Just like the rest of the country, the Defence sector is not being spared the effects of COVID-19. As of today, Defence itself has 33 of their people confirmed with the virus. Around 2,000 ADF personnel are engaged in Operation Covid-19 Assist, providing services such as contact training and logistic support for health services. If readers would like information about how the ADF is responding and adjusting to the pandemic, their website has a comprehensive list of measures: https://news.defence.gov.au/national/defence-response-covid-19

Figures for confirmed cases in industry are not available, but logically would be low with companies quickly responding to guidelines and reorganising themselves with great speed. APDR contacted a number of companies to ask about how they are coping – and the results can be seen below. The responses are very much along the lines that work is continuing in all areas – albeit now with wide ranging measures in place. This is in line with the broad Government strategy of keeping the economy moving where it is possible to do so safely – and national security is a high priority. As well as asking the major companies for feedback, we also checked with smaller entities – such as Canberra’s Penten – to see how they are faring.

The list will be progressively updated as new information becomes available. The speed with which companies have been able to reorganise themselves is further evidence of the innovation, flexibility and customer focus that is characteristic of the sector.

Airbus

Caption 1: An Australian Army ARH Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter fires its 30mm cannon during a live-fire exercise while deployed with HMAS Canberra. (CoA / Kieren Whiteley)

Despite the challenging conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbus continues to focus on fulfilling customer requirements through the, predominately European, supply chain in support of our military and paramilitary helicopter customers. Spare parts and repair systems continue to be delivered to our customers, albeit with some delays due to freight constraints.

Our customers already benefit from a strong local industrial footprint undertaking repairs and support to key systems, including engines and electro-optic systems as well as the deeper level repairs undertaken in Darwin for Tiger and Brisbane for the MRH90 fleet.

Airbus has responded to the current situation by devolving more engineering authority regionally to allow repairs to be done locally where in the past, these systems had been returned to Europe for repairs and testing. Examples of this work include repairs to the MRH90 exhaust system, increased repair capabilities to support main rotor blades, cowlings and other component repairs that save money and reduce turnaround times due to freight constraints outside of Australia.

Airbus in Australia Pacific has also developed mature systems and capabilities for software development and testing for Tiger and MRH90 using the software support capabilities at the Brisbane site. These local industry capabilities are key to retaining jobs in Australia and ensuring the growth of a sovereign defence industry in support of the Australian economy.

The majority of the 1,300 strong Airbus team in Australia is working through the crisis, some directly on aircraft at military bases in Darwin, Oakey, Townsville, Nowra, Holsworthy, Richmond and Edinburgh. The rest of the team are working from home, making extensive use of the already mature communications systems that have been established to allow our teams to interact around the country and across the world.

(Andrew Mathewson, Managing Director, Airbus Australia Pacific)

Austal

Austal has undertaken a number of practical measures across all shipyards and service centres, aligning with all applicable local Government and Health Authority Guidelines, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of employees, contractors and supply chain partners during the COVID-19 pandemic.

All Austal sites remain open and continue to work on multiple vessel projects for customers around the world, with each site implementing best-practice hygiene and cleaning processes, restricted site access policies and flexible workplace arrangements (including working from home, split shifts) that ensure appropriate social distancing while maintaining safety, productivity and efficiency.

Austal USA has been deemed an essential service by the US Navy and US Department of Homeland Security and the 3,700 strong workforce in Mobile, Alabama is continuing to deliver the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship and Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport programs for the United States Navy. Austal Australia is continuing to construct 21 x Guardian-class Patrol Boats for the Commonwealth of Australia’s Pacific Patrol Boat Replacement Project (SEA3036-1), two 58 metre Cape-class Patrol Boats for the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, a 118 metre high-speed vehicle-passenger trimaran ferry for Fred Olsen Express of the Canary Islands and an 83 metre high-speed passenger trimaran ferry for JR Kyushu of Japan.

Austal Philippines is completing construction on a 109 metre high speed catamaran ferry for Fjord Line of Norway and continues construction on a second 118 metre trimaran for Fred Olsen Express. Meanwhile, Austal Vietnam is preparing Hull 397, a 94 metre high speed catamaran ferry for the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, for launch in the coming months and will be immediately commencing construction on a 41 metre high-speed catamaran ferry for SGTM of Mauritius.

Austal has made a clear commitment to an extensive global supply chain to work in partnership with local businesses to maintain operations and services at all sites for both commercial and defence customers.

Babcock

Babcock’s core business is the provision of critical services to the Defence, Emergency Services and Oil & Gas sectors; each of these sectors deliver “essential services” that are vital to the national effort of containing and managing the Coronavirus pandemic.  Babcock’s operating model of working in long-term partnership with its customers means that: in Defence, our operations have ramped-up in tandem with our ADF customers, as they make the preparations necessary to provide military support to the Civil Authorities; our Emergency Services crews are working closely with their police and health authority customers in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, as those States manage this unprecedented challenge; and our Offshore Aviation business continues to provide uninterrupted services to its blue chip customers. Moving crews – and in some cases, aircraft and equipment – across State and international borders to ensure energy supplies keep flowing.  We have implemented a comprehensive Coronavirus Management Plan, which ensures that we maintain strict health and safety protocols for all personnel who are required to continue to work on-site; and the comprehensiveness of our Business Continuity Plan has ensured a smooth transition to remote-working for all other Babcock people.

BAE Systems

HMAS Arunta returns to the water after significant upgrades by BAE Systems at Henderson Dockyard, Western Australia. (CoA / Kylie Jagiello)

As you’d expect, our primary focus is on the safety of our employees, continuing to deliver on our commitments and our supply chain.

To that end, and reflecting Government advice, more than half of our employees (almost 3,000) are working from home.

Those who continue to work on site because of the nature of the work they do are being supported with additional safety measures in the workplace.  Many provide dedicated and secure facilities to support our obligations to the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The important role played by the ADF in times of crisis cannot be overlooked and we are working hard to ensure that the capabilities we support are available when they are required.

Our local supply chain is critical for the continuation of Defence work that will help to protect Australia and support our nation’s economy.  Every year, BAESA spends over $330 million with more than 1,500 local suppliers in Australia and we are absolutely focussed on ensuring we support their business to continue to operate through this challenging time.

We are working closely with each of our suppliers to understand how their business may be impacted by COVID-19.   This includes understanding any liquidity challenges and material delays they may face and working together to address these.

Our current focus includes:

o   Establishing ways to ensure our suppliers are paid as early as possible

o   Working with suppliers on supply chain risks, as travel between states and territories continues to become more challenging

o   Looking at ways to send out planned procurement orders as soon as possible; and to bring future orders forward wherever possible.

Boeing

A No. 2 Squadron Boeing E-7A Wedgetail taxis to a parking space at Andersen Air Force Base after returning from a mission during Exercise Cope North 20 in Guam. (CoA / David Said)

Despite the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Boeing’s defence teams in Australia – Boeing Defence Australia and Insitu Pacific – continue to support their customers. The first priority has been to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees; whilst many are working from home, we still have a significant number working from our offices or at customer locations. Regardless of where they work, our employees are following Government and Boeing guidelines on safety, social distancing and hygiene in order to help stop the spread of the pandemic. “During this truly challenging time for our nation and the world, I’m proud of the work our team is doing in close collaboration with our customers and our supply chain including many small and medium enterprises across the country,” said Scott Carpendale, vice president and managing director of Boeing Defence Australia. “Boeing started the year by supporting the ADF’s fight against the bushfires; we’re now supporting the ADF’s fight against COVID-19 while also continuing to deliver great new capabilities.”

On 9 April, Boeing announced two more milestones on the Royal Australian Air Force’s Loyal Wingman – Advanced Development Program: weight on wheels and aircraft power on, while continuing toward the goal of flying later this year. The second of three releases of Boeing Defence Australia’s Project Currawong battlespace communications system was completed in April with the Commonwealth signing off on the System Acceptance Audit for Release 2. This includes the deployment of the External Network Access Point which, for the first time, allows the ADF to securely communicate using untrusted, public networks, such as the internet. Insitu Pacific has been down-selected as one of four companies to respond to the RFP for delivering tactical UAS to the Australian Army under Project Land 129 Phase 3. In addition, broader Asia-Pacific defence work has not slowed down and is keeping Insitu Pacific busy across the region.

One adjustment to note is that in previous years, Boeing usually would have activities or guest speakers in our offices to help commemorate Anzac Day; this year, we’ve invited the entire Boeing Australia team to join a virtual, employee-led observance.

L3Harris

L3Harris is responding aggressively to the coronavirus spread by focusing our efforts on keeping our employees safe, helping our customers sustain their critical services and supporting community efforts to combat the virus’ spread.

To protect our employees, we’ve expanded our safety protocols, mandated work from home for those who can work remotely, implemented social distancing, staggered work shifts, redesigned workstations, cancelled all travel and outside events, among other actions.

As a global technology company supporting missions that protect our nation and our allies, we are committed to fulfilling our responsibilities to our customers. And we’re offering any assistance we can to CASG to develop solutions to COVID-19 challenges – including leveraging our engineering and manufacturing skill set and facilities in Brisbane, as well as further initiatives at L3Harris across the world to combat the global pandemic.

(Alan Titheridge, MD L3Harris Technologies Australia Group)

Leidos

Leidos Australia is keeping the safety of our people a priority, whilst ensuring we continue to deliver critical support to our customers. Where possible, we have supported our employees to work remotely, providing guidance on appropriate workspace set up in alternate locations and using virtual means to stay connected. Due to the nature of our work, not all employees are able to leave Leidos or customer sites. In these instances, we are actively instigating social distancing protocols and have increased cleaning of our facilities. In some cases, we have created red/green shifts for teams to reduce numbers of employees in a single location. We continue to work in step with our customers, their own workplace guidance and business requirements.

Supporting our customers to remain operational is of utmost importance and we were integral in supporting the transition of Australian Tax Office staff with the technology and services required to implement work from home arrangements for the Department. We have also, in line with the Minister for Defence and Minister for Defence Industry’s guidance, focused on expediting engagements with Australian SMEs across Defence, as demonstrated by our recent $10 million subcontract announcement with EPE.

Ultimately, it is business as usual for Leidos Australia, with all employees becoming well versed on use of the mute button.

Leonardo

Within the dynamic and evolving environment generated by COVID-19, Leonardo continues to provide critical support to the defence industry and the helicopter transport industry in Australia.

Our first priority in these unprecedented circumstances is the health, safety and well-being of our employees and their families as well as of our Customers, Suppliers and other Partners around Australia. As part of this commitment, Leonardo Australia continues to monitor and adapt operations in line with guidance, restrictions and regulations issued by Leonardo International, Government agencies and health authorities.

We have implemented swift and comprehensive safety procedures across all sites to ensure full operational support capabilities remain open and available to our customers. Up to 70% of our employees are working remotely from home to reduce the number of people present at our sites. For those working on site, social distancing requirements are in place and reinforced daily. We have increased cleaning protocols, personal hygiene protocols and hand sanitiser stations. Since 1 April, we have implemented a roster for our warehouse team at Essendon Fields in Victoria to further enhance social distancing. We are strictly following all self-isolation/self-quarantine recommendations issued by the Australian Government, as well as conducting ongoing risk assessments to monitor, review and manage our response.

Lockheed Martin.

No 3 Squadron Lockheed Martin Joint Strike fighters A35-09 and A35-11 taxi out for a night sortie from RAAF Base Williamtown. (CoA / Craig Barrett)

While we have a large portion of our employee base now telecommuting, we are continuing to support the operations of the Australian Defence Force as required. In addition, LMA Chief Executive Joe North participates in a regular forum convened with the Ministers for Defence and Defence Industry, as well as the Department of Defence to ensure continuing support to the customer during this time.

National security never stops, and Lockheed Martin Australia continues to play an essential role in the national security industrial base by supporting the critical missions of our Australian customers and those companies supporting our global supply chains and international customers. We are working closely with Federal and State Governments to align our efforts and monitor in real time the steps required to minimise the spread of COVID-19.  We continue to use best practices to mitigate risks and protect the health and well-being of our employees and industry partners, while continuing to meet our commitments to Australia’s national security.

We are working with the Commonwealth to:

  1. Identify ways to address cross border issues that have the potential to impact our suppliers;
  2. Ensure prompt payment to our Australian supply chain partners

We are also seeking to pull forward contracts and purchase orders wherever possible to support supply chain partners as they deliver their critically important work.  We would encourage our suppliers who are experiencing challenges during this time to  contact our Office of Australian Industrial Participation (OAIP) atoaip.lm@lmco.com for assistance.

Working with our customer, employees and industry partners, we will remain focused on meeting our commitment to the security of Australia.

Naval Group

Our first priority is the safety and well-being of our people, clients, suppliers and their families. Here in Australia, we have successfully moved a large majority of our 200+ strong workforce to working from home arrangements where we continue to provide the platforms and services our client, the Commonwealth of Australia, relies on. We have also reached out to our current suppliers thanking them for their ongoing contribution to the Australian Future Submarine Program during this time of economic uncertainty and operational challenges. We have offered our complete support, and have extended an opportunity to revise payment terms, assuring we will do our best to assist Australian industry during this time

Navantia Australia

Defence has an important role to play throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Together we are making an important contribution to Government and the community and we are continuing our work to support Defence’s mission.

Whilst there have been changes in how we are conducting business in this ever-changing environment, we remain committed to ensuring that Defence is able to fulfil its ability to serve Australia’s national interests.

Navantia Australia is taking every precaution available to protect our employees, their families and the community while continuing to provide the services our clients and business partners require.

All client contact where practical is now over email, remote video conferencing and phone as our employees are now encouraged to work remotely to help stop the spread of coronavirus and to stay healthy.  A dedicated workforce remains at Garden Island, Sydney where we are supporting our employees to ensure everyone maintains awareness regarding hygiene to protect themselves and the public, and to practice the advice provided by health authorities.

While Navantia Australia staff are working from home, we are taking steps to ensure that all necessary security measures regarding defence business are strictly adhered to in accordance with defence standards and requirements.

Throughout this unprecedented event, the health and wellbeing of our employees, their families and the community is our highest priority. We are keeping our employees informed on the latest advice from the Secretary of Defence, Chief of Defence Force and health authorities.

Northrop Grumman

A Northrop Grumman Litening sensor pod on the wing of a No. 37 Squadron C-130J Hercules aircraft at RAAF Base Richmond. (CoA / David Said)

Northrop Grumman is still operating, and we continue to work closely with the government and our defence customers to provide critical services, while also supporting our suppliers and small-medium businesses.

The health, safety and well-being of our employees is our highest priority. We are frequently communicating the most current information and guidance to our employees to ensure they are informed.

We are taking proactive actions to protect the wellbeing of our employees, including halting travel, limiting non-essential visitors to work environments, social distancing, working from home, cancelling large gatherings, and cleaning our workplaces on a daily basis and disinfecting as needed.

Penten

At Penten, our main focus during the COVID-19 pandemic is the wellbeing of our people. This period is particularly busy for us, with a substantial increase in requests for our secure mobility products supporting Government workers. Our biggest challenge is managing the increased workload of our teams as they and their families adapt to the new norm of the COVID-19 working environment. Penten quickly put measures in place to ensure staff can work remotely and securely while remaining connected to customers and colleagues.

Penten has made a conscious effort to increase communications during this time to ensure staff feel informed, connected and supported. We’ve implemented virtual lunches, frequent COVID-19 CEO email updates, additional team-based teleconferences and more general staff news. We’ve even delivered COVID-19 care packages to each staff members to make sure they and their families feel supported during this time. We have learnt a lot and will continue to learn during this COVID-19 situation. Many of our adjustments to our operations and communications have been highly successful, and as such, these may well continue after the crisis has long ended.

Rheinmetall Defence Australia

Since the start of COVID-19, all of Rheinmetall Defence Australia’s actions and decisions have been guided by two priorities:

• Priority 1: ensure the health and safety of our staff and their families; and

• Priority 2: ensure that our business operations continue to meet our customer obligations.

RDA is doing well on both fronts.

On health and safety, we have implemented social distancing measures in line with Federal and State government directions, plus internal decisions to strengthen the protection of our staff.

We now have around 85% of our workforce primarily working from home. This is unprecedented in our history. We continue to support our staff through flexible working arrangements and technology to ensure we can all be as effective as possible in these circumstances.

The decision to support our staff working from home has allowed us to protect those that need to continue to work at our facilities, particularly for staff who have a ‘hands on’ operations and production roles.

On the business continuity side, we have ongoing focus on commissioning our new Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence (MILVEHCOE) and the integration work for vehicles at the centre of our two major programs: Land 400 Phase 2, the BOXER Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles and Land 1213B/5B Medium and Heavy Logistics vehicles and modules.

Our focus is also on ensuring our network of SME industry partners – both current and prospective – are able to communicate their needs to us in the current environment. This includes establishing processes to ensure suppliers receive payment for products and services as quickly as possible. And, where we have the possibility to accelerate project activities or accept earlier deliveries from Australian businesses particularly those who are most vulnerable, we are looking to replan this work in cooperation with the Commonwealth project teams.

Saab

In response to the COVID-19 emergency Saab Australia has rapidly implemented a range of measures to ensure continued delivery and in-service support of major defence projects. Our technical agility allowed us to transition 75% of our workforce to working from home within 72 hours, with a focus on protecting and maintaining access to our critical infrastructure such as test labs and classified software development. An ongoing challenge has been the continued execution of projects across Australia under current travel restrictions. This has been effectively managed to allow completion of the integrated security system for Australia’s newest and largest correctional facility in Grafton, NSW, as a recent example.

The company is well placed to transition through this difficult period and the support from CASG, Minister for Defence and Minister for Defence Industry has allowed us to continue to recruit additional staff and to establish new facilities in Adelaide and Melbourne to support growth.

Safran Electronics & Defense Australasia

Safran Electronics & Defense Australasia (SEDA) is committed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and is continually monitoring the situation closely. The health and wellbeing of our employees, their families, our stakeholders, visitors and contractors are our highest priority. To minimise the spread of the virus, SEDA is following the directives of the government and recommendations of the health authorities. We have subsequently implemented multiple strategies, and reorganised our operations to allow business to continue during these uncertain times. We have facilitated working from home for our employees through the increased use of digital channels and working with our industry partners via video conference to conduct business in a safe environment.

The implementation of our COVID-19 response strategy means SEDA has been able continue to do business in Australia and New Zealand, continue to work with our Australian partners and identify opportunities domestically and abroad, and maintain our commitment to grow our own Australian Industrial Capability. Most importantly however, SEDA has been able to maintain the support of our navigation and optronics systems on board key Australian and New Zealand operational defence platforms and will continue to do so throughout the current crisis.

Thales

Australian Army soldier Private Jamee McDonnall fires a Thales F88 rifle. (CoA / Priyantha Malavi Arachchi)

Thales is committed to the continued delivery of capability to Defence whilst minimising any risk to the safety of our employees and the broader community.

In early March, Thales implemented social distancing and enhanced hygiene measures across all of our sites. At production facilities a number of measures were implemented including: staggered shifts, staggered breaks, closure of canteen facilities, expanded break rooms, increased hand washing and the cleaning of rooms between use. Concurrently all non-production staff moved to ‘work from home’.  All sites have also identified and secured a bio-cleaning company for deep cleaning as necessary.

We are closely monitoring impacts on our supply chain, actively seeking advice from key suppliers to ensure we have the ability to mitigate any potential impacts. Thales takes seriously our responsibility to maintain employment and supply chains through the current crisis and have taken a number of steps to assist our partners as the situation has evolved.

The APDR team & COVID-19

For those curious about how the media is coping, the structure of APDR is well suited to weathering the coronavirus pandemic.  We are an internet-based, widely disaggregated team of professionals in dispersed locations.  Some of us have been practising social distancing for years, now making a virtue of necessity.  The administrative and commercial brains are in Sydney in two separate locations; circulation is managed from the Sunshine Coast; design takes place in another two separate places in Sydney; correspondents are scattered everywhere, including: Melbourne; Tel Aviv; Washington DC; Singapore; Moscow; Johannesburg; London; somewhere near Cannes; a winery in Victoria; Umina Beach; and your editor is in a biohazard-proof location in the National Capital.

We use a sort of self-configuring neural network, allowing for a seamless – and safe – work pattern. This permits us to continue functioning, producing magazines and online content without missing a beat while self-quarantining; washing our hands regularly to remove any sins as well as potential viruses; and practising a new skill called Blitz Shopping, which has the aim of getting in and out of a supermarket in less than two minutes.  Many interviews were previously conducted by phone, teleconferencing and email – now that is at the 100% level.  For administrative matters we were early adopters of Skype.

Our goal is to continue operations as usual, and we are doing so in the same responsible way as everyone else: working from home; limiting meetings to only one other person face-to-face; checking up on friends, colleagues and relatives so that no one feels cut off, isolated, or ignored.  Some of us have noticed a slight increase in evening alcohol consumption – for medicinal purposes.

To everyone – hang in there and stay safe. We will all get through this and return to less stressful times of visits, exhibitions, equipment displays, factory openings, launches, conferences and site tours.  If anyone has any uplifting story ideas, now is the time to send them through.

To download the latest issue of Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter, click here

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