​Canberra coughs up AU$730m for Defence Technologies Fund

The Australian government has announced a AU$730 million 'Next Generation' Technologies Fund that it said will be used to help the Defence Force respond to, and overcome, new threats.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has announced a AU$730 million investment in Australia's Defence capability and innovation, launching the "Next Generation" Technologies Fund in a bid to thwart emerging attack methods.

It is expected the AU$730 million fund will provide "creative solutions" to the Australian Defence Force (ADF), whilst also benefiting the nation's industry.

"As our enemies devise new ways to attack, our Defence Force must have advanced ways to respond and overcome new threats," Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne said in a statement.

"This is a 10-year strategic research and development program that will deliver game-changing capabilities for the ADF of the future."

The defence minister kicked off the fund with an initial investment of AU$16.8 million, and said the fund will draw on scientific expertise from both industry and university sectors in a bid to give the ADF a "winning edge with advanced technologies".

"The first program as part of the fund will be Grand Challenges, where Defence puts forward a problem with no easy solutions and asks Australians to come up with an answer," Pyne explained.

"These challenges will require joint, multi-disciplinary research across organisations to resolve.

"The first such challenge, which will soon be open to proposals, is to counter improvised threats, which are constantly evolving and confronting our troops."

The hackathon-like Grand Challenges will bring together startups and larger companies, as well as academic researchers, to work alongside Defence scientists to solve large-scale, "mission-focused projects with clearly-defined end goals", Pyne explained.

The government will also be establishing Defence Cooperative Research Centres, university research networks, a Defence research accelerator scheme, an innovation research initiative for small business, and expanded technology "foresighting" activities as part of the fund.

"The government is determined to make the most of the investment in the Next Generation Technologies Fund and ensure that industry and academia are actively engaged in developing unbeatable capabilities for Australia's future defence force," Pyne said.

Defence's Science and Technology Group will lead the research program focused on nine transformational technology areas, highlighted in the 2016 Defence White Paper: Cybersecurity; space capabilities; quantum technologies; autonomous systems; enhanced human performance; medical countermeasures; multi-disciplinary material sciences; integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; and advanced sensors, hypersonics, and directed energy capabilities.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull launched the country's cybersecurity strategy in April, which is aimed at defending the nation's cyber networks from organised criminals and state-sponsored attackers, and sits alongside the AU$400 million provided in the Defence White Paper for cyber activities.

The Australian government also launched its Cyber Security Growth Centre in December. The centre now operates as a not-for-profit company under the new name of the Australian Cyber Security Growth Network Ltd.

The cybersecurity growth network, led by Craig Davies, former head of security for Australian startup darling Atlassian, is responsible for driving the development of a "vibrant and globally competitive" cybersecurity industry in Australia, as well as ensuring Australian businesses can take advantage of the growing market opportunity in cybersecurity.

Turnbull initially pledged AU$30 million through to 2019-20 in December 2015 as part of the government's AU$1.1 billion National Science and Innovation Agenda to establish the centre in a bid to grow and strengthen Australia's cybersecurity industry.

Turnbull expects that the growth centre will work closely with industry sectors across Australia to build the quantity and professionalism of the nation's cybersecurity workforce to become globally competitive and respected.

The Australian government also announced in February it would be giving AU$1.9 million to universities that deliver specialised cybersecurity training in a bid to combat the skills shortage in cyber-related fields.

"Cybersecurity skills are fundamental to the success and growth of Australia's digital economy, but like many other nations, Australia is suffering from a skills shortage in this field," Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Dan Tehan said previously.

Under the program, universities can apply to be recognised as Academic Centres of Cyber Security.

The government hopes the funding injection will help attract more Australians to cybersecurity jobs and increase the number of skilled graduates needed to help protect businesses and government from emerging threats.

Also in Februrary, the government launched its first Joint Cyber Security Centre in Brisbane, aiming to boost cybersecurity resilience in the country by bringing industry, government, and law enforcement together to share relevant threat information under one roof.

The Brisbane centre is the first stage of the AU$47 million program that will also see similar centres established in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Perth.

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