Information Warfare: An Emergent Australian Defence Force Capability

This paper provides an account of the Australian military’s developing information warfare capabilities as part of CSIS’s series on Indo-Pacific interoperability. It sets out Australia’s developing information warfare capabilities, with a view to generating discussion between Indo-Pacific security partners and allies on the nature of information warfare in a modern context, and the capabilities and frameworks required to meet this emergent challenge. This is especially important for the U.S.-Australia relationship as two key five-eyes partners.

The timing for such discussion is significant:

  • In 2018, the Australian government passed laws into its parliament restricting foreign ownership of Australian assets such as electricity grids, while also tightening laws against foreign interference. Reports suggested the laws were aimed at China.
  • During the same period, 13 Russians were charged by U.S. courts with tampering with the 2016 U.S. federal elections.

Both events were unprecedented in recent memory, and information capabilities sat at the heart of both.

The paper contextualizes these events against the emergent framework of Australia’s developing cyber policy at the strategic level. It notes the lack of specific Australian guidance on the military use of information capabilities, which prompts the paper’s three questions:

  • What is information warfare for the Australian Defence Force (ADF)?
  • What threat is the ADF facing from information warfare?
  • How will the ADF address the information warfare threat?

The paper underlines the Australian government’s urgent priority on the ADF’s information warfare capability development, reflected in the Australian government’s increased funding of this area over the next ten years. The paper notes this should occur alongside the ADF’s evolution of its theory of warfare, to ensure the ADF’s information warfare capability remains within the ADF’s moral and legal traditions. The paper acknowledges this may include the re-examination of the laws of armed conflict in the light of new uses of emergent information technology in warfare.

Edward Morgan is a Royal Australian Air Force Officer and Military Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Marcus Thompson is currently Deputy Chief Information Warfare.

This report is made possible by the generous support of the governments of Australia and Japan.


Edward Morgan

Former Military Fellow, Alliances and American Leadership Project