November 30, 2020

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Australian government updates science and tech priorities

The Australian Government has updated the National Security Science and Technology Priorities, to strengthen the country’s national security.

The update identified six priority areas, including cybersecurity, intelligence, border security and identity management, technology foresight, investigative support and forensic science, and preparedness, protection, prevention and incident response.

The update has given greater consideration to recent challenges such as national resilience and biosecurity. These priorities will help to drive strategic advantage by developing, adapting and delivering science and technology solutions to current and future national security challenges.

The National Security and Defence community will work closely to shape and harness the national science and technology enterprise, to achieve a cohesive innovation system as outlined in the 2020 Defence Strategic Update.

Given the commitment and capacity of adversaries to engineer smarter, more agile and increasingly innovative technologies to threaten Australia’s national security, and the growing challenges arising from its natural environment that test the resilience of its society and national systems, the country must remain at the forefront of science and technology to remain agile and anticipative of new and emerging threats.

Currently, Defence, specifically Defence Science and Technology (DST), is responsible for coordinating national security science and technology. DST is recognised as having expertise across key areas of science and technology delivery, experience in establishing and managing diverse research programs, and strong connections with domestic and international science and technology providers.

Priority Areas

The six national security science and technology priority areas are:

  • Technology Foresighting

The ability to monitor, analyse and evaluate the implications of scientific and technological developments to prevent strategic and tactical surprise.

  • Intelligence

The ability to collect, analyse, integrate, assess and disseminate intelligence with the accuracy, scale and speed required to support timely national security and intelligence decision making.

  • Preparedness, Protection, Prevention and Incident

The ability to appropriately equip and prepare Australian agencies to effectively address national security threats and natural or man-made destructive events, including mass-harm and mass-damage incidents, either by preventing their occurrence, or responding and recovering effectively if they have occurred.

  • Cyber Security

The ability to strengthen the cybersecurity and resilience of critical infrastructure and systems of national significance through the conduct of research and development, and the delivery of advanced cyber technologies, tools, techniques and education.

  • Border Security and Identity Management

National security community’s ability to protect and secure Australia’s borders from disease outbreaks, hazardous material and threats to our community, including maximum disruption effect on illegal activity and migration with projected growth in people and cargo movement across Australian borders.

  • Investigative Support and Forensic Science

Law enforcement’s ability to prevent, disrupt and prosecute terrorist and criminal activities in a complex transnational and evolving digital environment.

Fostering academic and industry partnerships

The NSSTC continues to strengthen national science and technology partner capabilities to enhance targeted delivery to the Australian national security agencies. NSSTC participated in the May 2018 Civil Security Congress and Exposition which provided an opportunity to widely engage with Australian industry.

Of particular note, two Australian companies have produced equipment in the areas of explosive trace detection and stand-off detection of improvised explosive devices following receipt of NSSTC development funding.

Some current projects include:

  • Novel fingerprint detection techniques
  • Developing CBRN risk protocols to ensure first responder safety

Fostering international collaboration

The NSSTC maintains bilateral Memorandums of Understanding with the following international partners:

  • US Department of Homeland Security
  • US Combatting Terrorism Technical Support Office
  • UK Home Office
  • Canadian Centre for Security Science
  • New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment

Building on the successful bilateral engagements between allied nations, a Five Nation Research and Development Initiative (5RD Initiative) has been established which seeks to create new opportunities to deliver more efficient and cost-effective access to results, expand research, development, testing, and evaluation capacity, and offset limitations in a constrained and fluctuating budget environment.

DST’s national security science and technology program

The NSSTC drives dual-use application of sovereign DST technology encouraging applicability in both military and national security environments.

DST has directly contributed to the nation’s security through the delivery of national security science and technology solutions in areas such as facial recognition algorithms, video analytics, vehicle survivability, decision support systems, blast modelling, cyber open-source training, home-made explosive characterisation and threat assessments, toxic chemical detectors and support to numerous operations.

Specific work includes assistance with the characterisation of the threat for the aviation security incident in Sydney July 2017 and recently working with Home Affairs to host a Chemical, Biological and Radiological Capability Exercise (CAPEX) in Queensland, which involved CBR specialists from Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States.