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Aukus Will Redefine Government–industry Partnerships

Australia’s defence and technology industry will be tested like never before by the AUKUS partnership in managing the torrent of sensitive information flowing from partner countries and in defining the shape of the agreement itself.

Whatever form the agreement ultimately takes, it looks sure to usher in an unprecedented level of information sharing among Australia, the UK and the US, and their industry partners.

Storing and managing that information, much of which is likely to be highly classified, is set to be one of the major, albeit unspoken, challenges of the AUKUS arrangement.

The defence supply chain is already made up of thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of contractors, many of which struggle to find employees with high-level security clearances.

As the spectrum of AUKUS collaboration widens, supply chains will grow with it. And as they grow, they will become more vulnerable to attack.

ASIO has already identified AUKUS-related initiatives as a looming target for hostile foreign intelligence services. That should come as no surprise. But as the junior partner in the AUKUS agreement, Australia will bear the burden disproportionately as the importer of capability information.

Our US and UK partners will demand ever more stringent assurances around the transmission and storage of sensitive data, and access to it.

Nothing will stop AUKUS collaboration faster than shoddy information security or major data breaches.

Network-resilience is an obvious part of this, but as the supply chains grow more complex, after-market cyber fixes will not be enough. New levels of security will require products to be both secure by design and sovereign, thereby insulating them from supply-chain shocks as well as ensuring higher levels of security.

AUKUS technology must also be developed in a manner consistent with values of the Australia, the UK and the US.

Vendors of dual-use products with both civil and military applications—particularly in the tech space—had better get used to thinking about what they do, not just as a commercial venture, but as a social good.

The main fault line in the so-called tech wars between China and the West is not about the type of tech we use to power our networks, run our satellites or store our data, but what we use it for. Is technology for surveillance, power and control, or is it for prosperity, democracy and human rights? These principles already guide cooperation among the Quad partners and they will be at the centre of future AUKUS collaboration.

A second challenge for industry is helping to define precisely what AUKUS is.

The first AUKUS pillar is a tripartite agreement to develop a nuclear-powered submarine capability for Australia. The second involves advanced cooperation among the three partners in areas such as hypersonics, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and advanced cyber.

But beyond that, little is known about the nature of the partnership, particularly the cooperation in advanced technologies. To some extent, these questions will be answered as the agreement matures.

But while governments will ultimately set the direction for AUKUS collaboration, it would be a profound mistake for industry to assume it has no role to play in shaping the future of this historic undertaking.

The priority areas for AUKUS collaboration have rightly been set by governments. But these research areas, while easy to define on paper, are vast in their potential applications.

Which areas of AI contain the greatest promise for national security? Who is doing ground-breaking work on undersea autonomous technology? Governments alone cannot answer these questions, nor should they try to.

The critical process of invention, refinement and commercialisation of these technologies will occur not behind the high walls of government, but in private companies and research organisations across the US, the UK and Australia.

A good deal of this creativity will occur in the usual places—universities and research labs. Some of it will happen in the defence and tech primes, which have both the existing capability platforms and the massive budgets needed to refine them to be fit for purpose.

But much of the innovation that will accompany AUKUS will happen in start-ups and mid-sized companies in the US, Australia and the UK and from across a vast array of defence, tech and cyber sectors.

The role of industry is central, therefore, not just in realising the potential of AUKUS, but in defining it.

Companies with an established presence in AUKUS countries will be well placed to help drive the development of new capabilities through investment in high-tech manufacturing and other key areas. They can drive the growth of a highly skilled workforce through the exchange of technology and skilled workers.

The challenge for governments will be to ensure they are nimble enough to recognise promising innovations when and where they occur and draw them into the AUKUS ecosystem.

To do this they can create a business and investment environment conducive to innovation, growth and collaboration. This means streamlining, and where possible harmonising, regulations across the AUKUS realm. Visas, security checks and export controls are all obvious places to start.

AUKUS is not just a new chapter in the history of government and industry partnership; it is a complete redefinition of it.

source: aspistrategist