Australia and India embrace an edge in critical tech, cyber and space

From tackling cyber threats to unlocking critical tech innovation, Australia and India are forging a powerful partnership. This comprehensive series delves into opportunities and challenges for both nations. Discover insights into technology trends around infrastructure, clean energy, quantum computing, semiconductors and biotech. Explore policy issues such as multilateral arrangements and skilled migration. Australian and Indian experts show how these two countries are helping build a more secure and prosperous digital future for the Indo-Pacific. Here I examine potential key areas for tech collaboration.


As 2024 gets underway, the combined threats of Russia, Iran and China (and to a lesser extent, North Korea) will continue to dominate and destabilise international security, with the key question being how democratic countries respond.

The answer needs to be that they will respond proactively and collectively.

For Australia and stability in the Indo-Pacific, one of the most significant geo-strategic trends is India’s emergence as a global player and its converging alignment with the strategic interests of democratic counterparts, in particular its Quad partners.

In a matter of just weeks during August and September last year, India showed its rising influence in a dizzying array of headline-grabbing moments. It hosted the G20, demonstrating its global convening power and its ability to bridge the gap between developed and developing nations. It landed a spacecraft on the moon, participated in a Quad Foreign Ministers’ meeting at the United Nations and became embroiled in an unseemly rift with Canada over the killing of Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Nijjar (soon followed by similar accusations in relation to a plot on US soil).

While it would be an overstatement to say we’ve entered a new, multipolar era, there is no doubt India is on the rise. It is rightly seen as instrumental in the global task of strategically balancing China. And it is harnessing its status as a technology powerhouse both domestically and in its international relationships.

The importance of India’s rise does not mean ignoring Delhi’s imperfections. Frank, open exchanges between friends are vital, but it demands that we proactively work with India to navigate what will be a tension-filled era defined by the intersection of critical technology and security, and the impact on our societies.

AUKUS—both pillars one and two—was established as a direct response to the combination of Beijing’s unprecedented peacetime military build-up and its strategic objective of surpassing the US in technological superiority. Beijing has demonstrated its intention to use technology to control its own population, covertly influence open societies and make the rest of the world so dependent on Chinese tech that any resistance to aggression would be futile. This is the ultimate form of deterrence, in which China’s combined economic, technological and military might means countries feel that pushing back on even Beijing’s most malign behaviour would result in retribution.

While we have sensibly committed ourselves to the AUKUS partnership and its focus on defence technology, India should now be considered a top-tier partner across the full breadth of critical technologies that affect national security. Indeed, India’s energetic participation in the Quad and national resilience policies are driven by the similar recognition of Beijing’s potential technological power. In direct response to territorial incursions and the increasing influence of Chinese technology, Delhi began de-risking its relationship with Beijing before any other nation, which has led to the banning of more than 350 apps since 2020, including TikTok and WeChat, due to data security, privacy and espionage concerns.

India is not alone in these concerns, with all Quad partners, plus the UK and other European countries like the Netherlands, attempting to de-risk but, unlike India, fearful of the consequences of widespread prohibitions.

We should learn from India, rather than falling into the trap of always thinking we have so much to teach. After all, Indians are managing to live without TikTok. Admittedly, it is easier to ban such apps before societies start to depend on them, but this is why it makes sense to build a combined Quad, AUKUS and G7 economic security strategy among open societies. We should ensure India is a major player given its presence across fields as diverse as 5G telecommunications, energy security, space and military technology, whether as a developer, a market, or both.

The importance of India as a partner on technology was reinforced by the landing of Chandrayaan 3 on the South Pole of the Moon, making India the first country to do so and the fourth to land anywhere on the moon. An exclusive top tier of space powers, comprising the two current superpowers, the US and China, and a still disruptive but declining Russia, is now being joined by new players, including India (along with Japan which recently launched its own moon rover).

Australia is not part of this exclusive group, but we have the foundations of technology, geography and relationships. As a re-emerging space power, Australia should take the opportunity to cooperate with India, given our common interests across all sectors of space, from civil to commercial to national security.

Australia has established space launch sites in the Northern Territory, central Queensland and South Australia, with at least two operational and viable options for strategic partners. The opportunities extend beyond bilateral co-operation, with the establishment of a Quad space working group during the Tokyo 2022 Quad Leaders’ Summit which is focused on the sharing of space-based earth observation data as well as the long-term sustainability of space.

Our two countries should explore expanding this cooperation to collaborate in space itself, building on existing partnerships amongst companies and civil society. Both countries are signatories to the NASA Artemis Accords which seek to establish new approaches to sustainable use of resources on the Moon and to avoid disputes over access to resource rich regions.

Space technology is becoming more important to all aspects of our lives. It offers increased visibility and advantages across other fields, including military, maritime, air, ocean health, carbon dioxide and hydrogen monitoring.

Strategically, the message for Australian policymakers and decisionmakers is clear: space cannot be a domain Australia leaves to our Quad partners—either as an economic enabler, or to constrain Beijing’s strategic ambitions.

Embracing collaboration, moreover, will be vital across a wide range of sectors beyond space. As ASPI’s Critical Technology Tracker shows, China has built the foundations to position itself as the world’s leading science and technology superpower. Research commercialisation remains a key strength of countries like the US, but we need to acknowledge the trends of China’s high-impact technology research and better understand the potential impact on security in open societies.

Our data-rich tracker also showed that the only realistic way for likeminded nations to compete with China is to team up and improve their tech collaboration, with India being a key player.

For example, the tracker data shows that India is ranked third in high-end research into biological manufacturing, which includes medicines and environmental remediation. It ranks second globally in a further sub-set of biofuels, integral for energy security and climate protection. Put simply, these are technologies that affect our national security, with untrustworthy suppliers weakening our long-term sovereignty and military readiness.

Any doubt as to the significance of these critical technologies to security should have been put to rest in 2023 when the US Department of Defense released its Biomanufacturing Strategy—part of the Biden Administration’s goal to ‘develop materials with novel properties to enhance systems ranging from hypersonics to submarines; and greatly reduce logistical and resupply timelines’.

India seems aware of the power and urgency of such technology, judging by the release of its own ‘National Biofuel Policy’ and the launch of the Global Biofuel Alliance at the G20.

The prestigious Raisina Dialogue to be held in Australia later this year will be a perfect forum to discuss deepening co-operation between the two countries in these key areas.

India’s trajectory as a tech superpower that can help counter-balance Beijing’s growing effort to impose its will on the region doesn’t mean that India will become Australia’s next treaty ally. But an aligned India can be just as important. In the Cold War, we saw a non-allied India lean towards the Soviets (helped by some unfortunate pushing from friends, including the US).

Beijing’s aggression and Russia’s unreliability has helped turn the ship around, leading India to choose a revised path of engaging with all, but aligning with the US and partners. This leads to some confusion and, at times, angst. However, India can attend meetings with China and Russia, including through the BRICs grouping, while also being an active participant in the Quad. India sees the BRICs as giving it a tactical advantage, enabling it to keep an eye on those who might not share India’s national and regional interests. In contrast, the Quad is built on strategic trust and shared interest in the Indo-Pacific, with technology playing a leading role.

No doubt, Delhi’s Russia policy is not where Australia or the other Quad partners wish it to be. This needs to be considered a work in progress. As Minister Jaishankar has said about the war on Ukraine, India has chosen the side of peace. This should pit it against Beijing and Moscow and put it firmly in the camp of deterrence and stability—the policy of India’s Quad partners.

We should heed that message and work with Delhi not only to help India compete technologically with China for its own economic independence, but also for what it can contribute to regional deterrence and stability.