“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you,” Executive Director of ASPI Peter Jennings said, opening the event.
ASPI’s War in 2025 conference at the QT Hotel in Canberra was held between June 13 and 14, examining what war could look like in 2025. The conference explored many challenges and issues facing Defence globally in the near future. Presenters made clear that Defence’s eyes are opening to the challenges and opportunities of technological advancements in a much closer timeframe.
There were eight back-to-back panels over the two days with extensive Q&A sessions. Topics included geo-political realities and trends, power trajectories, technologies, multi-domain and informational-age warfare, the US vision for 2025, the White Paper process, and Australian Defence Industry as an enabler for multi-domain warfare. Collaborative industrial partnering for the battlefields of the near future was an underlying theme for many speakers.
This was brought home in the opening keynote by VCDF Vice Admiral David Johnston, who announced that the Department is undertaking its first national mobilisation strategy review for the first time since WWII.
“We need to be more adept at deploying all elements of national power in 2025,” VADM Johnston said, noting that the ADF is only as flexible as the supply chain that supports it.
Minister for Defence Senator Linda Reynolds gave a keynote address, her first to a domestic audience in her new role, about the challenges of re-defining the strategic environment.
“As the rules that have guided our prosperity and security are eroded, so too is the trust that this common purpose is built on,” Minister Reynolds said. “New rules also need to be written, especially in relation to potentially disruptive technologies that have advanced faster than have regulations governing their use. To secure the best possible outcomes, we need to ensure a collaborative, equitable approach to adapting to current rules and writing new ones.”
Many speakers emphasised the role of information warfare in its many forms, with Chief of the Defence Force General Angus Campbell speaking at length at the conference dinner about how Australia needs to lift its game in this regard in comparison to other global players.
Director of the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw Office Michał Baranowski, Group Chief Executive of Asialink Penny Burtt and ASPI’s Peter Jennings spoke on the realities and trends fashioning the world in six years.
“There is a concern over internal control,” Burtt said on the differences between democracies and autocracies. “China is increasing their methods of communication and using their technology to extend their control. Australia tends to be narrow-minded with strategic interests, [but also] needs to broaden its view. We’re nowhere near predicting strategies for 2025.”
The player vs player trajectories between countries was discussed by Adjunct Professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong Dr Willy Lam, Australian National University’s Dr Jennifer Hunt, Chancellor of the University of Queensland Peter Varghese, and Senior ASPI Analyst Dr Huong Le Thu. Dr Lam spoke about China’s power dynamics, beginning with space warfare.
“China is preparing for space warfare,” Lam said. “China has an importance of status, as the middle kingdom, and a dream of military glory.”
Varghese explained how the relationship between the US and China is looking gloomy and unrealistic.
“China will become a stakeholder and have more influence on old and new institutions. China has eclipsed the US economy – the US may not remain as the most influential power on the globe.”
Strategist, writer and Senior Fellow at New America Peter Singer presented a captivating and thought-stimulating keynote address about the power and dangers of social media in the wake of his new book #LikeWar which looks at the weaponisation of social media.
“We’re in a world where virality overwhelms veracity,” Singer said. “There’s a new set of winners and losers (who understand the rules of the game) and are using it to their advantage. There is no silver bullet solution to the Internet.”
DST Group’s Dr Nigel McGinty, ASPI Fellow Dr Andrew Davies, and Adjunct Fellow at the Centre for New American Security Elsa Kania explored prospective technologies for future warfare.
Dr McGinty presented on advanced 3D printing in the Defence supply chain, economic sensor power systems, using atomic and subatomic level-tailored quantum computers to rapidly solve problems, just to name a few.
Dr Davies presented on hypersonics and the potential of gliders.
“A hypersonic glide vehicle, powered by gravity, uses aerodynamic heating and can fly anywhere in the world in under 40 minutes,” Davies said. “But how can we tell the difference between a delivery glide and a military glide?”
Many presentations examined the importance of advancing Australia’s multi-domain warfare and operations management.
Microsoft’s Jamie Wylly presented on the future prospective of superior military computing.
“Computing will advance how we live our lives and how we win the battle,” Wylly said. “We’ll move war games into a virtual experience, and ‘game-ify’ cyber security training for young people and how they want to work.”
Charles Sturt University’s Nicole Matejic provided a crucial perspective of weaponised online platforms and their damaging effects.
“The weaponisation of online platforms creates moral damage and ethical costs,” Matejic explained. “Blaming technology doesn’t negate the attacker’s decision to attack.”
Focusing on the partnership aspects between multi-domain warfare and Defence Industry, Northrop Grumman Australia’s new leader Chris Deeble, ADM Managing Editor Katherine Ziesing, and Lockheed Martin’s Neale Prescott offered insight to the importance of uniting Defence with industry.
“Industry 4.0 is about trying to collaborate better with new technologies. It assumes everyone can access these programs, which may not always be the case,” Ziesing said.
All speakers were able to look at examples of how Defence has partnered with industry, large and small, and the benefits of collaboration.
“No one has a monopoly on smart or dumb ideas. As cliché as it sounds, people are our best assets,” Ziesing said.
The last panel was from AiGroup’s Katie Louis, Dr Malcolm Davis, and ASPI’s Peter Jennings about the prominence and relevance of a new White Paper for Defence.
“Yes we need a new White Paper, but there are four factors; politics/policy, strategy/military, capabilities and money,” Jennings explained. “We can think about the idea of an annual White Paper, but it would be a different process. Money is the ultimate reason for a new White Paper.”