Don’t have time to read the 112-page Defence Strategic Review (DSR) but want to know what it’s all about? Heard about the DSR and don't know enough to contribute to the discussion? Don’t be caught out with no understanding of key terms like ‘statecraft’, ‘National defence’ and ‘strategy of denial’. Take the time now to enhance your understanding of the future ADF.

The Cove brings to you this six-minute read on the DSR.

So what is the DSR?

The DSR was announced by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on the 3rd of August 2022. On 14 February 2023, the DSR report was handed to the Australian government and on 24 April 2023 its findings were made public.

The DSR was an independently led review of the ADF’s force posture, structure and capabilities.

Who conducted the review?

The report was authored by His Excellency Professor the Hon. Stephen Smith, former Minister for Defence, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, AK AFC (Retd). former Chief of the Defence Force. It was conducted over six months with inputs from more than 150 defence and national security experts and a further 360 submissions from the general public and other interested parties.

What did the review aim to do?

The Terms of Reference for the review outlined the following outcomes that were required from the review:

  • Outline the future strategic challenges facing Australia, which may require an ADF operational response.
  • Identify and prioritise the estate, infrastructure, disposition, logistics and security investments required to provide Australia with the Defence force posture required by 2032-33.
  • Consider all elements of the Integrated Investment Program and provide recommendations for the Program's reprioritisation, particularly in light of recently announced large-scale projects, to provide Australia with the force structure required by 2032-33.
  • Outline the investments required to support Defence preparedness, and mobilisation needs to 2032-33.
  • Outline funding needs to 2032-33 to ensure longer-term strategic investments are progressed.

Why is this review so important?

The DSR is far more than a Defence White Paper or Defence Strategic Update and its creation signals the end of an era. As a nation we can no longer expect a long period of indicators and warnings as a pre-cursor to high intensity conflict. The subsequent requirement for a change in force posture relies upon rapidly scalable capabilities that can be generated in a matter of days, weeks or months, not years. This calls for reallocation of resources which will reduce spending on some projects already in motion.

What did the Prime Minister have to say about it when he received it?

“The Defence Strategic Review will help prepare Australia to effectively respond to the changing regional and global strategic environment and ensure Defence's capability and structure is fit for purpose and delivers the greatest return on investment.”
– Prime Minister of Australia the Hon Anthony Albanese MP, 14 February 2023.

Key Themes

The DSR contains 62 recommendations to Government and the ADF, all of which the Australian Government have either agreed with, or agreed with in-principle. The key themes of the DSR are as follows:

  • Prioritised diplomatic partnership building in the Indo-Pacific.
  • A review of each of the service’s force structures to accommodate required changes in capability.
  • Acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.
  • Enhanced and consolidated sovereign shipbuilding and increased naval basing options including the addition of an east coast submarine facility.
  • Reduction of LAND 400 Phase 3 (450 Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) reduced to 129).
  • Cancellation of LAND 8116 Phase 2 (second Regiment of Self-Propelled (SP) Howitzers).
  • Acceleration and expansion of LAND 8710 Phases 1-2 (medium and heavy landing craft).
  • Acceleration and expansion of LAND 8113 Phases 2-4 (long range fires) and LAND 4100 Phase 2 (land based maritime strike).
  • Increased F-35A and F/A-18F munition options.
  • Strategies to grow and retain personnel across the ADF and the review of ADF reserves.
  • Enhancement of the northern bare military bases.
  • Streamlined acquisition processes acknowledging present operational risk and the speed required for such acquisitions, particularly for disruptive technologies.
  • Increased domestic Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance manufacturing and storage.
  • A National Defence Strategy to be developed and reviewed every two years to keep pace with global security changes.
  • States and Territories should aim to have sufficient emergency services to support natural disaster relief with the ADF, except in the most extreme cases.

So what?

The term ‘National Defence’ is the title of the report and this demonstrates the change in how the nation should view its sovereignty. The term highlights the need for a whole-of-government and whole-of-nation approach, identifying that the ADF cannot defend the Nation on its own. ‘Statecraft’ must be employed at the government level to ensure we are a defence partner of choice in the region which contributes to the strategy of denial. This seeks to deny potential adversary military operation within the geographical region of Australia. Defence industry and infrastructure must also be enhanced to ensure the ADF can be adequately supported during periods of conflict.

The report signals a clear change in military strategy for the ADF. It acknowledges that the ADF’s capability acquisition culture has largely been focussed on like for like replacement centred on platforms; and that the ADF has been used for domestic disaster response at a much higher rate in recent history. This has led to a requirement to redefine the focus of the ADF.

The report acknowledges the change in global and regional security and as such identifies the need for large scale changes in the way we defend Australia, and project military power. It also acknowledges the capability bias towards platforms, and notes that platforms that can’t be crewed and those that can’t strike at range to achieve the desired operational or strategic effect will not ‘serve us well in the current strategic environment.’

The report also discusses the need for not just a joint, but an Integrated Force across the five domains of maritime, land, air, space and cyber. This aims to generate a ‘focussed force’ which is capable of addressing the nation’s most significant military risks whilst having latent capability to deal with lower level contingencies and crises.

So what does this mean for me?

Take a look below for a snapshot of what the DSR means to you depending on your role and area of expertise.

What does it mean for Navy?

Greater sub-surface capability and possibly greater numbers of surface vessels to support. Increased ship building and enhanced and increased naval port facilities.

What does it mean for Army?

Reduction in planned IFV and SP Artillery but increases in long range fires and littoral landing craft. The Chief of Army also recently released his own message on how he sees this review transforming the Army and what he expects of the force to ensure that it is Ready Now and Future Ready.

What does it mean for Air Force?

Increased lethality options for the already highly capable air platforms. Significant infrastructure enhancements in the northern bases to support in service capabilities in both projection and sustainment.

What does it mean for Reservists?

The review has signalled the possibility of a broader employment offering aiming to reduce skills shortages across the ADF and enable mobilisation in times of crisis. The review has also highlighted the need to change the role, shape and structure of Reserves and the ways in which they are used to support whole-of-government response.

What does it mean for Defence Industry?

Changes in Defence priorities will likely result in the expansion of some areas of Defence Industry with contraction in others. Government has signalled its desire to deliver capability more rapidly and generate better partnerships with industry to promote innovation. The approach to open architectures also paves the way for more effective integration with Defence systems.


The DSR is an important document which will shape how the Government of Australia employs the ADF into the future. It signals mass changes for each of the Services and Commands and well as the wider defence organisation and defence industry. It also makes it clear that there is considerable need for urgency in making these changes. It’s up to each and every one of us to now work toward planning and enacting the changes that are needed to allow us to contribute our piece to National Defence. What will your contribution be?