COVID-19, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, escalating tensions in Western Asia between Azerbaijan and Armenia, a coup in Myanmar, and Islamist militancy in Africa are among the conflicts that the world is now dealing with.
Ensuring our ADF is equipped to deal with any conflict that arises are the most important job for any government of the day. This provides Australia with the stability and sovereignty that underpins every part of our society.
The unstable and unpredictable geopolitical conditions that we currently face highlight the importance of having a sovereign defence industry capability to underpin and support our ADF. A strong, competitive and stable defence industry is required to not only equip our brave men and women who put their lives at risk for us but also ensure that if a conflict ensues, we have the capacity to defend ourselves
At face value, Defence Minister Richard Marles seems to recognise this recently stating that, “We need to be looking at sovereign capability. We need to protect the country, to defend the continent and defend our key interests.” Yet, his actions of late threaten our entire defence industry and the SMEs that critically underpin them.
Behind the fanfare of the recently announced Defence Strategic Review, is hundreds of SMEs who have now effectively been told to ‘stand by’ and wait in case they are needed, highlighting that Labor do not have the slightest understanding of the fundamentals of business, particularly those supporting our Defence forces.
There are a number of major acquisitions such as the Land 400 Phase 3b tender for 450 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) – which is the largest acquisition program in the Army’s history – that are due to be announced in September. If a decision on these projects is delayed until after the Defence Strategic Review our defence industry, especially the SME’s, may be forced to exit the defence industry completely due to the protracted uncertainty that they face.
Businesses need to know now what the Governments plans are if they are going to invest their time and resources into Defence projects or if they should look elsewhere.
The indecision and delay on key projects does not only place an increased burden on our defence industry but also increase Australia’s capability gap if we are to meet the Army’s stated initial operational capability (IOC) requirement for projects like the Land 400 Phase 3b.
I saw first hand that Ukraine Armed Forces are being forced to use protected mobility vehicles instead of IFVs, putting troops lives at risk as that is not what they were designed for. However, they use them because that is what they have and are decidedly better than nothing. If the Government reduces or delays the order of IFVs for the Australian Army then they are making a decision that increases the risk of harm faced by our troops should a conflict force us to do the same thing.
The Ukrainian conflict has highlighted many things, but relevant to defence capability is the importance of combined arms and the failings of European defence partners. The lack of commitment by some EU countries to protecting Ukraine against egregious breaches of international law is of real concern. It is noteworthy that NATO member Poland recently signed a massive deal with South Korean defence companies to buy tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, self-propelled artillery and lightweight fighter jets.
Australia should note if Poland is turning away from its neighbours and NATO partners to secure equipment necessary for the protection of their state. It is an important signal that we should also consider, and one that the Defence Minister should recognise if we are to have the capability we need if a conflict arises.
Ensuring that we not only retain but grow a highly capable domestic defence workforce is the first step in achieving the ambitious defence acquisition agenda laid out ahead of us. We have just seen Defence down select a German company for project Land 129 phase 4b over a local UAV provider, Defendtex, whose drones have been bought by the UK MoD and sent to be used by Ukraine’s Special Forces.
As Jim McDowell, CEO of NOVA systems wrote recently, we cannot sit on our hands. We need decisions made today that will support our domestic Defence industry. With Defence being the Australian Governments largest procurer of goods and services, there is too much at stake for this government to sit idly by.
The primary role of a government is to protect its people and its sovereignty so that democracy can flourish. This Government is failing this test and it is our soldiers and the companies that arm and protect them, who will suffer from the Government’s indecision.