Sovereign defence manufacturers stand up

Peter Roberts

When Nova Systems strategy chief Rebecca Humble stood up at a Defence Teaming Centre breakfast in Adelaide early this year, she was angry.

I was one of the panelists along with executives from two foreign-owned multi-nationals discussing the state of industry, but what really got up Bec’s goat was what she saw as the misuse of the term ‘sovereign defence capability’.

In a few minutes she demolished the myth that somehow a multinational delivering a multi-million or multi-billion dollar capability could be termed sovereign and Australian, even if they did have local operations and utilised numerous local sub-contractors in their supply chains.

I am paraphrasing, but she said we all know what sovereign Australian means, and it does not mean a US or UK or French based firm.

Sovereign Missile Alliance
Sovereign Missile Alliance

Sovereign meant nothing less than the products and services from Australian owned and Australian led and managed companies that were utilising Australian intellectual property right here on our shores.

@AuManufacturing followed up with a story written by Nova chief executive Jim McDowell – himself well known for his leadership at BAE Systems, one the multi-nationals we rely on which has done more than most to develop local industrial and technological capabilities.

He said then: “Our view is that we should be striving to get the most sovereign position we can, that is value for money.”

‘Sovereign defence capability’ has featured in hundreds of federal government media releases and been mouthed by one and all from the smallest SME to the largest global defence contractors.

They all think they do it.

But in truth Australia has precious few genuinely sovereign defence suppliers, and they are becoming increasingly vocal in backing Bec Humble’s belief that now is the time Australian companies step out of the sub-contractor pack and offer and sell their own products globally.

The immediate catalyst for this is the federal government’s ambition for a $1 billion Sovereign Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise (GWEOE).

There are now three – genuinely Australian – consortia vying for the contract along with the likes of BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin:

  • The Australian Missile Corporation AMC consortium led by Queensland munitions manufacturer NIOA and including Quickstep, Moog Australia, Black Sky Aerospace and Thomas Global Systems
  • The HISPEX venture which includes Shoal Group, Black Sky Aerospace, REDARC Defence Systems, and Silentium Defence in a leading edge offering including hypersonic weapons
  • And the Sovereign Missile Alliance (SMA) of Electro Optic Systems and Nova Systems.

There is no doubt of the importance to our defence posture of the UK’s BAE Systems, the US-based Lockheed Martin and France’s Thales with their growing local operations that in some cases have unique capabilities within their companies.

There is no doubt of the immense value of their work with several thousand Australian SMEs, incorporating their parts and systems into their products, lifting their capabilities and introducing them to their global supply chains.

But they are not sovereign Australian manufacturers.

Much has been achieved in Australia’s defence industry sector in the past five years, but the real challenge is to develop our own sovereign defence prime contractors.

This story was originally published by @AuManufacturing. You can subscribe to the @AuManufacturing newsletter here.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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