Submission by Kylie Pezdirc, Senior Consultant – Project Management
The defence of Australia is a vital responsibility that requires strong and effective legislation to ensure the safety and security of our nation. The current Defence Act 1903 and related legislation have served us well, but as the strategic environment evolves, it is clear that modernisation is necessary to meet the challenges of the future. We welcome the opportunity to contribute to the reform of defence legislation and support the commitment of the Australian Government to ensure that our defence forces have the legal authority and flexibility they need to adapt and respond to changing threats. With this in mind, we are submitting our public response to the call for submissions on the reform of Defence legislation.
Our response to the call for public submissions will be informed by our company’s expertise in domestic drone surveillance technology and threat mitigation capabilities. We also have significant experience in airspace regulations, where we are aware that relevant legislation and regulations are often inconsistent, silent, or inadvertently restrictive.
This submission is structured as follows:
- A sample of scenarios which require effective and legally empowered domestic drone surveillance and mitigation capabilities.
- Our response to consultation question 1: How could the Defence Act better support the range of military activities and capabilities required in the modern world? How could Defence legislation be improved to meet this goal?
- Our response to consultation question 2: What safeguards do you consider should be included to ensure the law supports Defence accountability?
- Our response to consultation question 8: How could Defence, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, defence industry contribute to providing enhanced security for Defence capabilities?
Although there is currently no armed conflict on Australian soil, we are in a state of grey-zone conflict where information warfare is pervasive and includes cyber intrusions, information operations, and a vulnerability to electromagnetic attacks. These activities currently remain below the threshold of armed conflict but are also tactics that are aggressively employed on commencement of physical war. The law should aim to support domestic protection against these activities during this period of grey-zone conflict so we are ready to defend ourselves in the event it escalates to war.
The scenarios put forward in this submission are typical of grey-zone activities involving drones used for malicious activities and have real-world examples outside Australia reported in open-source media.i None of these scenarios are specific to Australia, though they are written as Australian examples for illustrative purposes.
A drone is regularly spotted flying directly over a sensitive domestic Defence facility. Once above the facility, it manoeuvres around in varying directions and altitudes, before always hovering for a short period over one particularly sensitive area on the facility and then quickly departs the facility.
Potential grey-zone activities:
- Intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance
- Electromagnetic attack
- Cyber intrusion
Multiple drones take turns hovering over an airfield in a flight path preventing aircraft from taking off or landing. This goes on for several days, significantly impacting time-sensitive aircraft movement with flow on effects to Defence and Government operations.
Potential grey-zone activity:
- Unattributable obstruction of military operations
A highly sensitive partner asset is being operated from an Australian domestic Defence facility. Unauthorised drones regularly fly over and around the asset. On this occasion, a drone flies directly into the asset causing damage and now the asset must be taken offline for repair.
Potential grey-zone activity:
- Unattributable sabotage
- Reputational damage to the Australian Government and Defence as a host to partner forces and assets.
Responses to Consultation Questions
Response to consultation Question 1:
How could the Defence Act better support the range of military activities and capabilities required in the modern world? How could Defence legislation be improved to meet this goal?
The development and deployment of autonomous technology in warfare on Australian soil, in both war and grey-zone conflict, is an inevitable reality and we must ensure that Defence has the necessary powers to respond. The Defence Act and related legislation could be improved to better support modern domestic military activities and capabilities by providing clear and persistent legal authorisations that would allow for real-time response to threats, reduce bureaucracy, and enable industry participation.
We use the term ‘persistent and clear’ to mean standing authorisations that allow Defence to confidently undertake threat mitigation activities in domestic settings in real-time within appropriate rules-of-engagement frameworks. The persistent and clear legal authorities required by Defence include:
Authority for Defence to undertake active monitoring for threats to Defence capabilities in domestic settings, and to apply effects to mitigate those threats in real-time both proactively and reactively as required. This will enable Defence to undertake real-time responses to active threats to Defence capabilities rather than rely on partner agencies for protection, or passively allowing threat activity to occur and attempting damage-control after incidents.
- Authority for Defence to take electronic control of uncrewed remotely-piloted or autonomous systems. This will enable Defence to take control of drones and mitigate the threats those drones pose to Defence capabilities. This will also enable Defence or appropriate Government agencies to take possession of the offending drones for investigation and intelligence exploitation.
- Authority to access data contained on uncrewed remotely-piloted or autonomous systems in real-time. This will allow Defence to gather information to identify, locate, and track the drone and its operator and enable close to real-time threat classification and informed decision-making.
- Authority for Defence to import technology for testing and evaluation and to simply notify other relevant bodies rather than waiting for permission. This reduces the layers of bureaucracy thereby increasing competition and industry participation and will reduce the time spent moving through stages of the capability lifecycle.
- Consistent authorisations across Defence’s workforce to operate capability and apply effects, including Australian Defence Force, Australian Public Service and contractors. This supports an agile and flexible workforce that is responsive through skills and labour shortages. The workforce would be required to meet the same aptitude, training and legal obligations that are specific to the capability being operated.
Response to consultation Question 2:
What safeguards do you consider should be included to ensure the law supports Defence accountability?
An independent ethics body should be established to ensure that Defence is accountable for its decisions regarding the appropriate application of effects to protect its capabilities within Australia, particularly in this current period of grey-zone conflict. This body should be comprised of professional ethicists and representatives from various Australian stakeholder groups and should be consulted anytime decisions are being made by Defence and the Australian Government on capability effects intended for use in domestic settings. Merely relying on Defence lawyers to determine domestic rules of engagement based on legality is insufficient. Therefore, an independent ethics body can ensure that ethical considerations are taken into account, providing a more comprehensive and responsible decision-making process.
Clear rules of engagement are required for situations where Defence needs to take action to protect Defence capabilities in domestic settings. This will inherently require a comprehensive escalation framework with documented consideration to collateral impacts specifically relating to civilians and civilian infrastructure, including physical, cyber and electromagnetic infrastructure.
Response to consultation Question 8:
How could Defence, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, defence industry contribute to providing enhanced security for Defence capabilities?
A dedicated, permanent domestic operations centre aimed at coordinating the efforts of various entities such as Defence, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and industry in ensuring the security of domestic Defence capabilities, would significantly enhance the overall security of such capabilities. The centre would serve as a central hub, facilitating coordination of whole-of-Government and industry capabilities and responses, while also promoting seamless information sharing among various stakeholders including Government, industry, and the public.
Written by Kylie Pezdirc, Senior Consultant Project Management – Mirragin
Kylie is an experienced Project Manager, accomplished in delivering quality outcomes for clients. Kylie’s project management experience spans the defence, intelligence, national security and social services sectors.
Kylie is driven to solve organisational challenges and to find efficient ways to deliver services. Kylie has a keen interest in the human element of effective product delivery and continues to develop this knowledge and apply it at Mirragin.