Land Forces 2022 – defence industry as national power, by Andrew Gresham


Today in our special editorial series Land Forces 2022, we turn to the key role of the companies and institutions that make up the defence industry sector in supporting national security. Here Andrew Gresham looks at defence industry as an instrument of national power.

To understand the Australian defence industry’s role as an instrument of national power, it is important to reflect on the geopolitical situation in our region and where the industry finds itself.

Australia’s traditional ten years of strategic warning time is no longer a sound basis for planning.

If we accept that, then we also need to accept the need to change the way industry supports what the Australian Defence Force (ADF) needs today – and what it will need tomorrow.

We need to grow industry capacity and increase sovereign capability to meet the ADF’s needs in peace, competition and war.

We need to invest early, often at risk, in technologies we know will be needed.

And we need to break down some of the barriers that prevent Defence from engaging its industry base earlier in the acquisition lifecycle.

Covid-19 has previewed the supply chain disruptions we should expect during major conflict.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has driven this home. Europe is facing a winter without adequate fuel and global grain supplies have been fiercely disrupted.

We should be cautious about making future predictions on the outcomes of the invasion of Ukraine.

However, there are some key features of the conflict worth noting for Australian industry policy.

These include the rapid depletion of Guided Weapon inventories; our ability to get these weapons from the factory to the front line influences the pace of battle; the emergence of novel, low cost ways of striking an adversary; and that technology makes no difference if armed forces are not well-trained, well-motivated and well-led.

Supplying Ukraine with Australian military equipment also demonstrates the importance of Australia having an industry base that can be employed as an instrument of Australian strategic policy.

It highlights the value of having an industry base that can design, build and sustain end-to-end military capability here in Australia.

This ambition can only be realised if we can find the skills to design, manufacture and sustain activities.

There is an opportunity to work collaboratively across industry, academia and Defence to address skills development as a tide that lifts all boats.

My own company is making a concerted effort to invest in skilling our Australian workforce through collaboration with tertiary education institutions and developing Capability Hubs at key locations across Australia.

We must leave no stone unturned. Without the skills and a competitive employment offering, Australian defence industry simply won’t digest the $270 billion our government is investing in defence acquisition and deliver the capability our strategic circumstances call for.

This great task requires industry, state and federal education and training departments, research partners and government to come together as we build the skills of Australians, innovate to solve technology challenges and collaborate to strengthen industry and supply chain development.

Andrew Gresham is Managing Director – Defence Delivery at BAE Systems Australia. With an honours degree in Mechanical Engineering and postgraduate qualifications in management, he has previously worked in the mining industry in roles ranging from engineering to operations leadership.

@AuManufacturing’s special editorial series Land Forces 2022 is brought to you with the support of Thales Australia and BAE Systems Australia.

Pictures: Autonomous M113 trial/Andrew Gresham

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