Defence has imagined modern warfare and Australia is not prepared
By Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop
The review suggests the future of warfare won’t involve tanks and traditional weapons, but will be fought online. This review has been written by an Australian fir Australia. However this is equally applicable to India with the dragon trying to scare us. So India must prepare itself to slay any dragon trying to interfere with Indian way of life.
The year is 2022 and ticketing for the football grand final goes down. Fans don’t know it yet, but this is an act of cyber sabotage designed to distract Australia from a brewing regional war.
• A landmark report, released under Freedom of Information laws, is the Department of Defence’s first internal reassessment of war preparedness since the Vietnam era
• The report finds Australia is unprepared for an increasingly likely cyber war
• The review warned last June that a pandemic would emerge from Asia within a decade
With the reason for the ticketing failure still unknown, confusion spreads as another wave of cyber attacks disrupts imports of Australia’s crucial supplies, reviving mass panic over medical shortages during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The supplies that keep our essential services running — such as medicines, fuel and components for power grids — slow to a trickle as a foreign enemy sabotages vulnerable importers.
This is a different kind of invisible enemy from the coronavirus. This time, the public doesn’t know why Australia has been thrown into chaos.
A foreign power is covering its tracks in a stealth cyberwar aimed at eroding faith in the Australian Government while the adversary achieves military objectives in the region.
This scenario — which might read like a TV plotline — was relied upon by a top-secret Department of Defence review, obtained by the ABC, which last year concluded the nation was unprepared despite facing the highest threat of war or economic crisis since the 1950s.
“These kinds of attacks are plausible because they could happen tomorrow,” says Professor Rory Medcalf, whose influential National Security College at the Australian National University devised the scenario for the Defence review.
“When we think about national security, we often think about submarines or warships or the military, but it’s quite plausible that the conflicts of the future will begin well before violence is inflicted and may even end before a shot is fired.”
The landmark report, released to the ABC under Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, is the department’s first internal reassessment of long-term war planning and preparedness since the Vietnam era.
Completed last June, the so-called mobilisation review was chilling in its prescience: it singled out a possible pandemic from Asia as a likely threat within 10 years and concluded: “Australia’s strategic environment is more uncertain than it has been for many decades.”
The review concluded: “The probability of a significant social or economic disruption, [or] a regional operation requiring Australia to lead a multinational coalition or become engaged in a major power conflict is higher now than at any time in the last 60 years.”
The report also reveals deep concerns from across the Defence Department that Australia’s planning for modern, unconventional warfare and crises is inadequate.
It finds Australia will require a sweeping new national strategy for this era of global uncertainty.
“It’s a very significant and historic document,” says former Australian Defence Force chief Chris Barrie, who advised the review.
“It warns us about a whole range of vulnerabilities and canvasses a whole range of preparedness issues where Australia is extraordinarily deficient in its quest to become the best-globalised country on the planet.
“We need to go through it and we need to determine what are the strategic investments we need to make right now.”
The review was commissioned in 2017, following warnings from Admiral Barrie that Australia was unprepared for a new global conflict, a crisis caused by climate change or economic collapse.
“We are sleepwalking and there is an unacceptable risk of a third world war in the next two decades,” he says.
“We’ve witnessed the growth of China becoming a very significant power and on a trajectory that most of us don’t understand, while secondly, we’ve seen in the United States the collapse of leadership.
“We see the rise of nationalism in the United States and Europe, we see the growth of military expenditures, and we see a world community unable to deal with the problems it’s confronting in geo-strategic affairs.”
After the shocks of COVID-19 and the recent bushfire crisis, the report will add to growing pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison for a national security strategy to make Australia more resilient in a new unstable era.
Cyberwarfare: ‘We may not know until it’s well advanced’
The report finds Australia is unprepared for an increasingly likely cyberwar.
“In many ways, we may not even know when a cyber attack or indeed when a cyber campaign against Australian interests has begun,” Professor Medcalf says.
“We may not know until it’s well advanced. There may be all kinds of preparation, pre-positioning, collection of intelligence — there’s already been a wave of intelligence attacks or theft of data from Australia, from companies, from government, even from universities in recent years — so that first wave of cyber conflict may be very difficult to detect.”
Former chief of the Australian Defence Force, Chris Barrie, is one of the voices urging the Government to better prepare for possible threats.
A former diplomat and senior intelligence analyst, Professor Medcalf trains Australia’s defence and intelligence officials at the National Security College in Canberra.
In November 2018, the college was commissioned by the Defence review to run a wargame with at least 17 senior officials who concluded Australia was “not well set up to deal with” cyberwar.
“We plotted out plausible futures just a few years from now to look at whether our systems could in any way stand up to the kinds of cyber attacks that an actor like China, Russia, North Korea or maybe even organised crime could throw at Australia,” he said.
“The report found that Australia is certainly underprepared, in some ways unprepared, for full-scale cyber attack.”
The National Security College’s report of the wargame, also obtained by the ABC under FOI laws, warned a foreign power in a cyberwar “will not just exploit weaknesses in computer systems; they will exploit vulnerabilities in society”.
In one of the scenarios considered by the group, an enemy country launches simultaneous cyber attacks on Australia’s critical infrastructure, like the electricity grid and military networks, as well as against food supply chains.
In another, the adversary hacks into autonomous vehicles and drones, causing road crashes and igniting bushfires.
In a third scenario, the prime minister is hit by a corruption scandal over payments into his or her bank account, while mass distrust and confusion are sewn by so-called “deep fake” videos of leaders and “false flag” attacks designed to divert blame.
With Australia’s cyber systems no longer secure, the nation is isolated from its allies and ejected out of the Five Eyes intelligence community by the US, Canada, the UK and New Zealand.
“It’s pretty widely assumed that the powers with the capability and potentially the intent to clash with Australia’s interests in cybersecurity are China, Russia and North Korea,” Professor Medcalf says.
“It could involve interference in systems or sabotage of critical infrastructure: power, water, sanitation, transport.
“It’s not always clear that these could be attributed to a particular state unless the state chose to signal its responsibility or its intent, but cyber conflict instead could occur in a subtle way as part of an overall campaign to pressure Australia to change its policies on a certain issue, an economic issue, or indeed a foreign policy issue.”
Technology has significantly changed warfare
The mobilisation review finds “the nature of unconventional warfare has changed significantly and needs to be better understood within Defence.”
It says Australia’s “level of security comfort” from its geographic isolation has been “notably reduced” because cyber attacks “make national security borders very porous”.
“Adversary strategies have significantly improved with advances in information technology, big data and artificial intelligence,” it said.
Cheryl Durrant was the Department of Defence director of preparedness and mobilisation and warns Australia must do more to prepare for crises.
“These developments allow groups and even individuals to be targeted for active manipulation.
“The likely unconventional approach that could be taken by potential adversaries … could negate much of the benefits of conventional military planning.”
Despite this changing world order, the Defence mobilisation review found, “there has been limited consideration of formal planning for large-scale (including national) mobilisation since the Vietnam era”.
The Defence Department’s former director of preparedness and mobilisation, Cheryl Durrant, who commissioned the review, recently broke her silence to reveal to the ABC deep concerns about Australia’s readiness for a crisis.
Commenting on the release of the mobilisation review, she says she was stunned by overlapping risks to Australia from crises as diverse as cyberwar, climate-induced catastrophe and a pandemic.
“Cyberwar actually could be experienced by the Australian public much in similar ways as a massive disaster, because the attack was likely to go for vulnerable elements of the Australian infrastructure network,” she said.
“We’re seeing all the threats converging to give us the same risks.
“Modern conflict won’t involve military-grade machinery … it will consist of a country exerting economic influence on our supply chains and infrastructure.
“The question as a nation is, ‘Have we put our defences in the right place?'”
The Defence review also reveals deep concerns among senior Defence officials and Australian industry leaders that the nation is unprepared for disruptions to imports of essential supplies, like the medical shortages of the coronavirus crisis.
The ABC revealed a fortnight ago that a report commissioned by the review found Australia’s critical infrastructure and essential services would cease to function within three months of a halt to global trade.
The report of the Defence mobilisation review reveals “concern about comprehension and awareness of supply chain vulnerabilities [was] apparent in almost every interview” with senior Defence officials consulted for the review.
“Given … our reliance on imported manufactured goods, the nation is exposed to major disruptions of global governance and supply that could significantly impact our society,” the report found.
Both Defence Minister Linda Reynolds and the Defence Department declined requests for an interview, but confirmed the mobilisation review would help inform a new Defence Mobilisation Plan.
“Defence is considering a range of matters including personnel, logistics, infrastructure and industry across multiple scenarios where Defence would have a role to play,” Senator Reynolds said in a statement.
“A contemporary mobilisation plan will ensure that the Australian Defence Force has maximum impact in combat or supporting Australians in their time of need.”
Push for a national security strategy
Within the Federal Government and across Australia’s military and security communities, there is a growing push for the Prime Minister and the states to develop a new national security or resilience strategy.
The Defence review is unequivocal, finding a “whole-of-government approach will be required” to deal with unconventional threats to all sectors of society.
“A response to a global crisis requires all departments of government — health, agriculture, transport, social services, economic responses — to work together,” Ms Durrant says.
“We have a Defence White Paper and we have a national pandemic strategy and we have various plans within each government department. What we don’t have is a national security strategy.”
The report also calls for a detailed assessment of the nation’s vulnerabilities and suggests a national effort is required to ward off the damaging divisions that adversaries like Russia have capitalised on in the US.
“One of the really big things about the review was the importance of social cohesion as a national resilience and national defence,” Ms Durrant says.
“I think it’s critical for Australia not to take that for granted. It’s really critical for a nation to have a coherent sense of who we are, what we value.”