in the West who, although never having been to Islamic State territory, are still enthralled by the ideology.

“I doubt that they would have changed their anti-Western thinking at all,” Shanahan says. “They define themselves as standing up for the oppressed against their oppressors. If anything, the loss of IS territory would have strengthened rather than weakened that narrative. The issue will be whether they will have the capability to mount anything more than lone-wolf or non-complex small group attacks. Certainly, the security services cannot afford to relax, but without IS resources and organisation it is hard to see jihadists conducting large, complex operations.”



Lessons from ancient Athens

Appearing in Australian Financial Review, Defence feature, 29 November 2017

 Lessons from ancient Athens

 A disastrous war between the US and China in the decades ahead is more likely than many commentators believe if the lessons of history are a guide, according to one of the key experts in the field. Professor Graham Allison, a senior Harvard academic who has advised a series of administrations, argues in his new book Destined For War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’ Trap? that the root cause of war is often when a rising power determined to assert itself confronts an established power determined to maintain its position.

Destined for WarThucydides wrote about the Peloponnesian War, a conflict that engulfed his home city-state of Athens in the fifth century BC. Athens was a rising power, and the military state of Sparta sought to keep the status quo. Neither state wanted war but their leaders nevertheless drifted into it, pushed by their own rhetoric and fear of the other. Sparta eventually won but the impact of the war was devastating for both sides.

Professor Allison sees this pattern occurring again and again, from the war between France and the Hapsburg Empire in the sixteenth century to both world wars in the twentieth century. In his book he looks at sixteen cases, of which twelve resulted in large-scale warfare.

“We now see an unstoppable China approaching an immovable America, with similar structural stresses,” says Professor Allison. “And both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump promise to make their countries ‘great again’.”

China’s aim, according to Professor Allison, is to have its cultural superiority recognised in Asia, as a part of its dominance of the region, and to become the critical player in global politics and the global economy.

He puts forward a range of scenarios which could lead to the two countries into conflict. He notes that the Peloponnesian War began over Megara, a small state that was an ally of Sparta. Sparta did not much like Megara but after Athens imposed economic sanctions Sparta felt obliged to support it, as its collapse would give Athens an important advantage. Athens escalated, Sparta escalated, and war became inevitable.

The parallel with North Korea is hard to avoid but Allison sees plenty of other paths to disaster. The South China Sea could easily become a flashpoint if the ships or planes of one side came too close to the other, provoking an exchange of fire. Another possibility is a declaration of independence by Taiwan, leading to threats from China which the US would feel obliged to counter. Another scenario, one which was the subject of a wargame exercise conducted by the RAND Corporation, begins with a group of Japanese ultranationalists seeking to occupy the disputed island of Kuba Jima. China sends naval vessels to stop them, and Japan supports its citizens, and China then increases its forces, and Japan requests American help.

Wars have started with less obvious triggers, such as the assassination that sparked World War One. But Professor Allison suggests that a war between China and the US might not escalate into the all-out use of nuclear weapons. It could be more like a series of skirmishes with conventional weapons, although cyber-warfare might also play a role. However, severing the trade linkages would raise huge problems for both countries (but more for China, Professor Allison believes) as well as for the global economy.

The competition between the two countries is exacerbated by a deep lack of understanding. In particular, the US sees relations between states as based on rules and rights, backed up and interpreted by multi-national judicial bodies. China, says Professor Allison, says that it did not have a role in creating the rules-based system, and that the system appears designed to entrench the existing order.

War between China and the US is certainly possible, notes Professor Allison, but that does not mean it is inevitable. He finds common threads in the cases of competition that did not result in war, such as between rising America and established Britain in the early twentieth century or the rise of Germany, after unification, as the dominant power in Europe. He believes that the key issues are for each player to clearly distinguish between its wants and its needs, to strategically think of the long term, and to understand the connections between domestic pressures and international moves.

He believes that both China and the US are taking these steps, if somewhat haltingly. They are also making an effort to understand each other.

“Some 300,000 of China’s best and brightest are studying in the US,” says Professor Allison. “The current President of China sent his only child not to Tsinghua University but to Harvard, where she graduated in 2014. Finding ways in which the emerging generation of these ‘internationalists’ understanding of the world can be translated into new forms of cooperation remains among the most intriguing opportunities.”



Action behind the scenes on North Korea

Appearing in Australian Financial Review, Defence feature, 29 November 2017

Action behind the scenes on North Korea

The North Korean situation has recently been relatively quiet but it might be the calm before a storm, according to Dr Alan Dupont, CEO of the Cognoscenti Group, a political and strategic risk consultancy, and a non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute.

“There has actually been a lot of movement behind the scenes, on all sides,” he says. “The Chinese recently sent a Special Envoy to North Korea, which is a significant move given that China does not currently have a close relationship with North Korea. There has been no word on the Special Envoy’s brief, but I would think it would be, first, to say some nice things about the enduring friendship between the two countries, and, second, to point out quietly and firmly that the current situation cannot be allowed to go on.”

Dupont notes that the North Koreans have been developing a nuclear second-strike capacity, with the recent launch of one advanced submarine which is capable of launching nuclear missiles, and another one being built. North Korea already has a number of submarines but they are old and easy to track, so the new boats represent a major improvement in launch capacity.Image result for north korean submarines

On the US side, the White House recently requested a major funding package from Congress. It is for the deployment of an additional fifty Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptors capable of shooting down North Korean ballistic missiles. Some of the THAAD systems would go to South Korea and Japan, and others would be positioned to protect US territory.

“Trump’s strategy is multi-faceted,” says Dupont. “Many people look only at the tweets and the heated hyperbole but when you look at it his approach is straight out of the crisis management playbook. He is not telegraphing his moves, he is keeping his options open, he is mobilising allies, and he is decoupling North Korea from its key supporter, China. In fact, his confrontational rhetoric might be part of his strategy. His threat to destroy the whole country is, really, the sort of language that Pyongyang understands, because it is what it uses itself.”

A critical point is that no other strategy has worked in dealing with North Korea. It is sometimes forgotten that there has already been an attempt at diplomatic engagement with North Korea: the Agreed Framework deal set up when Bill Clinton was President. It quickly became clear that North Korea had no intention of abiding by its commitments to freeze weapons development, no matter what benefits it was given.

The Obama policy known as Strategic Patience was also unsuccessful.

“Looking back, it seems pretty clear that the Obama administration did not know what to do, so they did nothing and called it a policy,” says Dupont. “Connected to this was the persistent under-estimation by security agencies in the West of the abilities of the North Koreans to develop nuclear devices and deployment systems. There has long been a feeling that there was always more time to come up with a policy. Well, now we are out of time, and the crunch point is very close. Trump, at least, is giving this situation the priority it deserves.”

Dupont believes that the Trump policy of raising the cost to Kim Jong-un of his nuclear weapons program is reaching the end of its usefulness. Even at a reduced rate of development, it is likely that North Korea will be able to develop nuclear-tipped ICBMs in 18 months, if not sooner. “It means that there is a window of opportunity to push North Korea to the negotiating table,” Dupont says. “The critical player is China. It might be willing to turn off the heavy oil pipeline that is crucial to North Korea’s economy, in addition to existing sanctions. But some careful calibration would be needed. China does not want to see the regime collapse. It would just want to get them realise they have to make a deal.”

A deal would probably involve a freeze in the development of more nuclear weapons and deployment systems, in return for the lifting of sanctions and some direct economic benefits.

Negotiations would involve not only North Korea and the US but would probably include Japan, South Korea, and China. China would be the player to verify that North Korea was complying.

“It’s a good idea but I would rate the chance of successful negotiations at around twenty per cent, no higher than twenty five,” says Dupont. “There are plenty of much darker options, such as North Korea exploding a H-bomb in the Pacific. That would be very hard for the US, and indeed everyone, to ignore. It might be a trigger for a military strike. It is theoretically possible for the US to take out the bulk of North Korea’s nuclear capacity, and for anti-missile systems to shoot down any that get off. But there is a big gap between theory and practice, and then you have to think about destroying much of North Korea’s conventional forces as well.  Possible, but that is as much as you can say. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t come up.”




Small players can think big

Appearing in Financial Review Defence feature, 13 September 2017


Defence sector an untapped market for SMEs


Many small and medium-sized businesses not yet engaged in the defence sector are missing opportunities, according to key players in the field.

“There is no doubt that the defence procurement system is complex and difficult,” says Alan Rankins, President of the Australian Industry & Defence Network, an organisation aimed at providing advice about defence work. “But the AIDN has a long history of providing guidance through the maze and a good record of success.”

There is also the Centre for Defence Industry Capability, funded by the Defence Department but operating in partnership with AusIndustry. The Centre has not been operating for long but the early signs of its capacity to help companies enter the defence sector are positive. It also offers support grants, news on relevant industry events, and advice on supply chains.

Rankins notes that there are about 850 known SMEs with specific capability for the defence sector, ranging from sole traders to the large primes. Some are specifically targeted at defence supply but there are more which have a range of clients, the ADF amongst them.

Surprisingly, until the mid-2000s there was a bias against Australian suppliers in defence procurement. Overseas-based companies were seen as more reliable and more likely to provide equipment which was compatible with that of Australia’s allies. The initial turning point was the Collins submarine project, which opened the door to Australian companies. Since then, the preference has slowly switched to Australian suppliers, particularly after the release of the 2016 Defence Industry Policy Statement. In fact, a number of home-grown companies have broken into important overseas markets for defence equipment. The Bushmaster all-terrain vehicle, for example, is in service all over the world.Alan Rankins of AIDN

“Certainly, there are barriers to entry,” said Rankins. “Just finding the right person in the Defence Department can be a problem. Depending on what is being provided, there are security clearances needed, and if you go into exports there is complex legislation involved. The procedures for bidding for a contract are complex, and then the description of the goods or services wanted can be extraordinarily lengthy and complicated.

“There is also the point that defence projects can take a very long time – years, sometimes decades. That is one reason we recommend that defence suppliers have other customers as well, so they are not dependent on a single revenue stream.

“The upside is that the Defence Department pays fairly, and pays on time. And many of its contracts involve very significant amounts of money. Then, of course, there is the point that it is satisfying work. You are contributing to Australia’s security, and you get to be involved with very interesting stuff.”

In the past decade, the profile of defence procurement has changed. Previously, it was mainly ‘hard’ equipment that was purchased. Now, there is a demand for sophisticated technology products, such as cyber-security software and simulators for training, as well as for intellectual expertise.

One company that has done well due to its expertise is Eggler Technology Training, the only company in the world offering professional development courses in the engineering science and technology used in the design of combat and logistic military vehicles.

“We have only about six people here but it adds up to a lot of brainpower,” says Mark Eggler, founder and Managing Director. “We started as a consultant firm specialising in military vehicle technology but in 2011 moved into engineering education and training, starting at the Australian Defence Force Academy. I have a background in the army so when we started I knew the right people to approach but as we moved into other ADF branches it became much harder. That’s where organisations like the AIDN can help. They know the right doors and how to open them.”

A major part of the company’s revenue now comes from exports of professional engineering training services to countries like Singapore, Brunei and the United Arab Emirates. He notes that trade shows and conventions can be a good starting point to break into export markets.

“Australian companies working in the defence sector have a good reputation overseas,” says Eggler. “That extends to companies offering training and education services. Unfortunately, when the Defence Department sets up a stand at an international trade show it tends to focus on the equipment and manufacturing side. That’s all very well, but the future lies as much in services as in products.  Intellectual expertise is really where Australian professional services companies have a competitive advantage.”

Alan Rankins agrees. “I have no doubt that there are many SMEs in Australia who have products or services that would be very suitable for the defence sector,” he says. “They haven’t thought of the sector or they have taken a glance and decided it is too hard. But help is available, and even for small companies there are big possibilities.”


ASEAN links growing

Appearing in Financial Review, Defence feature, 13 September 2017


Australia should focus on ASEAN ties


Australia needs to return its regional focus to the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, according to a new paper from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific. The paper Smaller, but enmeshed by Professor Tony Milner and Adjunct Associate Professor Ron Huisken calls for Australia to make ASEAN and southeast Asia its priority for economic, political and security cooperation.

“We have had a long association with ASEAN but in the past decade we have let it drift as we focused more on the China-US dynamic,” said Professor Huisken. “There have been some positive steps in the past few years, such as the agreement to hold biennial ASEAN-Australia Leaders’ Summits and the ‘special summit’ planned for 2018. But there is still much to do.”

Prof Ron HuiskenASEAN is growing in economic and political weight. As a trading partner, southeast Asia is more important to Australia than Japan or the US. In 2015 over a million people from ASEAN countries visited Australia, and almost three million Australians travelled in the other direction. For a number of countries in the region, Australia is the leading provider of Western tertiary education.

“These are good indicators but they do not connect to the Australian national imagination or the ASEAN regional imagination. It has not been made clear to the public that Australia must recognise how important the ASEAN region will be to the country’s future – so important, in fact, that Australia should strive to make consultation and cooperation instinctive for both sides,” say the authors.

“Leader-to-leader optics will always be helpful. Images of the Australian Prime Minister strolling through a market place with the Indonesian President, or standing next to the Malaysian leader, cooperating in the search for a lost airliner, do more than words to build solid, deep relations at the cultural level.”

Professor Huisken points to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Singapore and Australia as a crucial step. It was signed on 29 June 2015, coinciding with the fiftieth anniversary of diplomatic relations. It effectively put Australia’s relations with Singapore on the same basis as its relations with New Zealand.

The need to improve relations is underlined by the relative deterioration of Australia’s position. ASEAN’s GDP is now more than US$2.5 trillion, approaching double that of Australia. South Korea has moved ahead of Australia as an investor in the region, and its trade with ASEAN is over double the size of Australia’s.

There is a similar story on the defence side. In 1988, Australia’s military spending was greater than that of all the ASEAN countries. It also held capability, technology and intelligence advantages. Now, ASEAN defence spending is about fifty per cent higher than Australia’s and the lead in capability is shrinking fast.

The good news is that there is increasing defence co-operation between Australia and ASEAN, ranging from joint naval exercises to pilot training. Professor Huisken believes this can be an important part of improved engagement. A solid security relationship is developing with Singapore, which has contracted to use bases in the Shoalwater Bay Training Area and Townsville Field Training Area. It will eventually be a large commitment, with up to 14,000 Singapore personnel training for up to 18 weeks a year by 2021.

In another significant move, the Australian Government recently announced that the Philippines Government has accepted an Australian offer of two AP-3C Orion aircraft to provide surveillance support to the armed forces of the Philippines in the fight against groups linked to Islamic State in Mindanao province. The arrangement comes under the Defence Cooperation Program with the Philippines, which includes counter-terrorism activities.

“In an important respect, the growth and development of the ASEAN region constitute an opportunity for Australia,” says Professor Huisken. “Forty years ago Australia was a relatively bigger player. Now there is more of a balance, and that is reflected in the easier sense of partnership in defence issues.

“But to keep and build that emerging sense of partnership there has to be change of language, amongst other things. We need to stop talking about southeast Asia as ‘our backyard’. And it is also counterproductive to use terms like ‘Asia Pacific’ and the ‘Indo-Pacific’. These constructions may have appeal for Australians but they have little value in the region. The reality is that Australia gets some bad press in southeast Asia, and the use of terms that are construed as patronising is one of the reasons.”

Professor Huisken sees a window of opportunity, with ASEAN wary of Chinese ambitions in the region and the uncertainties about the US presence. Deeper Australian engagement with ASEAN and support for its initiatives could add an important element of certainty for both sides.

“Australia’s support for ASEAN needs to be unambiguous and public,” he says. “We have important blocks in place, and now we have to take it forward.”


Language teaching takes a step up

Appearing in Financial Review, Special Report: Your child’s education, 4 September 2017

Languages open doors to new cultures

The future for teaching of non-English languages in Australia is looking hopeful, with an increasing number of options for students and a move towards teaching models favouring cultural engagement and meaning.

“The days where there were only a few choices in schools, usually French or German and maybe Latin, and teaching focused on the technical translation of texts, are gone,” says Dr Anne-Marie Morgan, head of the School of Education at the University of New England and President of the Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations. “There is increasing recognition of the need and demand for learning languages, with strong support from a network of professional associations around the country.”

Increasingly, language education is being provided in early primary school, which has the benefit of complementing learning in English literacy. There is a solid body of research showing that learning additional languages promotes cognitive skills and sensitivity, and improves broad skills in listening, reading and writing.

“The evidence shows that it is never too early to start,” says Dr Morgan. “Even for students who are quite young, learning another language helps them realise that they are living in a global world, and that there can be different ways of understanding that world.”Dr Anne-Marie Morgan

The number of students completing Year 12 language classes has been dropping but Dr Morgan believes that this is not the most relevant measure. The more significant metric is the number of students, in both primary schools and the early years of secondary schools, who have undertaken language studies – and this is a growth area. But Australia still lags behind other OECD nations in the overall numbers of bilingual speakers, and the policy aim is still to increase uptake of languages learning.

Over the last decade the languages most commonly taught have been Japanese, Chinese, French, Italian and Indonesian. However, classes in Spanish, Hindi and Arabic are starting to appear in significant numbers, and the signing language Auslan is also being taught. There is significant variation between states, with Chinese, Italian and Arabic popular in New South Wales, for example, while Italian, Indonesian and Japanese are more common in Western Australia. Much depends on the demographics of an area, which feed into a school through community demand.

Generally, independent schools offer more languages programs and across more years, although many state schools provide a range of choices.

Dr Morgan emphasises that language programs are only valuable if a school takes them seriously, and commits resources and time to them. A token program, perhaps only a half-hour a week, can actually be counter-productive, if students end the program feeling that they have not really learned anything.

“One teaching method that shows great promise is to conduct non-language classes, such as maths, in another language. This model is based on experience in Canada and Europe and the early results in Australia are encouraging,” says Dr Morgan.

This approach is part of a shift away from the old emphasis on vocabulary and grammar. The focus now is on the capacity for communication and meaning, and on how people actually engage with one another.

“Young people today are more connected to and aware of other languages and cultures than ever before,” Dr Morgan says. “English is no longer the only language of the Internet, and most young people will travel. What they want is to be able to communicate with and understand other societies.”

Even with the range of languages on offer increasing there does not appear to be a shortage of teachers; it is more a problem of distribution and concentration of programs. There is a mix of native speakers and Australian-trained teachers. Programs that have enabled teachers to develop their skills so they can learn a language and know how to teach it have also been successful in meeting demand, especially in languages new to Australian schools.

One problem, however, is that some students can have much greater experience with a language than others, especially if they speak it in the family home. Students without the background experience find it difficult to compete, and those with existing knowledge find it frustrating if the class deals with what they already know.

Dr Morgan admits that this can cause ructions.

“The Australian Curriculum begins to address this issue with curricula for students of different backgrounds and experience, and school systems provide differentiated programs in the senior years,” she says. “This approach has worked in some situations but there are always grey areas. It is an issue that will continue to need attention.

“I think that the language area will continue to grow, and languages will establish themselves more firmly in the school curriculum. There is good support from all sides of politics. That bodes well for the future – both of students, and the country.”

Step up on cyberwarfare

Appearing in Financial Review, Defence feature, 22 June 2017


Cyberspace is the emerging battlefield but there are many questions as to how to conflicts there will be fought – and are already being fought – and how cyber-warfare intersects with boots-on-the-ground soldiering.

“It is here whether we like it or not,” says Professor Greg Austin of the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at the University of New South Wales in Canberra. “The bad news is that Australia is lagging behind many other countries. If the US, widely recognised as the global leader in this, was rated as a five then Australia would be between one and two. A lot of other countries are at the same level, but there are others, including some we might see as potential adversaries, who are more advanced.

“The good news is that we are moving ahead, with funding being allocated and cyber-warfare being increasingly incorporated into strategic planning, such as in the 2016 Defence White Paper. The current Prime Minister and some of his Cabinet colleagues see the importance of this, although I cannot say that that understanding is shared across the political spectrum.”cyber warfare

One aspect of change is the establishment of new unit dedicated to cyber-warfare, which will begin operations next month. It will be headed by a Major-General, giving it a voice at the senior levels of the ADF and the government. The aim is to consolidate and improve cyber-warfare capabilities while working across the ADF to bolster recognition of the importance of the area.

Cyber-warfare could take place at a number of levels. As part of actual combat it could be used to attack command-and-control systems, surveillance systems and logistics. Communications systems could either be shut down or fake information could be planted.

Another aspect could be to attack frontline weapons systems, everything from aircraft flight systems to missile batteries. Even communications equipment used by troops in the field could be disrupted.

“If it’s got a chip in it, it’s a target,” Professor Austin says. “Which means practically everything.”

At another level, a country’s infrastructure facilities could also be attacked as part of a conflict, to hamper the organising of military forces, to create economic damage, and to cause panic. Professor Austin identifies electricity infrastructure as especially vulnerable, because of its distributed nature and its technological architecture.

Protecting systems is itself a huge task but the other side of the cyber-battlefield is offensive capacity. While the extent of the ADF’s offensive capacity is classified it certainly exists, ranging from the development of malware that could be inserted into an enemy’s systems to finding pathways that would allow covert monitoring of communications.

A critical problem with cyber-attacks is that the identity of the enemy might not be clear. But Professor Austin believes that the idea that cyber-warfare could be conducted by a collection of malcontents in a basement is not really credible.

“There is certainly the possibility of attacks from small groups or even individuals but to do it on a large scale, and to get past the defences, requires the resources of a state,” he says. “It is likely that a cyber-conflict would happen, if it does, in the context of a larger conflict over territory or another issue. So the enemy would be known, more or less. But the nature of the technology means that a weaker party can generate a disproportionate effect against a stronger adversary.”

Within the senior levels of the ADF, the formation of the new cyber-warfare unit is seen as a critical step forward. One of its longstanding advocates, Brigadier Marcus Thompson (who holds a PhD in cyber security issues) emphasised the need to find the best people in a recent article for the Australian Defence Force Journal.

“Given the specialist nature of cyber operations, personnel employed in such roles should be selected based on their attributes and aptitude, rather than their technical skills,” he says. “Technically-qualified personnel will certainly have a critical role to play but intelligence and targeting functions are equally important to successful cyber operations.

“While the required workforce is likely to be drawn from the Royal Australian Corps of Signals in the first instance, any member of the Australian Army with the attributes required to successfully execute cyber operations can be trained to be a cyber warrior, regardless of their rank, trade, Corps or gender.”

He believes that the ADF might also need to reconsider its recruiting model, physical entry standards, pay rates, and structures to attract people with the appropriate attributes to cyber-related positions.

Professor Austin agrees. “Ultimately, we will probably see fewer people on the ground and more warriors who fight in front of a computer screen,” he says. “The soldier with a gun, and their naval and air force counterparts, will never be redundant but we are already seeing some countries move personnel resources into cyber-warfare. It’s a new age, and we’re just seeing the start of it.”

Energy ideas

Appearing in Australian Financial Review (Energy Future feature), 15 May 2017


New wave of innovators for energy sector

There is a sense that the pace of innovation is rising in the energy sector but structural obstacles are preventing the full benefits from flowing to the economy.

“We are seeing a great appetite for innovations in the renewable energy and clean energy fields, supporting global commitments for a low carbon economy,” says Miranda Taylor, CEO of the National Energy Resources Australia industry group. “The area has moved into the social mainstream, with broad acceptance that it is the way of the future. The question is how to best get there.”

“Something we are seeing at the moment is a shift away from a pipeline innovation model, where large companies develop incremental innovations in-house or with one or two of their large vendors, and then send them through a series of bureaucratic gateways and evaluation processes. We are moving towards a platform model where multiple external knowledge experts, including small and medium-size companies, are coming up with new ideas.”

“The escalation in digital and automation technology is playing a large role in this. Open source automation means small companies and innovators can ‘plug and play’, and industry is no longer locked into closed, proprietal technology where no-one else could participate or innovate. At the same time, innovators can increasingly access simulations and living labs to make the process of demonstrating and verifying the value from innovation easier and less risky.

“As large companies move out of the expansion phase of the resources boom, where the emphasis was on refining and improving existing technologies, they are more willing to look at innovations from external sources, provided that the innovation is an answer to a real problem and will generate significant value.”

Taylor notes that while most of the large resource and energy companies have embraced new technology, including automation of discrete functions and tasks, they have not yet moved to full-systems inter-operability. She believes that they have not yet leveraged the efficiencies that would result from that optimisation. Few companies have created multi-disciplinary teams that help to promote whole-of-organisation improvement.

Taylor explains that NERA has begun to develop an innovation supply chain strategy, including mechanisms to assist SMEs. It recently established a new annual grants program offering $20,000 in assistance to ten SMEs to successfully commercialise their research and innovation in partnership with larger companies. The recipients were involved in areas ranging from a new drilling module that can handle gas pressures more effectively than existing options, a wireless device that uses gyroscopic and inertial forces to rotate and orient loads such as windmill blades and pipe sections, and a system that allows specialist workers to upload their personal and compliance information for potential employers.

NERA is also running a program to help SMEs ensure that their innovations are market-ready, as well as encouraging to SMEs to form ‘supply chain innovation clusters’. The aim is to help them achieve greater visibility, and build the scale required to compete in global markets.

Most universities now have research centres and innovation hubs dedicated to renewable energy and clean energy, and many innovations start there. But the longstanding issue of linking entrepreneurial SMEs with providers of venture capital remains.

“There is certainly more willingness for the venture capital sector to look at the energy sector than there was in the 2012-2014 period, where there was a definite pullback,” says Dr Mark Bonnar, Managing Director of Southern Cross Venture Partners. “In particular, there is an interest in companies with software that can be used to integrate renewable energy with the traditional grid, and improve energy management in line with the changes happening in the market. But VC companies are actively engaged in seeking opportunities, of whatever type they might be. We don’t sit in our office waiting for the phone to ring.”

Bonnar points out that many SMEs in the energy sector, even if they have a good product, fall down when raising funds.

“It’s surprising how little they know about attracting investment, in many cases,” he says. “In the US, financing skills are seen as a necessary part of the innovation process. But a lot of Australian entrepreneurs do not even grasp the idea of approaching a potential VC partner through a referral or recommendation, something which these days is quite easy to do with the availability of on-line social and business networks.”

Nevertheless, Bonnar sees the situation as steadily improving, with several energy-specific business incubators and early stage equity funds being established, as well as conferences and conventions designed to bring innovators and VC providers together.

“There are certainly positive signs about innovation in the energy sector,” he says. “Uptake is shifting from policy-push to consumer-pull, especially in areas such as energy storage, electric vehicles and new energy retail models where consumers can benefit from shifting their usage patterns during periods of high energy pricing”.

Military uniforms get next-gen innovation

Appearing in Australian Financial Review, Defence feature, 8 March 2017


“I like to think that we have played a role in the distinctive look of Australian service-men and -women,” says Matt Graham, CEO of Australian Defence Apparel, the largest manufacturer of uniforms and related equipment to the ADF. “It’s a look recognised and respected all over the world. We’ve been doing it for over a hundred years, and our focus has always been on integrating form and function. Whether soldiers or firefighters, any job is easier in the right uniform.”

ADA, based in Melbourne, manufactures more than 500,000 uniforms across a range of contracts every year. For the ADF, this includes the Standard Combat Uniform, Operational Combat Uniform, Soldier Combat Ensemble, Load Carriage Equipment and Flyers Ensembles. Including specialised items such as Tiered Body Armour System vests and pouches ADA produces between 750,000 and one million units per year.

“When most of the manufacturing sector in Australia is going backwards we are on a growth path,” Graham says. “We have put a lot of resources into R&D, and the next generation of products is really exciting. In particular, 3D printing adds a new dimension to prototyping and testing.”

One of the products that has come out of research is an innovative pack frame that can be easily adjusted to the wearer’s weight and height has been developed. Known as the One299 backpack frame, the product won the 2016 Land Defence Australia – National Industry Innovation Award last September. Over 30,000 frames have been supplied to the ADF, and there has been international interest as well.

ADA is working with the ADF to develop the next generation of uniforms using e­-textiles, in which communication data is passed through fibres embedding in the clothing. This would eliminate the need for cables and reduce the weight a soldier would have to carry.

Another hi-tech project designed to improve soldier performance is a titanium exoskeleton that would wrap around a soldier’s body, and would help take the weight of a backpack. The technology is being developed with the US Army’s elite special operations command, and could be rolled out to the general army in 2018. The project is being run with ADA’s parent company Logistik Unicorp, a global specialist uniform company headquartered in Canada. 

“The first version is not powered but we are working on a battery-powered one for the US,” says Graham. “The powered suit would sense muscle reflexes and activate to take the weight of the soldier’s movement. In the US, they are calling it the Iron Man project. It might sound sci-fi but the potential is enormous, especially given the number of injuries that soldiers incur by carrying heavy weight. There are other applications in the health and disability sector as well. You can see the potential.

“When we come up something new, we protect it. ADA is one of the few uniform companies that regularly patents the innovations we create.”

Graham notes that liaison with the ADF is ongoing, and cites the organisation Diggerworks within the ADF procurement system as a key partner. Diggerworks is designed to collect, analyse and utilise feedback from soldiers in the field, and Graham sees the link with field operations as crucial in ensuring that soldiers get what they need. The current emphasis is on giving soldiers flexibility in weapons, protection and communications without adding to the weight they have to carry.

Even though the defence sector is in a growth phase Graham sees diversification as a crucial strategy for the long term. He believes that the company’s good reputation as an ADF supplier can be parlayed into other fields.

“We have had good success with uniforms for firefighters and emergency services workers, for example. There is a lot of cross-over in the materials technology, and we can point to our work with the ADF as proof that we can handle both specialised product runs as well as large contracts.”

One of ADA’s largest non-defence projects was the contract to provide a new uniform range for New South Wales Health, with more than 80,000 uniformed staff. This entailed rollout across the state with full end-to-end inventory and supply chain management.

Another piece of the diversification strategy was the recent acquisition of LE Gear, a leading supplier of law enforcement, military, public safety and outdoor sports products.

“It complements our manufacturing and apparel business, and opens the door to new markets, new brands and new suppliers,” says Graham. “It also gives us a proven e-commerce platform for direct to consumer distribution across Australia and New Zealand. That’s a new direction for us, but that’s the point. You have to keep trying new things, keep going with innovation, keep applying technology. That’s how you stay ahead.”

North Korea missile program adds uncertainty

Appearing in Australian Financial Review, Defence feature, 8 March 2017


The past few months has seen a ratcheting-up of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and there are no solutions on the horizon.

A key event was the successful launch of a Pukguksong-2 missile from North Korean territory into the Sea of Japan in mid-February. The missile was apparently launched from a mobile launcher and used solid fuel, much more reliable than the liquid fuel that has been used by North Korea in the past for land launches. Solid fuel has been used in successful submarine launches, and now the technology has been transferred to land launches.

That launch was followed up by a test a few days ago in which North Korea fired four ballistic missiles from the Tongchang-ri region near the border with China. Three of them landed in Japan’s maritime exclusive economic zone, meaning they covered a distance of about a thousand kilometres.

The latest round of launches suggests that North Korea is trying to develop a ‘second strike’ capacity, so it would be capable of launching missiles even if its central command facilities were destroyed.

The significance of the successful missile launch is underlined by a successful nuclear test conducted last September at the Punggy-ru test site. The device had a yield of at least ten kilotons – some Western intelligence agencies say up to 30 kilotons – making it larger than the Hiroshima bomb. The test constitutes a landmark in the country’s nuclear program.

So far, there is no hard evidence that the North Korean government has been able to miniaturise a nuclear weapon to fit into a missile – although the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has claimed that it can. The general view amongst Western analysts is that that step is probably not far away. Assuming that missile development continues along its current line Japan as well as South Korea will be soon be in range from land missiles, and Hawaii and Alaska, and even the US Pacific Coast would be in the danger zone from submarine-launched missiles. North Korea has tested inter-continental missiles, and if these can be developed the list of possible targets grows exponentially.

“I would describe the nuclear weapon capacity of North Korea as rudimentary but developing,” says Professor Ramesh Thakur, director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU. “Having said that, we should realise that they have shown the capacity to make advances very quickly. The next thing to look for is a successful test involving a nuclear weapon and a missile together. That would be a major breakthrough.”

The launch of the missile in February was apparently designed to coincide with a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump. It may have been an attempt to test Trump, who is largely an unknown quantity on foreign policy. Trump’s response to the launch was to re-affirm the support of the US for Japan (but not, interestingly, South Korea).

“There is a chance here for a two-track approach, with engagement and dialogue on one and threats and sanctions on the other,” says Professor Thakur. “One way to get North Korea to the bargaining table might be to include talks on converting the armistice held over from the Korean War into a peace treaty, which North Korea wants. So far North Korea does not show any willingness to give up its weapons. They define ‘denuclearisation’ of the Korean Peninsula to include the withdrawal of the American nuclear umbrella, while to the US and South Korea it means the irreversible dismantling of the North’s nuclear weapon program. Neither of those is going to happen. But North Korea might be amenable to a freeze on development and testing. And if there are to be talks of some kind, China needs to be involved.”

China has long been the critical supporter of North Korea but Beijing recently announced that it was imposing a strict limit on coal imports from North Korea, a move which would deal a crucial blow to the isolated North Korean economy. Whether the announcement will be followed by action is not yet known but the move opens a new front.

“I believe that China was sending a message to the North Koreans about pulling back and lowering the temperature,” Professor Thakur suggests. “Interestingly, the North Koreans said in a government publication that ‘China was dancing to the US tune’, which says a lot about the way Pyongyang sees the world. Of course, China would never respond to US pressure. Beijing’s move on coal comes because they see it as good for China to shorten North Korea’s leash every now and then.

“The level of instability might have increased in the past few months but there is also the opportunity for advances over the coming year. The key question will be whether the Americans are willing to move past the belligerent language and put forward some serious options.”