Of all the Defence technologies the ADF operates perhaps the hardest to demonstrate are the magic black boxes behind communications, cyber and EW. Rohde & Schwarz has been invisible in Australia for almost four decades. ADM Managing Editor Katherine Ziesing caught up with new MD Gareth Evans to talk about the expanding Australian business.
ADM: Rohde & Schwarz has been in Australia since 1981 but has flown under the radar in many ways. Can you give us an overview of the business here, between the civil and defence work?
Evans: Rohde & Schwarz has been supporting the Commonwealth for almost 40 years where we are a trusted provider, a reliable partner to our clients where we have been focused on delivering innovative technological solutions to the diverse business fields of air traffic control, wireless communications, RF test & measurement, military secure communications, cyber security and network technology.
Our test and measurement clients in Defence and the civil market have very complex requirements and we’ve been teaming with them to be able to develop trusted solutions to solve their challenges. For example, we have just completed Boeing’s MIL- STD-461 EMC/EMI Test Systems and Chamber in Brisbane.
The mix of civil and Defence work has fluctuated over the years as Defence programs ebb and flow but we’ve got a good, balance between the markets we support.
ADM: Apart from the work on the Air Traffic Management Towers a decade ago, do you have a role in the OneSky program?
Evans: We’ve been working with Air Services since the mid 2000s, where we provide the majority of their VHF radios. We continue to have a very good relationship with Air Services and we are definitely looking at options to better support their various programs going forward, not least in the radio requirements but also in the voice switch environment as well.
We’ve recently provided Airways NZ with a full IP based voice switching system and I think that’s testimony to the innovative proven secure communications solutions that are ideal for programs like OneSky, which we hope to support going forward.
ADM: With the air traffic management work in both the civil and defence sectors over the years, what does that work look like moving forward in Australia and more broadly in the region?
Evans: Well obviously OneSky is a significant step change to capability but also to operational concepts, both for civil air traffic and military air traffic. We have very good relationships with the RAAF, not least that we have been providing and supporting the TAOT (Transportable Air Operations Towers) solution since 2009.
We look forward to being able to upgrade that capability such that it provides enhanced operational support in the air traffic management and control environments. Our product line is state of the art, we have true IP architectures and that means with our products we’re able to provide a low risk, end-to-end integrated solution.
ADM: You’ve done quite a lot of work on the Hobart Class DDGs, lots of magic black boxes working with Raytheon there. Can you walk us through what that program looked like for you?
Evans: We were providing the external communications solution. For the Air Warfare Destroyer, not only did we successfully achieve or exceeded all of our requirements, we also took an existing design from the F104/F105 in Spain and our Australian team successfully ‘Australianised’ the system. Further, our well established Australian supply chain provided a significant material contribution to the overall solution.
ADM: So what’s the level of commonality between the Spanish reference ship and the Australian DDGs?
Evans: Of course, there are levels of commonality. There were significant modifications required to meet Australian requirements, in particular to the combat and communications systems. Our workforce capably undertook this engineering and integration work from our facilities in Sydney where our Australian systems engineering team were able to come up with the integration design.
We incorporated successfully changes mandated by the RAN, and flowed down in the contract, such that we were ahead of schedule in delivering our part of the contract. We have shown our capability across other ships like HMAS Choules (Australia) and the Type 26 Global Combat Ship (UK).
ADM: The sites you have in Sydney and Melbourne; are you doing your own R&D there? Are you looking to export any of the IP or the products that you’re developing?
Evans: We are already exporting capability across the Asia Pacific region, with communications solutions into NZ, Timor Leste and the Philippines. We continue to invest in Australia and we are transferring technology and capability into Australia. We have the full lifecycle engineering capability enhanced by repair, calibration, and accredited laboratories here where we are able to sustain the equipment that we deliver to our Australian and export clients. We are an Authorised Engineering Organisation in the RAAF regulatory framework, and have the right governance structures in place to support ITARs compliance.
We have secure facilities for more sensitive programs so we’re able to ultimately handle that information in accordance with relevant protocols.
ADM: Given the breadth of Rohde & Schwarz in their home market (Germany) and the wider European Union, what scope do you think there is to bring some of those technologies and IP into the Australian market?
Evans: There’s a large amount of scope to be able to do that. Rohde & Schwarz is very much about digital sovereignty, so making sure that the IP and skills are transferred to be able to modify, change and develop that IP are also transferred at the same time. We are focused on becoming a regional centre of excellence such that we’re able to further export our capabilities but also to be able to secure the digital sovereignty of Australia. We need to make sure that we don’t have to refer back to offshore entities to be able to understand what the implications and risks of change are; to be able to take on those additional requirements and actually produce product lines ourselves in country without third party support.
ADM: What kind of product lines are we talking about producing here in country?
Evans: Secure military communications. We’re very focused on the naval integrated communication solutions at this particular stage. We are the reference ship integrated communication solutions provider for Type 26 and, obviously, as the reference ship for Sea 5000 Future Frigate, the Hunter class. We’re very proud that we have that history with the reference ship.
ADM: How does that play into the wider Australian Industry Capability (AIC) framework which is such a part of the Defence environment at the moment? What other steps are you taking to invest in Australia in terms of growing your workforce?
Evans: If you’ve seen the job pages at the moment, we’re actively trying to recruit engineers and program managers to the business and we are going through a re-accreditation process for our laboratories at the moment. We are looking to expand our facilities or make better use of them to be able to accommodate that investment, not least with a presence in Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and up in Brisbane. We’re also looking for more permanent infrastructure to be able to support those growing teams as well.
ADM: That sounds like quite an organic growth path that you’re going down; are you actively looking at any acquisitions in the Australian market?
Evans: That’s never off the table but at the moment we’re quite happy with the way that we are – the success that we’re gaining through our sales strategy and part of it is to recognise that we’re not just a box seller, we’re actually an integrated communications solution provider. We started the interview by mentioning this, okay, we’ve flown beneath the radar. We’ve been content and proud of the products that we have delivered and developed for Australia and, over time, our inherent competency has supported our graduation to comprehensive solution provider.
Our behaviours and the way that we engage with clients in partnerships, smart enterprises has been part of our success. We’re adding value there, and we’re getting very good feedback from our clients about our approach and the fact that we have innovative technology and the onshore capability to fully exploit that for our clients gives us a powerful proposition.
In essence, we’re a quality German manufacturing capability backed by Australian engineering and that’s helped to provide solutions for the Australian client.
ADM: I’m guessing being a German based company, you’re heavily involved in the Industry 4.0 space in Germany. Is that something that you’re transferring to your business here as well in terms of processes?
Evans: We tailor our processes according to the market. We’ll review those initiatives and see how we can best employ them here locally and there’s an amount of I suppose corporate harmonisation which needs to happen such that we can amortise the benefits of scale properly. We already interchange significant data globally and ultimately subscribe and contribute to these value chains.
We don’t want to reinvent the wheel here; when we have a formula that works, let’s protect that and let’s plan for change and build upon it. And if some of the Industry 4.0 initiatives can liberate value in what we’re doing then we’ll review them as such and understand how incorporate them.
ADM: You only took up the Rohde & Schwarz MD role earlier this year. What lessons learned are you bringing from some of the adjacent industries that you’ve recently worked in?
Evans: Business is done by people, not processes, so making sure that we’re getting out there and actually engaging with our clients and stakeholders and talking about what we have achieved. If you take the naval business for example then we’re trusted by over 40 navies for secure communications solutions. We provide an innovative fully IP secure communications architecture, a systems across platforms philosophy, multi-level security and a fully scalable solution to address commonality across the fleet. It’s understanding that where you have innovation which works, you are able to engage with the right stakeholders with open conversation and explain the value proposition; it’s having the confidence to engage in those debates and conversations.
In terms of leveraging other experience then I’ve learned the importance of getting out there, talking with people, making sure that we understand their challenges, their problems because at the end of the day our innovative solutions are targeted towards their issues, their challenges, be that from a test and measurement perspective such as developing a test concept for 5G. Then we’ve been working with Telstra to commence 5G handset performance and acceptance testing and I’m able to communicate that this has been fully successful.
That’s world leading capability there and having the knowledge that we’ve done that in one market and understanding what the relevance is, particularly in a defence market for example, in terms of cyber security and the Internet of Things, then having that transversal knowledge to be able to confidently talk about these things and why it’s relevant in particular domains is part of what we’re going to be doing more of.
So in terms of what have I done previously, it’s understanding what is of value to your clients, engaging with your clients to be able to develop a relationship and then developing trust through delivery.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of ADM.