• Chris Deeble, Deputy Secretary of CASG, closing the Defence + Industry Conference 2023.
Credit: Keira Joyce
    Chris Deeble, Deputy Secretary of CASG, closing the Defence + Industry Conference 2023. Credit: Keira Joyce

The Defence + Industry Conference 2023 took place at the National Convention Centre (NCC) in Canberra on 27 July, drawing over 900 participants for its first in-person session in several years. The program offered discussion of critical challenges facing Defence and industry, and goals moving forward, particularly in prioritising reform based on the Defence Strategic Review; as well as building sovereign capability and reliable supply chains, and sourcing rapid, innovative solutions for the ADF.

Deputy Secretary of the Capability Acquisition & Sustainment Group (CASG) Chris Deeble opened the conference introducing the theme of the day: how Defence and industry can partner together better in a changing strategic environment. Dr Kate Cameron, Assistant Secretary Defence Industry Domestic Policy, who was the chair for the event as also discussed procurement reform and operational lessons learned later in the day with Mr Deeble.

Matt Yannopoulos, Associate Secretary for the Department of Defence, focused on reprioritisation, risk, and transparency in the wake of the DSR, a recurring emphasis throughout the day. He stated that the primary focus should be on the priorities and capabilities our nation requires, and that projects were being reviewed accordingly.

“How does this align with the priorities of the DSR? How will this help us achieve those aims? Those that pass are being accelerated, those that fail are likely to be discontinued,” Mr Yannopoulos said.

Tom Hamilton, Deputy Secretary of Defence Strategic Review Implementation, stressed the essentiality of implementing the government’s response to the DSR, speaking on the increasing regional competition, rising tensions, and reduced warning times facing the nation. He said that Defence and industry need to keep a laser-focus on what the responsibilities are, and that they can't wait for the National Defence Strategy at the start of next year before beginning to deliver some of the priorities of the DSR.

“The DSR is heralding a new era for design and implementation for current and future geostrategic situations and circumstances,” said Major General Anthony Rawlins, Head Force Design.

MAJGEN Rawlins emphasised the need for accelerated preparedness, stating that as Defence evolves into a constantly cyclic process of review and design criteria, they make rapid decisions to cancel, rescope, or double down on projects.

Minister of Defence Richard Marles sat down with Chris Deeble to stress the necessity of articulating where the national interests lie and the urgency of reshaping the ADF to become fit-for-purpose. There was a specific focus on pragmatism and transparency in acquisitions;

“Where we see that there is a particular capability or a particular function that needs to be performed, and there is one capability out there that everyone knows is the capability we need to get, well then faux competitions for the sake of it don’t make much sense to us,” said Marles.

He also stated that more details on procurement ideals will be available once the Defence Industry Development Strategy is ready to share with industry next year.

Professor Emily Hilder, Interim Head of the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA), discussed innovation opportunities in the Defence sector, stating that ASCA is not doing the innovation, but connecting and streamlining Defence industry. She also said that there would be an innovation challenge posted by ASCA very soon, hinting that it would centre around trusted autonomy.

Other speakers included Sheryl Lutz, First Assistant Secretary Major Surface Combatants & Combat Systems, on increasing Australian shipbuilding capability; and the necessity of maintaining inventory and ensuring supply in times of crisis by Air Vice Marshal Gerry van Leeuwen, Head Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance within CASG.

Alison Petchell, Acting First Assistant Director General SSN Construction; Michele Miller, First Assistant Director General Stewardship & Security; and John Chandler, First Assistant Secretary Submarines provided an overview of nuclear-powered submarines and making use of Australian partnerships with the US and UK.

Although he was unable to attend the conference in person, Pat Conroy, Minister for Defence Industry, sent a pre-recorded ministerial address presented by video.

Kate Louis, Executive Director AiGroup Defence Council; Amy List, Acting Chief Operating Officer Boeing Defence Australia; Mr Aaron Thompson, Managing Director Ferra Engineering; and Mr Jonathan Sadleir, Chief Strategy Officer CEA Technologies spoke on collaboration between Primes and SMEs.

To finish up the program, Defence’s current and future capabilities were introduced and discussed by Rear Admiral Stephen Hughes, Head Navy Capability; Major General Richard Vagg, Head Land Capability; Air Vice Marshal Wendy Blyth Head Air Force Capability; and Rear Admiral David Mann, Head Joint Capabilities.

“This was a very Defence heavy agenda for good reason and that was hopefully to give you more information than you’ve had before, and hopefully guide where you’re going, and we’ll back that up with future engagement,” said Chris Deeble, closing the event with assurances for more frequent partnering events in the future.

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