The Big Issues

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Keen eyed ADM readers will notice a slight change in our look this month; welcome to the updated ADM look and feel. The same content in terms of high-quality journalism, a communication bridge between Defence and Industry, with a fresh look across print and digital.

ADM’s annual Top 40 Defence Contractors and Top 20 SME 2019 survey is also in your hands. It makes for a fascinating snapshot of Australian Defence industry.

Welcome to 2020. However, I would like to focus on a few issues that shaped 2019 and how they will continue to affect the Defence community in the coming year.

The first is that of workforce. As this month’s From the Source interviewee Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price points out, we have so many jobs on offer in an exciting space, but we need to spread the word far more widely about the opportunities in Defence. Preaching to the choir is not going to cut it. True partnership between Defence and our training community needs to be more firmly in place with outreach into schools, TAFEs and universities at an earlier and deeper level.

The second is that of a fit for purpose ICT environment within the department. So much of the fifth-generation force relies on a strong foundation. ICT programs across the board have a tradition of being behind schedule, over budget and not delivering to scope; this is a tradition that must be broken if we are to deliver the outcomes we need.

Thirdly, Defence and Industry would both benefit from a culture of continuous disclosure when it comes to program management across the capability life cycle. It has been a hobby horse of mine for four years now about the depth of information available to the public around the Integrated Investment Program (IIP). This was a document that was meant to be living in every sense; it would be available online and updated every six months as programs hit milestones, were rescoped or had budget changes.

How are we as a community meant to plan when a Fundamental Input to Capability is left in the dark? As an SME, how are you meant to keep track of everything on Austender, industry groups, networking bodies, environmental working groups, adjacent industry opportunities when you have a small team that still needs to undertake core business? Primes would also benefit from this approach as they make their own businesses cases to their parent companies overseas.

As Minister Price points out in her interview this month, the Force Structure Review is at a critical point and this will have a significant effect on the IIP. I can only hope that one of the significant side effects is a public update to this important planning tool. Further detail when it comes to program numbers and budgets would also be helpful as the granularity of information provided in the previous iterations of the old Defence Capability Plans is sorely lacking.

Finally, the tension between the Department, Primes and SMEs as to workshare and engagement reached a peak this year. The two biggest programs in the land under the Attack class submarine and Hunter class frigates have both come under fire from SME advocacy groups. Yet both primes (Naval Group and BAE Systems) point to record levels of engagement in terms of roadshows, briefings, MoUs, number of companies qualifying for work packages. SMEs however are still not sure how much of the acquisition supply chain (let alone the sustainment effort) will use Australian companies rather than established supply chains in respective home markets of France and the UK.

I think perhaps there is an element of expectation management on both sides. This comes back to the previously highlighted concept of continuous disclosure.

I can understand why SMEs would like to see more detail around how the Commonwealth (both the Department as the contracting body and government at a ministerial level) sees Australian Industry Capability measured and tracked - and what the consequences are for not delivering.

This article first appeared in the December - January 2020 edition of ADM.

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