Monday, May 16, 2022

$1.3 Billion Defense Drone Project Canned As Budget Spends $10 Billion Boosting Offensive Cybersecurity Capabilities

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The government’s REDSPICE cybersecurity program — a $9.9 billion showpiece in last week’s budget — has come at the cost of a $1.3 billion Sky Guardian drone project that has already returned $10 million to taxpayers, it said. according to Senate estimates on Friday.

Despite the $9.9 billion headline figure championed by the treasurer in his budget speech, a look at budget documents revealed that funding for REDSPICE — a 10-year initiative that has reportedly created 1,900 government jobs in cybersecurity – was largely reallocated from elsewhere within Defense, and that was less than $600 million in new money.

Exactly how Defense would allocate this funding was a mystery until Senator Penny Wong posed the question to Assistant Secretary of Defense Matt Yannopolous last week.

Some of the money came from offsets within the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) from projects whose “scope is housed in the REDSPICE,” Yannopolous said.

But there was also a “project cancellation” that the defense secretary – who quickly looked around the room to see if he could announce it publicly – confirmed it was $1.3 billion Sky Guardian project. first announced in Nov 2019.

An unmanned drone, the General Atomics MQ-9B Sky Guardian was to be purchased for its aerial surveillance and precision strike capabilities.

About $10 million in taxpayer money had already been spent on the project.

Defense Department CFO Steven Groves said an additional $236 million for REDSPICE came from an “ICT remediation and mobility project.”

Much of the rest of the REDSPICE funding will go to “approved and unapproved” money from the SEA 1000 Attack-class submarine program that was famously canceled last year in favor of nuclear powered submarines

The final cost of the canned submarine program is expected to exceed $5.5 billion

The REDSPICE cybersecurity release was largely welcomed by the industry when it was announced last week with local security firms and advocates welcoming the focus on cyber.

But Labor has warned that an ongoing shortage of cybersecurity skills could make it nearly impossible to fill the claimed 1,900 positions created by REDSPICE in the coming years.

Shadow Defense Secretary Brendan O’Connor described the cybersecurity talent pool as “highly contentious” and said there was already a “huge backlog in security clearances” exacerbating the problem.

“Given the rapidly escalating cyber threats facing the country, Australians cannot afford to see REDSPICE become the latest major defense capability project to never go from announcement to delivery,” he said.

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