Katherine Ziesing | Canberra
The Defence community gathered at ADFA this week for the inaugural Force Design conference, held by Force Design Division of the Australian Defence Headquarters, in partnership with the Capability Systems Centre at the University of NSW in Canberra (UNSW Canberra).
Aiming to demystify the new force design processes in the wake of the changes post First Principles Review (the demise of both the Defence Materiel Organisation and Capability Development Group in this space), Head Force Design Air Vice Marshal Mel Hupfield and his team were the focus speakers on day one while industry and academia took to the stage on day two.
“We can no longer rely on episodic force structure reviews to evolve our force,” AVM Hupfield said. “We can't and won't operate in a vacuum as force design is not a set and forget function.”
The event also saw the release of the public version of the Capability Life Cycle Detailed Design document. Defence speakers were all quick to confirm that the document should have no surprises for industry, as it is a confirmation of common sense processes that allow for repeatability across the organisation.
As is common with many a Defence event since the release of the FPR, innovation and collaboration were front and centre themes across both days.
“We are getting ahead of the curve when it comes to liaising with external agencies and partners early on,” Brigadier Jason Blain, Director General Force Options and Plans said, while also acknowledging that there is always room for improvement. BRIG Blain also looked at the internal change in mindset from projects to programs that enable a more strategic and integrated capability conversation both internally and externally.c
Senior leadership within Force Design were also aware of the linkage between economic prosperity and Defence programs, with Assistant Secretary investment portfolio management Pat Hetherington citing the UK model that saw the Ministry of Defence creating a Director of Economic Prosperity. Whether this is the right path for Australia remains to be seen.
Assistant Secretary for Defence Industry Matt Ramage gave an update on the work being done by the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC), as about a third of his division have been seconded over to the 10-month old centre. The moving feast that is the purview of the CDIC is still bedding down, having absorbed a number of programs from various agencies such as the old CTDs, RPDE and the more recent Army Innovation Day.
Perhaps the most interesting presentation from an industry perspective was that of Travis Reddy, the CEO of DefendTex. Formed when Reddy bought the assets of MetalStorm in 2014, the SME has grown in leaps and bounds thanks to a number of factors. The company early on decided to ‘be bold’ by going directly into 14 universities and recruiting engineers from as early as first year, identified a focus on niche DSTG programs where they could insert these people (hypersonics and 3D printing) and not having a fear of failing fast and early on these programs.
“Failure by itself is not a bad thing as long as we learn from it and do it early and cheaply,” Reddy said. “We’ve found that DSTG is the best partner an SME could ever have.”
Reddy was also very supportive of the export push being led by government but emphasised the importance of success in your home market military as a reference customer, noting that ‘Australia is great at innovating but we lack the follow through in bridging the valley of death’.
“There's no innovation in getting what you ask for; leave the brief as open as you can,” Reddy said. “Army Innovation day is a good example of this.”