A 2020 photo showing the Australian Defence Satellite Communications Station in Kojarena. (Australians IGnals Directorate)

SYDNEY — The Australian Signals Directorate plans to spend more than $2 billion AUD ($1.3 billion USD) over the next decade buying a highly classified and custom-built cloud to serve its intelligence and defense needs.

The plan, announced on July 4 by both the Australian government and Amazon Web Services (AWS), “will provide a state-of-the-art collaborative space for our intelligence and defense community to store and access top-secret data,” Rachel Noble, director general of the ASD. said in a statement. “This will transform how we work together as agencies and partners.”

Australia, one of the Five Eye countries who share the most highly classified intelligence with each other, has been beset by a regular onslaught from Chinese and Russian cyber attacks, and is searching for secure ways to share intelligence and targeting data with the United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand, the other members of the elect group. While the group has traditionally shared intelligence signals data with each other, the advent of artificial intelligence and the proliferation of targeting data means the need for highly secure and transferable data has only grown.

The deal with AWS was important enough to generate a statement by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, emphasized the importance of the contract for domestic job creation.“My Government is bolstering our defense and national intelligence community to ensure they can deliver world leading protection for our nation,” he said in the statement. “This important investment today will help enhance our national security capabilities while creating up to 2,000 local jobs.”

Defense Minister Richard Marles spoke of capabilities more important to defense, noting that the new cloud deal “will enhance Defence’s resilience, improve the ADF’s warfighting capacity, (and) strengthen interoperability with key international partners.”

It’s important to note that this contract is not entirely new business. It is, as Noble noted in her statement, part of Project REDSPICE, which was announced by the last government.

“For ASD, this capability is a vital part of our REDSPICE program which is lifting our intelligence and offensive and defensive cyber capabilities,” she said in the statement.

REDSPICE stands for for Resilience, Effects, Defence, Space, Intelligence, Cyber, and Enablers. When it was first announced by the Australian government, it was cast as the “largest ever investment” in the capabilities of the ASD, the Aussie version of the National Security Agency. When Scott Morrison, then prime minister, announced the program in March 2022, he said it would “substantially increase ASD’s offensive cyber capabilities, its ability to detect and respond to cyber-attacks, and introduce new intelligence capabilities. It will also create over 1,900 new jobs, almost doubling the ASD’s size.”

AWS already supplies a similar capability to the CIA and the US Intelligence Community. which presumably helped the company win this contract.

Secure clouds are considered by most experts to offer greater protection, operational flexibility and the ability to upgrade the system more seamlessly.