This year’s Land Forces saw eye-catching kit on display, from infantry fighting vehicles to Bushmasters, Hawkeis, and more. Yet the show also saw 328 SMEs set up shop to advertise to the 15,000 attendees that passed through the doors.
ADM spoke with Clint Evans, general manager of Nowra-based SME Global Defence Solutions (GDS), at Land Forces about the benefits of bringing work back to Australia, the art of patience, and the challenges faced by SMEs looking to meet the needs of Australian soldiers.
GDS is a provider of deployable tent and shelter systems, air conditioning, and generation for the ADF and other security forces throughout the Pacific. The company demonstrated its EASi Container at Land Forces, a new solution designed to be customised to meet the rigorous standards expected by the ADF.
“Structurally, it’s a solid container. Possibly the most solid in the world, to be honest,” Evans said. “Unlike a standard 20-foot container, where the walls, floors, and everything factor into it, what we’ve done is beef up the frame, and that allows us to do anything.”
The flexibility gained by bringing capability back to Australia has allowed GDS to tailor their product to the needs of soldiers in the field.
“We’d be given a whole lot of specific requirements,” Evans said. “To try and pass that on to overseas suppliers was a huge risk. If the customer said we want cut-outs here we’d have to go back to the supplier.
“With the launch of the EASi product, we only source the core frame from overseas and now do the full fit-out and integration in Nowra.
“It’s all about working with the end user to provide a configuration that suits them at their budget. That’s something we couldn’t do in the past.”
Bringing work back to Australia also has benefits beyond the GDS team. It has created contracts for local trades, spreading work throughout the community. This is what Australian Industry Content looks like in practice – benefits beyond the percentages seen on sheets of paper.
“We’re not big at all. 20-25 staff,” Evans said. “But we subcontract out our electrical and refrigeration requirements, and I like to think of our subcontractors as extensions of company staff. They come to our barbeques and things like that.
“So this isn’t just about creating jobs within GDS – it’s also creating work in the community.”
When asked how a small company selling large equipment handles the ‘boom-bust’ cycle traditionally associated with Defence work, Evans shrugged.
“We’re more catered towards being patient, waiting for the opportunity,” he said. “Patience is a virtue. It’s riding the wave, managing the lulls as best you can, focusing on what you want to achieve, and don’t be in a rush to get there.
“And we’ve got a great crew. That makes my life a lot easier.”
For Evans, the core focus is on making sure GDS kit meets the needs of the end user.
“You want to please the end users, that’s why we’re all here. It’s easy to get lost in the standards and requirements and forget about that,” Evans said.
“Nothing’s worse as an SME than going on base and seeing a capability sitting there – which ticks all the boxes, it meets the military requirements, it meets Australian standards, CASG is happy – but the soldiers don’t use it,” Evans said. “That hurts SMEs.”
So how can Defence ensure open communication between soldiers and the SMEs looking to build them the best kit possible?
For Evans, however, the answer is simple. “Just getting everyone together in the same room would be a huge help.”
Has the renewed policy focus on AIC had an impact at ground level for SMEs?
Again, Evans shrugged. “AIC has always been important. To hear now that it’s playing a major role? It’s always played a major role in our community.
“This year we delivered two items that we’ve made from scratch, and we were proud to put that kangaroo logo on. So proud, in fact, that we did it twice on each product.
“I get my kick out of that.”