Australian Strategic Defence Review – Reason to be proud of DR 2015 and A&D Masterplan teams


I would suggest that people interested in defence positioning take a look at the public version of the Australian Strategic Defence Review. For time constrained people, I suggest to just read the introductory National Defence Statement 2023 and the Executive Summary. These are concise strategic guiding statements that provide a clear route to the future. The Australian threat domain is different from South Africa, but there remain many parallels in where we are as countries and the effects that we can make on our regions of influence.

The key takeaways from the Australian Strategic Defence Review (SDR) that are applicable to South Africa at this moment in time are the following:

  1. The Terms of Reference for the SDR were issued on 3 August 2022 with a submission date of March 2023. This timeline was achieved while conducting five tasks that are relatable to the South African defence environment. The tasks were: a) outline the future strategic challenges facing Australia, which may require an Australian Defence Force operational response; b) identify and prioritise the estate, infrastructure, disposition, logistics and security investments required to provide Australia with the Defence force posture required by 2032-33; c) to provide Australia with the force structure required by 2032-33; d) outline the investments required to support Defence preparedness, and mobilisation needs to 2032-33; and e) outline funding needs to 2032-33 to ensure longer-term strategic investments are progressed. The output was to make recommendations in relation to Defence force structure, force posture, and preparedness over the period 2023-24 to 2032-33 and beyond. South Africa really needs something like this now and delivered in this timeline. This should be a review not a public participation event.
  2. The SDR overarching thinking is that their nation and its leaders must take a much more whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approach to security. National Defence is a whole-of-government approach. This is necessary to achieve the SDR objective of the provision of recommendations that seek to maintain sovereignty, security and prosperity. Recommendations which enhance security and build economic resilience include: a) efforts to recruit, train and skill more Australians for jobs in defence and related industries; b) investments in research and development, manufacturing, and supply chains; and c) commitments to increasing output of domestically produced renewable energy, improving our domestic fuel reserves, and establishing a civil maritime strategic fleet. Point “c” is an interesting element for a defence strategy document, the civil maritime strategic fleet rings true for South Africa. Forward thinking Operation Phakisa aligned with this.
  3. The crux of the SDR can be seen in the following extract: The strategic risks we face require the implementation of a new approach to defence planning, force posture, force structure, capability development and acquisition. This sentence is cut and paste applicable to South Africa. The output is that the ADF must evolve into a genuine Integrated Force which harnesses effects across all five domains: maritime, land, air, space and cyber. The SDR recommends a move from a balanced force to a focused force. In DR 2015 there are guidelines of future critical capabilities to provide regional impact. These were captured in the special operations force model that must be able to conduct joint and supported airborne, airlanded and sea-landed assault operations, with air- and sea-deployable firepower, protection and manoeuvre under the configuration of a combat capability with enhanced fire-power, manoeuvre and protection. South Africa’s Modern Brigade shows first force structure steps.
  4. Investing in the growth and retention of a highly-skilled Defence workforce is a SDR highlighted problem that is one experienced by many nations. Defence faces significant workforce challenges. This demands an innovative and bold approach to recruitment and retention. In the South African context, it is here that the defence industry has a role to play. The support environment can be placed with the defence industry, even for deployment. The defence force and defence industry joining hands for a greater capability.
  5. In the SDR we see that defence is recognised for its economic impact. The SDR recommend the Government reaffirm its commitment to continuous naval shipbuilding. If only the SA government could make this step. The fleet requirements for the government entities could support a private shipbuilding capability for twenty to thirty years. Similar to the SA A&D Masterplan, the SDR recommends that the Defence Science and Technology Group and the new Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator performs a leading Research and Development role.
  6. This leads up to the SDR defence acquisition statement that Defence’s current approach to capability acquisition is not fit for purpose. The system needs to abandon its pursuit of the perfect solution or process and focus on delivering timely and relevant capability. Defence must move away from processes based around project management risk rather than strategic risk management. It must be based on minimum viable capability in the shortest possible time. In the South African context does this not make you think of Project Hoefyster versus the Ratel SLEP proposed by OTT Solutions?
  7. As with everything, it all comes down to funding. The SDR states that more funding will be required. Defence spending must reflect the strategic circumstances our nation faces. The recommendation is that Defence must have the funding it needs to deliver this enhanced capability. This would provide a defence capability that is able to a) defend Australia (South Africa) and our immediate region (SADEC); b) protect Australia’s (SA’s) economic connection to our region and the world; and c) contribute with our partners to the collective security of the Indo-Pacific (SADEC).

In order to achieve the SDR, the recommendation is that we must move to a more holistic approach to Australia’s (SA’s) defence and security strategy.

Defence policy development must move away from intermittent white papers to a biennial National Defence Strategy. This will allow for Defence policy development to keep pace with a rapidly evolving strategic environment and ensure consistency across government. The SDR proposed a three-tier system to oversee and implement the SDR recommendation. Something similar could be examined for SA defence oversight. In the South African context this would allow that Rapid alignment of defence strategy to address risks similar to the July 2021 uprising or current “molecular civil war” type threats, from a predominance of non-state actors, such as taxi and construction mafias.

I have respect for the teams that generated the South African Defence Review 2015 and the Aerospace and Defence Master Plan. South Africa still ticks the box in terms of defence strategic analysis. Implementation seems to be our Achilles Heel.

Written by James Kerr, Orion Consulting CC, which provides Market Entry Strategy and Bid & Proposal services to the Aerospace & Defence related industry and assists international SME mission system product suppliers to gain traction in South Africa.