Global uncertainty is our opportunity
ON May 5, Boeing rolled out the first of its Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft. Right here, in Australia.
More technically, it is called the Boeing Airpower Teaming System. It is an unmanned aircraft that is designed to fly alongside manned aircraft like an F-35, otherwise known as the Joint Strike Fighter, or Australia’s current air fleet of F/A-18 Hornets, transports like the Hercules or surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft like the Poseidon.
This is one of the most exciting developments in Australian defence industry in 50 years.
Put simply, it is the first Australian designed and constructed military aircraft since the 1970s.
Boeing and the Australian Government put up the funds for its research and development. It is the largest investment by Boeing in unmanned vehicles outside the United States of America.
Because this is an Australian designed and constructed project, 70 per cent of the content of each aircraft is Australian. That has created more than 100 new jobs in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
It has supported 36 different Australian suppliers.
What makes this so important right now is that it is a tangible example of the Australian defence industry stepping up and proving it is globally competitive.
It shows that our Australian capabilities have been recognised by one of the world’s biggest defence contractors and it demonstrates that our government is not just talking about supporting the Australian defence industry but doing it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the very raw divisions between China and the US.
But the growing great power rivalry of these two giants in the Indo Pacific is not news to anyone who follows defence or foreign policy in our region.
The tension in the South China Sea, on the Korean Peninsula, in the straits between China and Taiwan, across the South Pacific, over the Sea of Japan and in the relationships within ASEAN and between ASEAN itself, China and the US, has been palpable for many years.
What we are seeing now, is the preparedness of the Trump administration to elevate its rhetoric rather than paper over the cracks.
All of this presents opportunity for the Australian defence industry.
The Loyal Wingman is one product, a very expensive one at that, which could be exported to our friends across the Indo Pacific, especially those countries that are part of the global network of nations using the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
Markets like Japan, South Korea and Singapore immediately spring to mind.
But the Loyal Wingman is just one example.
Australia is perfectly positioned geographically and in its technical capability to be the Indo Pacific hub for the sustainment and maintenance of the Joint Strike Fighters operating across the region.
Over time, this will be worth billions of dollars in value to the Australian manufacturing industry.
Marand in Melbourne has already attracted more than $1 billion in value in export orders through Australia’s participation in the global Joint Strike Fighter program.
Nations like Vietnam and the Philippines are prospective markets for the export of offshore patrol vessels. Austal at Henderson in Western Australia produce vessels of that size now but because of the Australian Government’s investment in the 12 Arafura Class offshore patrol vessels we have built our ship building capability in companies like the ASC and the Australian Maritime Shipbuilding and Export Group as well.
Japan has traditionally either manufactured their own or purchased much of their military equipment and platforms from the US.
More recently, it has looked to diversify its sources of military material.
That presents opportunities for products like the Bushmaster and Hawkei military vehicles, designed and built by Thales in Bendigo.
These have also proved of interest to Indonesia, Malaysia and Fiji.
Australian domestic demand for military equipment is not linear.
Hence the need for defence exports to fill the troughs in demand from the Australian Government.
The Defence Export Strategy of 2018 is designed to do just that.
A $90 million loan provided to CEA Technologies to expand their Canberra manufacturing facility through the Export Finance Defence Export Facility is a tangible example of the strategy working.
Significantly, the Australian Government mandated the use of CEA’s phased array radar on the nine Hunter Class anti-submarine warfare frigates being built at Osborne in our shipyards on the Lefevre Peninsula.
Not only are they the best of their capability in the world, it gives CEA a fighting chance to export that technology to our allies in the Five Eyes nations of the US, United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada. That is exactly what’s happening.
The same can be said for Saab’s 9LV naval combat management system that has been mandated for all of Royal Australian Navy’s combat ships where the Aegis combat system is not otherwise deployed.
Adelaide is the centre of the research and development of the 9LV, our government backing our scientists and technicians gives them the shot in the arm to export and develop.
Despite the clouds on the horizon, always look for the silver lining.
While the Indo Pacific is looking to its security, it presents opportunities for our defence industry.
Let’s go out there and be part of that competition, especially now that we have a fighting chance to win.
All of this presents opportunity for the Australian defence industry
HI-TECH: The first Boeing Loyal Wingman aircraft, designed and built in Australia, will commence trials soon and is an example of the defence industry opportunities for Australia.