We live in times of rapid change. The old world order has been disrupted by technology, terrorism and nationalism, and it is in Australia’s national interest to become more self-reliant, expanding its sovereign capability in defence and enhancing its national security in the process.
I am not proclaiming a bout of Australian protectionism. Instead, self-reliance means exploiting our nation’s strengths, growing Australian ingenuity, and where possible exporting this to the world.
To become more self-reliant in defence, Australia needs to take three actions.
First, we must stay ahead of technological change.
Australia’s security depends on technological superiority. Maintaining a technological edge will become crucial as next-generation innovations become widely available.
Take artificial intelligence for example. Intelligent systems can help armed forces work more effectively and safely, and make better decisions in real time. Increasingly, we expect to see unmanned vehicles complementing and supporting rather than replacing manned platforms – amplifying the capability and effectiveness of defence forces.
To remain secure, Australia must prioritise technological innovations such as artificial intelligence. Rather than simply becoming a passive consumer of innovation, the defence industry must remain an instigator of innovation – using technology to continually disrupt and improve the nation’s defence capabilities.
If we fail to disrupt ourselves technologically Australia runs the risk of having our national security disrupted for us by unfriendly forces. That’s why BAE Systems Australia invested $260 million on research and development in the past five years – four times more, per employee, than the average for the Australian economy.
The second action Australia needs to take concerns capability.
The Australian Government plans to spend $195 billion on defence over the next decade – a significant portion of that investment will go towards new technology. The Government has also signaled that a greater emphasis will be placed on the Defence Force acquiring capability rather than simply the supply of material and equipment.
This shift is transformational. It recognises that Australian Defence has unique requirements that need to be developed or supported by Australian industry because overseas sources cannot always assure the required level of security.
In other words, Australia needs to expand its sovereign industrial capabilities. This will require strategic investment and planning from Defence as well as industry, with a focus on the full life-cycle of defence platforms.
We cannot afford to make bad investments. After all, defence acquisitions often cost billions, take years to reach fruition and have a life-span measured in decades.
Given the capability requirements of Defence, Australia’s industrial focus must broaden. The sector – from large companies to smaller enterprises – needs to work together to create a defence industry base that has both the flexibility of local expertise as well as the capability of international expertise.
Ultimately, Australia’s ability to increase its sovereign capabilities in defence and to maintain its security depends on the capabilities of our people.
That is why Australia’s third action must be to invest in skills and education.
The defence industry, BAE Systems Australia included, will need to find many thousands of new employees over the next decade.
Many of these people will be scientists and engineers, many will be blue-collar technicians – all will need to be highly skilled.
In short, the defence industry needs to urgently identify and recruit new talent. That’s why BAE Systems’ recently launched the Joint Open Innovation Network – a collaboration with Australian universities intended to grow and attract the right talent to our industry and align research and development to meet Defence’s strategic needs.
We believe Australia’s security depends on the incubation of new technology innovations and ideas. Australia should build a reputation for leading-edge technical knowledge and expertise. To achieve that end we must develop and maintain a skilled and agile workforce.
There is no reason why Australia’s defence industry cannot become a leader in innovation. There is no reason why we cannot double or triple our defence exports.
Australian industry has the brains and ability. Our challenge is to take the strategic steps necessary to expand our sovereign capability.