Accelerating AUKUS: Securing Multilateral and Multiagency Collaboration
Public – Private partnerships are successful.
After years of talking about the need for public-private partnerships, the war in Ukraine has stress-tested the system. Since the war’s beginning in February 2022, Microsoft security teams, working closely with Ukrainian government officials, US government cybersecurity staff and US private enterprises have identified and remediated a variety of cyber threat activities against Ukrainian networks.1 The Microsoft Threat Intelligence Centre (MSTIC) discovered wiper malware2 in more than a dozen Ukrainian networks. Microsoft subsequently alerted the Ukrainian government and published its findings. Following that incident, Microsoft established a secure line of communication with key Ukrainian cyber officials to provide them surety that they were working with trusted experts dedicated to assisting Ukrainian government agencies, enterprises, and organizations to defend against attacks.3 Within two months of the commencement of the conflict, Microsoft had reported that more than 200 Russia-attributed cyber-attacks had been launched against Ukraine during the war, including 40 discrete cyberattacks targeting hundreds of systems across multiple organisations.4
While most attacks were only disruptive, the number of attempts was significant. These attacks continue to this day. The success of Microsoft’s partnership with the Ukrainian government in defending against Russian cyber-attacks has not gone unnoticed. Six months into the war, the head of the UK’s GCHQ assessed that “we have arguably seen the most effective defensive cyber activity in history.”5 The early evidence has led senior Ukrainian and US officials to hail the major importance of international partnerships in strengthening Ukraine’s cyber defence, while Microsoft proclaimed that “a new form of collective defence” has “proven stronger than offensive cyber capabilities.”6
Unlocking the potential of AUKUS.
There is no more important task for the Australian government than protecting the security, interests, and livelihoods of Australians.7 With a focus on addressing increasingly complex security challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, AUKUS was created to enhance trilateral sharing between Australia, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).
AUKUS is based on enduring ideals and a shared commitment of the three countries to a stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region by deepening defence capability and technological cooperation through two related lines of effort8:
Pillar One – Advanced nuclear-powered submarines: AUKUS will provide Australia with a conventionally armed, nuclear powered submarine capability. This pillar has garnered the lion’s share of media and public interest. Pillar One is a long term and multi-billion-dollar investment in highly sophisticated hardware.
Pillar Two – Advanced capabilities: AUKUS will develop and provide joint advanced military capabilities to promote security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. This pillar prioritises eight advanced capability lines of effort, including:
- Undersea capabilities
- Quantum technologies
- AI and autonomy
- Advanced cyber
- Hypersonic and counter-hypersonic capabilities
- Electronic warfare
- Information sharing.
This will be a long term and complex undertaking, and it will be necessary to avoid the stove piping of advancements in related fields; a particularly difficult undertaking given the high level of information security that will be required.
What is urgently needed to accelerate AUKUS progress is the ability to collaborate across borders on a common secure cloud platform – a seamless connective tissue – where AUKUS members, as well as industry and academia partners, can communicate and collaborate in a secure environment at the speed of relevance; keeping pace with one another and ahead of threats.
AUKUS partners need to collaborate securely. They require access to a unified communication and collaboration platform that combines persistent workplace chat, video meetings, file storage, and application integration; a platform that will rapidly improve productivity across the three nations.
AUKUS partners need to integrate rapidly. “Software defined warfare” is the way of the future.9 The only way for AUKUS to stay competitive in this new warfighting environment is to ensure that it uses the most potent weapon available: technology, and more specifically, software.10 AUKUS partners share common complex challenges. Each partner requires a platform that can combine data from different sources into a single, unified view. A platform where they can securely and flexibly build, manage and deploy applications, drawing deeper insight from analytics, and solve complex challenges large and small. Across a range of use cases, AI can be also used to drive efficiencies and provide AUKUS with a competitive edge. When used properly, AI accelerates decision making processes, particularly when considering the large amounts of data available in any modern defence force. Examples include predicative maintenance for informed readiness posture; modelling and simulation of threats, and of the operational environment itself; for mission planning; for capability development; for speech and text translation; for processing and reprogramming intelligence mission data for 5th generation platforms; and multi-intelligence fusion and processing.11 A forthcoming RAND report will show how collaborative efforts have the potential to accelerate algorithm development, expand the quality and quantity of training data, provide access to talent, and to mature understandings of legal and ethical issues.12
AUKUS partners need the ability to work more collaboratively with the Defence Industrial Base (DIB) and academic partners. Just as each nation can rapidly improve capability by supporting one another, it also requires close collaboration with DIB partners to improve the development, acquisition, delivery and support of military capability. Modelling and simulation, digital engineering, digital twin, DevSecOps will continue to be important, particularly for capability lifecycle modernisation, and to speed up time-to-value for critically important mission innovations. Moreover, AUKUS needs to be open to developments in research and innovation, much of which is undertaken by academic partners across the three nations.
Finally, AUKUS partners need the ability to move faster using a collection of integrated services – compute, storage, data, and applications – to collaborate more efficiently and effectively, using readily available commercial products and services.
Current Defence capabilities do not address these needs. Attempting to undertake these through more traditional extended acquisition and build processes risks becoming out-dated before it becomes operational – ostensibly using yesterday’s technology today. Consequently, to address these requirements AUKUS partners urgently need access to cloud computing.
To help accelerate progress, AUKUS needs access to classified Azure Government Cloud.
The Microsoft Defence & Intelligence team empowers service personnel and government civilians to achieve more in the protection and defence of national security. Microsoft helps to securely advance missions across land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace that promote stability and security for residents, nations, and multinational alliances.
The key platform enabling this now and into the future is classified Azure Government Cloud (AGC). AGC provides the same principles and architecture as Microsoft’s commercial cloud solutions. Built exclusively in support of US agencies and partners working with highly classified data, AGC is enhanced to maintain the security and integrity of classified workloads without compromising the speed of access to sensitive, mission-critical information.
With the technology readily available, the challenge lies in the introduction of such a scalable collaborative platform solution into AUKUS defence environment. It is not a matter of ‘does it exist,’ but ‘how can it be adopted?’ In addition, classified AGC offers the extended value of enabling joint multilateral collaboration on projects outside the two AUKUS pillars.
Microsoft’s Defence & Intelligence team is comprised of members with extensive experience in senior defence and government positions – many of whom possess experience in national systems that currently protect our sovereign secure data and international relationships.
The technology required to facilitate classified collaboration already exists. What’s more, this technology is already in use by an AUKUS partner, the US. Supported by a dedicated team of highly experienced and qualified individuals committed to serving AUKUS’s strategic and national interests through effective industry collaboration, the path forward is clear.
Trusted public-private partnerships are proven, the verified tools are available right now, the expertise is on hand. The ability to accelerate AUKUS progress through secure multilateral collaboration using classified AGC is achievable.
2 In computer security, a wiper is a class of malware intended to erase (wipe, hence the name) the hard drive or other static memory of the computer it infects, maliciously deleting data and programs.
3 Microsoft An overview of Russia’s cyberattack activity in Ukraine 27 Apr 22 https://query.prod.cms.rt.microsoft.com/cms/api/am/binary/RE4Vwwd
7 Defence Strategic Review 2023