Defence thinking, strategy and planning have “shifted gears” to respond to the evolving defence environment, according to Defence Minister Linda Reynolds.

Speaking at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute in Canberra on July 2, Senator Reynolds said the 2020 Defence Strategic Update and 2020 Force Structure Plan provided a timely and detailed response to that change.

Senator Reynolds said a review last year of the strategic underpinnings of the 2016 Defence White Paper “found that our security environment has deteriorated far more rapidly and in ways we could not have predicted four years ago”.

“Major power competition, militarisation, disruptive technological change and many other new threats are all making our region less safe,” she said.

 “Historically, Defence planning had assumed a decade-long warning period for any major conventional attack against Australia. This is no longer valid.”

Sentor Reynolds said nations were employing coercive tactics below the threshold of armed conflict – such as cyber attacks, foreign interference and economic pressure – to exploit the grey area between peace and war.

Other threats included terrorism, violent extremism, organised crime and people smuggling. The COVID-19 pandemic was also dramatically altering the global economic and strategic landscape.

Senator Reynolds said it was “unequivocally in Australia’s interests” to have a role in shaping our strategic environment.

“We must recognise and work in the knowledge that the US-China strategic relationship – the most consequential bilateral relationship in our region, and in the world today – is increasingly characterised by competition,” she said.

Senator Reynolds said Australia had supported China where its pursuit of greater influence in the Indo-Pacific advanced mutual interests in security, prosperity and stability.

“Where such actions have unsettled the stability of our region, we have joined with others in clearly expressing our concerns,” she said.

Australia is strengthening its cutting-edge Defence Force, which is already forward-looking, decisive and regionally focused.

“We want to work with both the US and China, and all other partners, to contribute to the stability and prosperity of the entire Indo-Pacific.”

Senator Reynolds said that as a maritime nation, a stable rules-based order that permitted the free flow of goods and services was fundamental to Australia’s national security.

To preserve that security, the government has directed Defence to sharpen its capabilities across five  domains – maritime, land, air, information and cyber, and space.

“Australia is strengthening its cutting-edge Defence Force, which is already forward-looking, decisive and regionally focused,” Senator Reynolds said.

The 2020 Force Structure Plan will deliver and enhance our maritime capability, with a total planned capability investment of about $75 billion over the next decade.

“Our submarine capability underpins Australia’s credibility and influence as a modern military power,” Senator Reynolds said.

She said the government would invest $55 billion over the next decade in capabilities to provide our land forces with enhanced mobility, speed, firepower, protection and situational awareness.

About $65 billion will be invested to build on previous commitments so our air capabilities deliver potency over even greater ranges, with options including long-range strike weapons and autonomous aircraft.

In the next decade, $15 billion will be allocated to boost information and cyber capabilities critical for identifying and responding to threats targeting Australian interests.

Senator Reynolds said space was increasingly critical for the ADF’s warfighting effectiveness, particularly for real-time communications, situational awareness and rapid information delivery. A total of $7 billion will be spent on space capabilities over the next decade.

“These capabilities, and many others in the Force Structure Plan, will enable us to deter and respond to attacks against Australian interests. They will also better enable us to support our neighbours when needed,” she said.

To watch the video of Senator Reynolds' speech, go to: