Analysis and Commentary

Australia must enlist industry to deter conflict – Rob Nioa

Analysis and Commentary

Munitions manufacturer NIOA Group CEO Rob Nioa has attacked Australia’s continuing reliance on importing foreign weapons systems and called on the country to mobilise its industrial base to deter potential threats.

The head of Australia’s biggest privately-owned supplier of munitions to the ADF said the consequences of outsourcing military production could be dire against a backdrop of the most critical period in decades.

While the challenges are enormous, so too is the ability of Australian industry to meet them, but it needs to be brought into the fight – and soon, he said.

Nioa told a high-level defence gathering in Canberra last night (Wednesday) that the potential for conflict in our region was ‘at a scale that we have not seen since World War 2’.

Nioa told the Australian Industry & Defence Network (AIDN) dinner: “This is industrial scale conflict that requires a capable and fully mobilised Australian industrial base to deter it.

“If we are to deter aggressors we need to demonstrate that we can win the industrial battle.

“The people that can do that for Australia are in this room.”

Nioa said industry investment in building sovereign capability could be stymied by an over dependence on Foreign Military Sales (FMS).

“The biggest risk to getting Australian industry into the fight, is outsourcing all of our immediate requirements to FMS.

“That will pull the rug out from under us quicker than anything.

“If we have nothing to do we can do nothing – ee need to start now.

“The Ukraine war has highlighted the significant industrial challenges in sustaining and winning large scale conflicts.”

This reflects calls in @AuManufacturing from SMEs who had made substantial investment in defence capability, only to have defence contracts such as submarine construction abandoned and then delayed.

Meanwhile industry has been promised increased orders but in many cases these have not materialised.

Nioa said the Ukraine war had exposed significant limitations in the current scale of the combined allied defence industrial base.

“Previous conflicts have shown us that a nation must start to mobilise its defence industrial base around four years before it can mobilise its defence force.

“Our adversaries have done precisely that and more.”

Nioa singled out key points raised in the recently-released Defence Strategic Review (DSR) including:

  • That Australia is facing ‘the prospect of major conflict in our region that directly threatens our national interest’
  • It signalled the end of strategic warning time for that conflict to occur, and said ‘ending warning time…necessitates an urgent call to action’
  • ‘Defence’s current approach to defence acquisition is not fit for purpose’
  • That ‘procurement risk must be based on minimum viable capability in the shortest possible timeframe’
  • That ‘Australia must be more self-reliant so that we are able to contribute more to regional security’
  • And that will require a shift to ‘strengthening Australia’s sovereign military and industrial capabilities’.

Nioa said: “I urge the government and Defence to engage more urgently with the Australian industrial base and industrialists.

“I suspect I speak for the room when I say there is a sense that Australian industry is currently sitting on the sidelines, waiting to be brought into the fight.

“I also don’t think it is well understood how commercially draining and unrewarding it is to build new industrial capabilities.

“From a commercial point of view that represents years of development, construction and commissioning effort, all while losing money, taking on risk and forgoing alternate opportunities.

“That needs an industrial base that is solely focused on the national interests of Australia. That industrial base is sitting in this room and ready.”

Further reading:
Browse @AuManufacturing’s coverage of the Defence Strategic Review here.
Land Forces 2022 – SMEs suffer as defence contracts delayed, by Michael Slattery
AUKUS and submarines, the start of Australia’s re-industrialisation? – By Geoff Potts

Picture: Rob Nioa

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