Dipping in and out of the Boeing family of companies after an Army career, Darren Edwards is back in Australia as BDA’s leader. ADM Senior Correspondent Julian Kerr checked in with him to get an update on how the company is performing and what lies ahead.
ADM: Boeing’ largest presence outside the US is in Australia. How much of that is made up of Boeing Defence Australia (BDA)?
Edwards: A very large portion. Boeing has just over 3,000 employees in Australia and just over 2,000 of those are with BDA. Boeing’s Australian-derived revenue in 2016 was $1.3 billion of which BDA contributed just shy of $900 million.
ADM: Where does BDA sit in terms of major acquisitions by the ADF of Boeing aircraft – recently C-17s, Super Hornets, Growlers, and Poseidons?
Edwards: Deals via the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) channel are not booked to Australian revenue. We tend to act as the customer interface; we take point at the very beginning of requirement definition in trying to understand what the customer needs. The BDA folk will then help The Boeing Company understand what is the best outcome for the ADF. If that translates into an FMS case or a cooperative case, as is the case with the P-8 Poseidon, we tend to take a back seat for the acquisition component.
But we strive for as much Australian Industry Capability (AIC) as we can on Boeing products so you see BDA at the forefront of sustainment, upgrade and modification activities. If it’s a Boeing product, BDA should lead that initial sustainment but we team with Australian companies. As it stands, BDA is the prime on the sustainment contracts for all Boeing-built platforms currently in RAAF service, meaning we're sustaining the largest number of aircraft for the ADF.
Profile Darren Edwards
- 1986- ADFA
- 1989- Duntroon
- 1990- Australian Army, holding numerous command and logistics appointments
- 2001- Boeing
- 2005- Boeing US – Director-level positions in Strategic Partnerships; Operations and Supplier Management
- 2009- Boeing US – Director of Supply Chain Management for Tactical Aircraft and Weapons Support
- 2012- Boeing Defence Australia – Chief Operating Officer
- 2016- Salentis Pty Ltd - General Manager Australia-NZ
- Feb - Boeing Defence Australia VP and MD
ADM: BDA has 14 Australian and three international sites. Where are the international locations?
Edwards: The E-7 (Wedgetail) airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) capability is operated by Turkey and South Korea as well as Australia and we have BDA personnel in both those countries. There’s a lot of work still being done in the US around E-7 development upgrades so we have people there too.
The traditional approach of dividing up work scope and apportioning that out to different parts of the company isn’t happening on this. We tend to share the work scope across those countries and work around the clock. It’s added a lot of value to be able to reach back into the capabilities we have in the US but deliver under a local contract.
ADM: What have been the highlights for BDA in the past 12 months?
Edwards: The first P-8A Poseidon arrived earlier this year as well as the Growler. Off-platform, we’re in the process under Land 2072 Phase 2B Project Currawong of delivering the next-generation battlespace communications system for land-based ADF forces and that will be a game-changer. The Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) is ramping up right now at Nowra and the first courses will start early next year – using the Airbus EC135 helicopter.
Some of the world’s foremost experts in HF (High Frequency) technology are working at BDA and we’ve got a lot going on in the HF world – for example the recently-delivered Project Nullarbor communication improvement project has given the ADF an enhanced HF capability including signal improvement and direction finding. HF Mod was the genesis of the HF programs that we’re working on now.
It went through some difficult development phases but it’s now a very mature capability and quite topical in a potentially satellite-denied environment. We continue to operate and evolve the Vigilare air battle management system which could form a command and control backbone for something like Air 6500 Integrated Air and Missile Defence Program.
The company is spending $47 million a year in Australia on research and development activities, including by Boeing’s Phantom Works International and Boeing Research and Technology, both in Brisbane, and with Australian research partners such as the CSIRO, University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, and RMIT. This includes work on autonomous systems, mission systems, simulation and analytics, and virtual reality.
ADM: What about the Joint Battle Management Development Environment?
Edwards: That’s in Brisbane and Adelaide and is a digital twin of the ADF’s critical platforms, allowing us to experiment with current and future ADF capabilities, threats and operating environments in a laboratory setting and get feedback on the way forward from the customer. As the ADF transforms from being platform-centric to an integrated force, connecting all those platforms into a system of systems that delivers capability is a major challenge.
For us the JBM-DE is a sandpit where we can take disparate systems - the E-7A Wedgetail for example – as well as non-Boeing systems, and assess how they talk to each other. And if they don’t talk well enough, we assess what we can do to make them integrate better and feed information more effectively. It’s not a revenue-earning activity; it was never designed to be one.
Right next door to the JBM-DE in Brisbane is our Systems Analysis Laboratory (SAL), which is the most sophisticated modelling, simulation and analysis facility for military concept operations in Australia. It provides the customer with the ability to model the big “where to next?” questions as they work toward an integrated force. We then go into the JBM-DE to prototype.
ADM: What’s the BDA business model?
Edwards: We’re probably the strongest that BDA has ever been in Australia. The business is healthy and, we have a relatively balanced portfolio, so we have the luxury of looking forward to what the customer needs next and where we are next going to add value. We still have platform sales that may potentially happen, Apache being one of them, but we need to understand what the problems are that the ADF needs to solve, and be part of that solution.
If we can do that well, that will take us to being a sustained $1 billion business in the next couple of years. It’s common knowledge that BDA is one of the US companies that have been discussing Air 6500 with the ADF. There’s more work to be done in the HF space. We’re in the same position as most other companies; there’s more out there for us to chase than we can afford to chase.
ADM: Where do you anticipate BDA growing?
Edwards: BDA continues to align with the broader Boeing strategies and Boeing in the US has recently restructured the defence side of the business. A couple of things have been pulled to the top and Space and Missile Systems is one of those, so you can expect us to be interested in Integrated Air Missile Defence. The other area that is now a direct focus area for the President of Boeing Defence Space and Security is autonomous systems.
We’re already doing some leading edge unmanned aircraft and autonomous work in Australia, detect and avoid being an example of that. We’re just trying to figure out where those systems play and of course it’s broader than the system, it’s the C2 that surrounds that and the data analytics; once you’ve got the sensors in the sky, what do you do with the data? Data analytics is another area Boeing has highlight as a focus going forward, so watch those three spaces.
ADM: How will BDA increase AIC in a platform that Australia is buying but will have little or no involvement in its manufacture?
Edwards: AIC is not necessarily doing stuff in Australia, it’s our ability to lead really smart companies to the international supply chain and grow them as an international business. Once production is underway, we tend to look at the value of in-country sustainment.
The outcome is fairly obvious in the initial sustainment period but after that you need to be competitive and have a discriminator to continue that work and I think that’s what we’ve achieved time and time again.
ADM: What’s happening with the AATTS (Army Aviation Training and Training Support) contract at Oakey?
Edwards: The capability for that training is being transferred to HATS (Helicopter Aircrew Training System) at Nowra. We’ve taken a lot of the lessons learnt from AATTS and are including them into HATS. It really is a system, it’s not a bunch of helicopters, it’s not just courseware, it’s not just synthetic devices; it’s delivering a training outcome, that’s the focus for HATS.
We have a workforce at Oakey who are gainfully employed and will be gainfully employed for a while yet. We’re in discussions right now with the ADF as what best to do with that capability. We’ve already moved some of our folk from Oakey to Nowra; we’re really keen to transfer as much of that knowledge as we can.
ADM: Are you saying there is still life in AATTS notwithstanding its replacement by HATS?
Edwards: Think of HATS as a very focused system that produces pilots and aircrew for Army and Navy. AATTS did that but it did a lot more as well. So there are aspects of AATTS that do not shut down with the stand-up of the HATS capability.
One example is search and rescue out of Oakey. And there are aspects of AATTS in Townsville supporting CH-47. It’s a complex landscape when you look at that contract and that’s the discussion we’re having with Defence regarding what they want to do to replace those capabilities.
ADM: Is there enough detail in the Integrated Investment Program (IIP) to inform future BDA investment planning?
Edwards: The Australian government and CASG in general have done a really good job at articulating, probably better than most other countries that I can think of, their priorities and the timing for those priorities in the near to medium term. Is there enough fidelity in the IIP for us? Yes, I think there is. Naturally priorities will change and there’s got to be some latitude. Companies would make a mistake if they were asking for too much fidelity both in terms of dollars and timing and priorities because they’d be surprised by changes. It’s about right.