Documents released Friday revealed "horrific" child sex assaults and brutal initiation ceremonies in the Australian military, prompting Prime Minister Julia Gillard to signal a possible public inquiry.
The suggestion of a royal commission followed Defence Minister Stephen Smith denying covering up the extent of abuse, stretching from the 1950s to the present.
Three months ago he made public extracts of a government-initiated review into the allegations, but the Australian Broadcasting Corporation obtained the full executive summary under freedom of information laws.
It goes into far more detail, highlighting nearly 850 cases and painting a culture of covering up, failing to punish perpetrators and hostility towards victims who complained.
In particular, the report details allegations of sexual and other serious physical assaults against boys as young as 13 dating back to the 1950s, which it described as "horrific". The minimum joining age is now 17.
Smith, who commissioned the report last year following the so-called Skype scandal, when footage of a young male recruit having sex with a female classmate was streamed to a group of cadets in another room, denied a cover-up.
"I released enough material to make the point that these were very serious allegations and very concerning matters," he said, adding that the military now had "zero tolerance on all of those matters".
"The materials released today simply serve to further underline the seriousness of the matters I've been dealing with for some considerable time."
Gillard called the abuse allegations "deeply distressing" and said the report was "truly disturbing reading".
"We now have to work out what's the best way of dealing with all of this given how far back in time many of these claims go," she told reporters.
"A royal commission for this matter or at least for some of the more serious allegations is one option."
The report suggested paedophiles in the past joined the military to access young people in the same way they sought out positions in orphanages, schools and churches.
"There is no reason to think that such people would not have targeted relevant parts of the Australian Defence Force," the summary said.
"It is certain that many boys were subjected to serious sexual and physical assault and other serious abuse... from the 1950s through to the 1970s and possibly into the 1980s," it added.
Some of those assaulted later inflicted similar abuse on others, the report said, warning their ordeal could have led to mental health, or drug and alcohol problems later in life.
The report confirmed "there have been substantial levels of abuse" in the military and "very little evidence that perpetrators had been called to account".
"The culture within parts of defence at different times has strongly discouraged victims or witnesses from reporting abuse," it said.
Some of the accused in the almost 850 known cases may now hold middle and senior management positions, it added.
Peter Leahy, who was the army chief until 2008, told ABC radio the allegations needed to be "pursued to the full extent of the law".
"If they are found guilty of these allegations, I think they should be dismissed -- they've been living a lie," he said.
The review also said "bastardisation" -- initiation ceremonies -- was "rife" until very recently, frequently "brutal", and was likely to be a criminal offence in civilian society.