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Andrew Brown

Defence workforce issues 'only going to get worse'

Defence is nowhere near the workforce level needed for future challenges, Tanya Monro says. (Russell Freeman/AAP PHOTOS) (AAP)

Workforce issues within Australia's defence sector are only set to worsen due to increased demand for capability, the chief defence scientist says.

In an address to the Universities Australia conference, Tanya Monro said the extra tasks being imposed on defence would exacerbate workforce issues in the sector.

Workforce capability issues are set to feature in the defence strategic review, which has been handed to the government and set to be publicly released before the federal budget in May.

Professor Monro said defence was nowhere near the workforce level needed for future challenges.

"The short answer is no. This is a burning platform and we need your help," she told university sector leaders on Thursday.

"It's only going to get worse because if we're to accelerate and make significant changes in the capability plan, that's going to need more workforce in those areas."

The chief scientists said the Australian Defence Force was short about 3000 people of what it was allocated.

As of January, there are 116,000 working in defence, with about 16,000 of those being public servants.

"We see that thinness challenging many of the things we need to do," Prof Monro said.

"We're feeling the pain and really finding that (with) a combination of factors ... (defence) often can't compete in financial terms around remuneration."

Defence has already agreed with the government to increase its workforce by 30 per cent by 2040, with the baseline to rise by 18,500.

Prof Monro said the nuclear submarines being acquired by Australia as part of the AUKUS partnership would also lead to a boost for workforce in new areas.

"It's important to note that ... this really significant shift for Australia will be the nuclear expertise and the fact that Australia doesn't have a civil nuclear industry," she said.

"There are other very significant uplifts required across a broad range of engineering and related areas that are also generational, so we now have a good sense of the uplift."

Former prime minister Scott Morrison said last year the basis of the AUKUS agreement was the ability to go ahead with nuclear-powered submarines without the need for a civil nuclear industry.

An announcement is set to be made within weeks of the submarine deal between Australia, the US and the UK as part of the security pact.

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