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We know what’s in, but what’s out? Assessing the reprioritisations and the ‘cuts’ of the IIP and NDS (Part 5)

Assistant Minister for Defence, Matt Thistlethwaite visiting Defence Estates HMAS Stirling and Leeuwin Barracks (Source: Defence)

We’ve made it! We have saved arguably the most important components of the 2024 National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program, enabling elements like long-range strike, Integrated Air and Missile Defence, command and control, the Defence estate and others. But how do they fare?

We’ve made it! We have saved arguably the most important components of the 2024 National Defence Strategy and Integrated Investment Program, enabling elements like long-range strike, Integrated Air and Missile Defence, command and control, the Defence estate and others. But how do they fare?

There is an old saying often attributed to Napoleon, that “an army marches on its stomach” and while that is certainly true, in the modern era, our military depends on liquid fuels, plentiful munitions, people, and an array of physical infrastructure that serve as the skeleton for the rest of the warfighting enterprise.

Increasingly in a portfolio of important, yet costly and competing interests and capability outcomes critical to national security, splitting the funding pie becomes a complex calculation.


Meanwhile, much of the emphasis and public attention has fallen upon the “pointy” end of the Defence budget, that is the big ticket items, like nuclear-powered submarines, infantry fighting vehicles, fighter aircraft and the like, yet the kinetic effectors can’t deliver combat power without the skeleton that underpins it all.

Accordingly, this has meant, as Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles has stated, that the core message of the 2024 National Defence Strategy (NDS) and 2024 Integrated Investment Program (IIP) has been “reprioritisation”.

Highlighting this, Minister Marles stated in his speech to the National Press Club, “The 2024 Integrated Investment Program is a complete rebuild of the integrated investment programs of the past. While it contains more money, it also required the reprioritisation of $22.5 billion over the next four years and $72.8 billion over the decade...

“Including today’s announcement of an additional $1 billion in Defence spending, the total increases in Defence funding since the Albanese government came to office has been $5.7 billion over the next four years to 2027–28 and over $50 billion over the next decade to 2033–34 – compared to the previous government’s plan for the exact same period. This financial year, spending in Defence will be $53 billion. These increases will see annual Defence spending almost double over the next 10 years to $100 billion in the financial year 2033–34, Minister Marles elaborated further.

The base for our ‘impactful projection’ – Australia’s northern bases

As Minister Marles was very clear in articulating, Australia’s network of northern defence bases are the nation’s primary staging point for delivering “impactful projection”, accordingly, the government has allocated $14–$18 billion to “ensure Defence has a logistically connected and resilient set of bases, ports and barracks across Australia’s north”.

This includes infrastructure upgrades to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Defence estate infrastructure across Darwin and Townsville, and RAAF Base Learmonth to support the operation of KC-30A tanker transports, the redevelopment of the Larrakeyah precinct in Darwin to support and accommodate major surface combatants and submarines at HMAS Coonawarra, finally rounded out by upgraded range facilities across the Northern Territory.

Across Queensland, a host of new facilities and infrastructure is set to be built to help facilitate and support the operation of Army’s new amphibious elements, which the 2024 IIP detailed further, stating, “new facilities in northern Australia and South East Queensland to house and support Army’s littoral manoeuvre capabilities and enable logistics vessels to be loaded and unloaded”.

As with other figures across other domains, the larger figure quoted by the government of $14–$18 billion investment over the next decade, only $3.4 billion has actually been approved, with much of the spending seeing reprioritisations from the development and upgrade of Defence infrastructure across southern Australia to redirect much needed and limited funding.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Defence Strategic Update (DSU) and 2020 Force Structure Plan (FSP), which build on the findings of the 2016 Integrated Investment Program, earmarked $30 billion to develop critical Defence estate infrastructure across the nation, with, you guessed it, specific emphasis on northern Australia. The 2020 DSU and FSP articulated, “Key planned investments include a new Army watercraft base in Northern Australia, upgrades to key maritime ports to support Navy’s operations, upgrades or new facilities to support the expanded submarine fleet, and provisions for significant enhancements for Australia’s airbases.”

Unpacking this further, the FSP stated, “New and upgraded facilities will be constructed at RAAF Bases Richmond, Williamtown, Tindal, Townsville, Darwin, Curtin, Scherger, Learmonth, Pearce and Edinburgh, Defence Establishment Myambat, and the airfield at Cocos (Keeling) Islands.”

Once again, I am left asking, just how much of the funding and the plans proposed in the 2024 NDS and IIP is actually “new” and how much of the planning separate to obvious developments in support of AUKUS is actually just a case of “business as usual”?

The fundamental input to capability – people power

People power is inescapably essential to national defence (at least until we perfect Terminators) and as we face increasingly competitive employment markets and declining retention and recruitment rate, currently 4,400 below the authorised strength, investing in the Defence workforce is a fundamental input to capability.

In recognising this, the previous government announced a major increase in the Defence workforce in early-2022, which would provide an increase of 18,500 over the baseline growth already agreed to in the 2020 FSP, marking a 30 per cent growth of uniformed personnel, bringing the total permanent ADF workforce to 80,000 by 2040, worth at least $38 billion to 2040.

The current government has committed to maintaining this growth in the Defence workforce, both uniformed and civilian; however, the 2024 IIP does articulate, “Of the additional 18,500 positions, 12,500 were funded and 6,000 were unfunded. Between 2020–21 and 2022–23, ADF recruitment has achieved approximately 80 per cent of its target growth, equating to a shortfall of over 4,400 ADF personnel. Australian Public Service (APS) recruitment is currently on track with a workforce of around 17,500.”

In this instance, it is refreshing to see (at least on paper) that the growth articulated and agreed to by both sides of Australia’s political divide is now funded to support the planned growth of the ADF’s strategic capability through acquisitions like the nuclear-powered submarine capability.

My question surrounding the personnel side of the equation is, are we doing enough to retain and grow our Defence workforce and are we providing the opportunities for young Australians to serve their nation, before we start looking abroad to fill recruitment shortfalls as has been recently advocated for.

Enhancing Australia’s punching power and shielding the mainland

Australia’s capacity to conduct long-range strike and to defend the homeland in the face of the rapid proliferation of advanced missile threats has increasingly become a central priority for the nation’s defence capability and policymakers.

Again, beginning with the 2024 NDS and 2024 IIP, the government has committed $28–$35 billion over the next decade to “develop and enhance targeting and long‑range strike capabilities across Defence”, however, of that figure, $9.5 billion has been approved over the coming decade, leaving $18–$26 billion sitting in the “unapproved planned investment” category.

Separate to this figure, the Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance (GWEO) Enterprise is set to receive $16–$21 billion worth of investment while plans for a national layered approach to integrated air and missile defence across the integrated force has $1.8 billion earmarked and approved for spending over the next decade, with $12–$17 billion sitting very much in the “unapproved planned investment” category.

It should be noted that some of the investments that would fall under the missile defence category and strike category (namely the acquisition of new missile systems and upgrades to the Aegis combat system) are included in funding allocations for the respective branch in which those platforms are situated, however, herein lies the rub.

The vast majority of these capabilities have their foundation in the 2020 DSU and 2020 FSP which themselves build on the findings of the 2016 IIP and have been long, lead time, “known known” commitments agreed to and funded under the previous government (think the Aegis Baseline 9 upgrades for the Hobart Class destroyers and the acquisition of NASAMS).

Meanwhile, there is a noticeable absence of a mid-tier air and missile defence capability; however, it should be noted that any such acquisition is to be “considered as technology matures, including in the context of the 2026 National Defence Strategy, taking into account developments in the technology used by the United States and other key partners”.

If that sounds familiar, that is because it is almost exactly the same as the statement made in the 2020 FSP, which stated, “The proliferation of ballistic and very high-speed missiles means our deployed forces require enhanced deployable air and anti-missile defence when on operations. In addition to investment in defensive systems, the government will continue to work closely with the United States on countering ballistic missile threats.”

Furthermore, the commitment to continue investment in the E-7A Wedgetail capability to expand the air and missile defence capability of the platform, with the 2020 FSP stating, “In addition, plans for the E-7A replacement will now involve increasing the fleet to provide greater coverage of the highly-complex future air and joint-battlefield environment that will include a proliferation of autonomous systems and long-range and high-speed weapons.”

Equally, the acquisition of strike platforms like the Tomahawk, Precision Strike Missile, Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, Naval Strike Missile, and others were all approved and funded under the previous government, bringing me back to my tried and true question, how much of this is actually new?

This question is particularly important when you take into account that most of the decisions stem from decisions taken in the 2020 DSU and 2020 FSP, which themselves build on the findings of the 2016 IIP, with the DSU stating, “The survivability of our deployed forces will also be improved through new investments in an enhanced integrated air and missile defence system and very high-speed and ballistic missile defence capabilities for deployed forces.”

Bringing it all together – command and control

I have said it once, I will say it again, command and control infrastructure are by far the “least sexy” of the capabilities, yet is arguably one of the most important capabilities few people pay active attention to.

Nevertheless, the 2024 NDS and 2024 IIP allocates $11–$15 billion over the next decade to invest in critical enabling capabilities that will support “ADF decisionmakers to assess complex situations, plan effectively, and act quickly on operations. This includes investments in enhancing and modernising Defence’s joint, sea, land and air warfighting command and control systems and intelligence capabilities”.

However, as with many of the other areas in the NDS and IIP, what is actually “approved funding” and “unapproved planned” investment is revealing, with only $2 billion actually approved for spending, with $9.1–$13 billion sitting in the “unapproved planned” category; however, it could be reasonably argued that much of the investment can be broken down into the individual branches responsible for their own command and control capabilities.

Final thoughts

The rapidly deteriorating geopolitical and strategic environment that is transforming the global and regional security paradigm requires a realistic analysis, assessment, and acceptance by Australia’s policymakers.

Whether or not the right assessments and assumptions have been made in developing the 2024 National Defence Strategy and the Integrated Investment Program remains to be seen. We now have a doctrine (at least in part) and the plan (for the most part, without an updated Force Structure Plan) about how and what the ADF of the next decade will look and function.

For the time being, I have two key questions, first, how committed to the developments outlined in both documents is the government and the opposition for that matter, and second, are we being ambitious enough in securing our national interest and security?

If we are going to emerge as a prosperous, secure, and free nation in the new era of great power competition, it is clear we will need to break the shackles of short-termism and begin to think far more long term, to the benefit of current and future generations of Australians.

Get involved with the discussion and let us know your thoughts on Australia’s future role and position in the Indo-Pacific region and what you would like to see from Australia’s political leaders in terms of partisan and bipartisan agenda setting in the comments section below, or get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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