Dr Ian Chessell, Chief Defence Scientist
Dr Ian Chessell joined the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in 1970 following completion of his PhD at the University of Melbourne on radiowave propagation in the ionosphere. With DSTO he worked on aspects of anomalous propagation of radio waves, atmospheric remote sensing and acoustic propagation. In 1979 he spent a year at the University of Colorado as a visiting research fellow with the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. On his return Dr Chessell established the Information and Signal Processing Group in the Electronic Warfare Division to study aspects of optical signal processing, VLSI and expert systems.
In 1988 Dr Chessell was appointed the inaugural Chief of DSTO's Information Technology Division, a position he held until 1993 when he was posted to Canberra in the Defence Materiel Division of the former Acquisition and Logistics Program, responsible for developing and implementing communications and computing systems acquisition policy.
In 1994 Dr Chessell was appointed Chief, Weapons Systems Division at DSTO's Aeronautical and Maritime Research Laboratory (AMRL) and, in July 1996, Director of DSTO's Adelaide-based Electronics and Surveillance Research Laboratory (ESRL). In this role he has been a key proponent of the 'knowledge edge' within the Australian Defence Organisation. He a played a significant role in the establishment and direction of DSTO's Takari R&D program which has integrated DSTO's C3I-related R&D to meet the ADF's long-term knowledge edge goals.
Dr Chessell was appointed DSTO's Chief Defence Scientist in October 2000. He was interviewed by ADM's editor, Gregor Ferguson
ADM: What are the implications of the Defence White Paper for Defence R&D in Australia?
Chessell: The White Paper and the resulting Defence Capability Plan provide very significant challenges for DSTO, containing as it does a significant expansion in the Defence's capability acquisition over the next ten years that will require a commensurate increase in S&T support. A wider range of analyses will be required to support the key decision making, particularly in the areas of Life Cycle Costing that will figure more prominently in decisions. New approaches to measuring preparedness are needed as the ADF focuses on its ability to meet and sustain Government requirements at short notice. DSTO will need to work closely with industry to address the large software based systems that will be acquired. A strong R&D base in DSTO and universities will be required to underpin this advice and assistance.
ADM: What are DSTO's budget and workforce levels at present?
Chessell: For 2000-01 DSTO's budget is $256 million. We have 2200 staff.
ADM: How has DSTO's role changed over the last decade? Are you still mainly a research organisation or is DSTO increasingly becoming an analyst and a technical and scientific authority?
Chessell: DSTO certainly aims to be the scientific and technical authority for Defence and this role has to be underpinned by an active R&D program to ensure the advice provided is at the leading edge and takes account of future developments of technology. We have taken on more analysis roles and I would expect these to expand even further. So it is not an easy task to determine the balance and to ensure that we are researching the most important aspects for Australia. But I am determined that we will retain a core R&D program, we have been pretty successful to date and despite the pressures I don't see any reason why we can't continue to be so.
ADM: With technology advancing so quickly on so many fronts simultaneously, how can a relatively small (by global standards) organisation like DSTO maintain sufficient expertise to be an expert adviser in all areas?
Chessell: The key to addressing this very real question for DSTO is for us to carefully manage an R&D program in which we are equal or better than the world standard in a relatively few key areas. By we here I mean DSTO or universities in Australia or industry. We then have something worthwhile to offer to other nations in exchange in collaboration, particularly of course the United States with its still very large R&D budget. Our international collaboration program (TTCP) with the US, UK, Canada and NZ is core to this exchange. In terms of industries such as computing and communications where the leading research is outside Defence then again, we need good research in key niche areas to allow us to build relationships where we can be exposed to leading developments and can interpret their impact on defence. Again, I believe we have been particularly successful in this way. Recently a number of senior US scientists have visited our Laboratories and gone away most impressed with work they have seen and proposing collaborative programs. We have established collaboration R&D programs with major IT companies such as Sun Microsystems and IBM.
ADM: What areas of military technology do you believe Australia simply MUST keep up with? And why?
Chessell: RMA technologies, IT and communications of course come first to mind, the issue here is to demonstrate through experimentation that the nature of warfare is indeed changing due to the impact of these technologies and the miniaturisation, processing power and shared situation awareness they are allowing. How to build and maintain software, safety critical software and system security are also vital technical areas. Impacts on sensors, weapons, electronic warfare and their integration in combat systems at the tactical and operational level are absolutely vital to understand. Our Combat Systems Research Centre at Salisbury has been a ground breaking development which we plan to expand from its present maritime focus to cover avionics and land systems as well. Australia has a number of unique air and maritime platforms for which we will also need to maintain expertise in-country to support through life. Our aircraft life extension work is world leading and has saved the ADO many times the dollars invested and promises even greater savings in future. It is worth noting that here again we collaborate on these programs with other countries and with CSIRO and Australian industry.
ADM: What are the prospects for regional collaboration in defence R&D? And what technology areas would provide the most fertile ground for such collaboration from Australia's point of view?
Chessell: The prospects for regional collaboration are quite promising, there is in general good support for developing programs on both sides with most of our neighbours. The most obvious areas for collaboration are those where we share common problems such as understanding our environment and its impact on military operations. Other areas such as issues raised when operating together in UN missions could be potentially fruitful in the future.
ADM: Does DSTO face a potential conflict between on the one hand creating IP embodied in products such as JORN, ALR-2002, etc, and then acting as an adviser to the Department when it is considering purchases of such equipment? How do countries like the UK (DERA) and France (DGA) handle this issue?
Chessell: Potentially yes I suppose, but this issue is fairly easily handled on a case-by-case basis. Not really an issue for JORN where the military utility of the OTHR concept for Australia was demonstrated through a series of experimental systems and the DSTO role is now to advise the Project Office as the system is developed under contract. In other cases, we create a separate team to provide the independent advice if this is needed. We take considerable care to ensure this, it is key to our role as adviser to Defence. Other countries handle it again case-by-case within their own ground rules which can be different to Australia.
ADM: Is there a difference between AMRL, which is relatively platform-focused, and ESRL, which is relatively technology-focused, in the way they engage with industry?
Chessell: Your differentiation is not right, both are technology focused. AMRL in Melbourne is the home of technologies in support to military platforms but the Laboratory also covers weapons, underwater warfare, combat systems and modelling and simulation technologies for example. Industry relationships reflect these programs. ESRL covers EW, sensors and surveillance, communications and IT technologies, computer security and synthetic environments. Again their industry relationships reflect these with significant overlap in the set of firms with AMRL but with a different focus.
ADM: Do you see DSTO's engagement mechanisms with industry changing over the coming five years or so? If so, how?
Chessell: Yes, I certainly plan to engage industry more closely in our programs. I would see a greater proportion of our program being sourced from universities and industry than currently. We will be looking for specialist skills to support our programs with close alliances to ensure good access and close working relationships. I see closer interactions also involving commercialisation of our IP in line with broader Government initiatives such as those being developed under the recent Innovation Statement.
ADM: Do you agree with the proposition that most countries can buy most of their defence needs from the same companies that supply Australia; and that our qualitative edge therefore increasingly depends on our knowledge edge and intellectual capital?
Chessell: In general I believe there is validity in the idea, yes, but of course you have to have the budget and increasingly these days with modern weapon systems, you need the underlying very complex support infrastructure. So yes, the knowledge in-country of how to operate, support and enhance modern systems is the key edge which of course includes training and tactics. Simulation and synthetic environments and programs of military experimentation will be vital to that edge as well.
ADM: If so, does this suggest that, in the knowledge area, however broadly you define it, we should aim for a higher level of self-reliance or self-sufficiency than we would tolerate elsewhere in our defence effort?
Chessell: Yes, these are issues we must deal with ourselves, our situation, our command arrangements, the systems we operate make our knowledge requirements unique and we must have the capability in Australia to come to terms with these issues ourselves.
ADM: What, then, are the implications of that stance for our defence industry policy and for DSTO's relationship with the knowledge industry sector in Australia?
Chessell: We clearly need firms capable of carrying out this sort of work, at times in conjunction with DSTO, and Defence needs to foster this capability. We are making good progress in areas of command support systems for example, coming to grips with how these systems must be developed in an evolutionary fashion and how to contract such work schedules. Large software system developments are still a major problem, as they are in much of the world of course. We in Defence have to get smarter at how to develop these systems and research into new approaches as well as into lessons learned can contribute I believe.
ADM: What sort of opportunities should Australia be seeking in a technology access/transfer sense as a result of the increasing presence in Australia of multi-national primes such as Thales, Boeing, Raytheon, BAE Systems etc?
Chessell: Large companies such as those you mentioned potentially offer a very wide range of technologies to Australia and we need to be smart in looking for ways to collaborate and facilitate technology transfers. We also have to be very smart in ensuring systems offered to Australia are open systems, based on open standards so that we can further develop them in-country if needs be.
ADM: Does the global consolidation of the defence industry primes in Europe and the US have any implications for dedicated defence R&D organisations like DSTO?
Chessell: Yes, in a way it is easier as we have fewer companies to deal with, in a way more difficult as they become so large that it is at times difficult to know who best in a firm to deal with. But the major challenge for DSTO is to be able to analyse offers and give the expert acquisition advice in large complex systems now being offered. Issues are company standards versus open standards, very large companies setting standards by their implementations, breadth of offers large multi-nationals can now make. Here trials, test-beds and personnel exchanges play an important role, as well as our relationships with overseas R&D laboratories. The ADO needs to use what acquisition leverage it has very carefully to ensure we get access and understanding to key aspects of large systems, vital performance data etc. An area complicated further by national security release limitations as well.
ADM: DSTO has been seeking closer collaborative R&D links with Industry, but this sometimes seems to require industry to risk its own money without the guarantee of a sale to Defence - but if Australia won't buy something, then the chances of securing an export sale to recover the R&D investment seem remote. How do you either motivate industry to face that risk or eliminate the risk altogether?
Chessell: We offer to collaborate on R&D which reduces risks for firms by cost sharing. We brief industry on future defence needs. We assist companies with expert initiatives where appropriate. We coordinate the CTD Program which funds industry with technologies ready for exploitation trials. These technologies are required to be relevant to a future acquisition program. Risks for companies cannot be eliminated of course, but most company managers know that if they do not invest in R&D they are not likely to survive too long. DSTO I believe does its best to assist but we are always willing to look at further ideas from companies to achieve greater financial success and thus build a better industry support base for Defence.