Avalon 2023 Defence & Industry Dinner

27 February 2023


Good evening Deputy Prime Minister, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I wish to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of Narrm, the Wurundjeri and Bunurong peoples of the eastern Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present, and emerging; and I extend that respect to Aunty Deb our Air Force Elder and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who serve with pride and distinction in the Australian Defence Force.

It is my great pleasure to be with you here tonight. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge and thank the Crown Pallidum staff, along with the teams from AMDA and Air Force, for putting on such a great event for us all. I would also like to join Shep in thanking all our industry sponsors. Please join with me in expressing our gratitude for their outstanding efforts.

In the spirit of celebrating an enjoyable evening together, I will endeavour to keep my remarks brief. But I would like to share with you some recent success stories that demonstrates how well Air Force and Industry work together to achieve capability outcomes.

In doing so, I beg the indulgence of the many international partners with us tonight, as although my comments this evening focus on technological innovations developed here in Australia by Australians, they take nothing away from the high value we place on working in partnership with you to advance security and prosperity.

Let me start with the E-7A Wedgetail, an ambitious aircraft designed specifically for the RAAF in the late nineties, we now operate six Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft delivered in 2010. Innovative and ahead of its time, Air Force worked closely with Boeing and Northrop Grumman to deliver a capability that now far exceeds our expectations. Engagements between our Defence Science and Technology Group, Boeing industries at home and abroad, our Air Force and CASG engineers and the operators at 42 Wing have significantly improved the performance of the E-7A Wedgetail. Recently, the Royal Air Force and United State Air Force have selected the E-7 to replace their aging E-3 AWACS. In collaboration with Boeing and Northrop Grumman, Air Force is currently modernising the fleet, and working on the next generation of Wedgetail capabilities.

The KC-30A Multi Role Tanker Transport is another example; it was a first of type development for the RAAF by Airbus. Replacing the old Boeing 707, the KC-30A is designed to deploy a fighter squadron over long distances, with the support personnel and cargo necessary to commence flying operations. Many nations including the UK, France, Saudi Arabia, UAE, South Korea, NATO (includes Belgium, Czech, Germany, Luxembourg, Norway and Netherlands) now operate the KC-30A. There is also significant cooperation among KC-30 users to share receiver clearances, making it a focal point of international cooperation.       

And of course the F-35 program that sees Australia working with Lockheed Martin and BAE Australia to establish a regional hub for F-35 depot maintenance and warehousing for the Global Support Solution. This collaboration strengthens Australian Industry and Sovereign resilience of the F-35 capability.

And our most recent innovation, the MQ-28A Ghost Bat developed for the RAAF by Boeing Defence Australia achieved a historic milestone. It is the first time in 50 years we have conceived, designed, built and now flown a combat aircraft in Australia. Over 150 Australian companies, including 50 small and medium enterprises within the supply chain, completing work in areas such as composite fabrication, precision machining, mission systems, flight controls, navigation, airframe control, and electrical systems, have contributed to the Ghost Bat program; this is an incredible and positive step forward for our Australian aviation industry.

The drive for enhancing our capability with industry is not just unique to aircraft platforms. A number of years ago, the Commonwealth contracted Indra Australia, for the acquisition of a transportable Defence Air Traffic Management Control system.

A great idea, because we have aircraft such as the Spartan C-27J with the ability to land in remote locations, on short, unsealed, narrow runways to provide logistics support, aeromedical evacuations and humanitarian assistance. But what happens if we were to find ourselves in crisis, such as Bushfires or Floods, as we sometime do here in Australia, where there is a lot of air traffic coming into a remote area to provide assistance. Airspace can quickly become congested.

Indra Australia looked at this scenario and took up the challenge of creating a system that would allow us to mobilise an Air Traffic Control service wherever that was needed. Indra Australia thought differently, they worked with us to gain a better understanding of our requirements and in January 2023, this concept become a reality.

Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberly’s, Western Australia was at the centre of the State’s worst flood event on record after torrential rains and damaging winds hit the remote township; the main highway was cut and many surrounding communities were isolated by floodwater.

A coordinated whole of Government relief effort was initiated. We needed to get our C-27J Spartan aircraft, Army’s MRH-90 Taipan and CH-47F Chinook helicopters, Department of Fire and Emergency Services aircraft into the area to evacuate communities, provide vital supplies and emergency assistance to those in distress and get feed to stranded livestock.    

With all this additional air traffic it was a perfect opportunity to deploy the Air Traffic Management System. Working with Army, who had adapted one of their vehicles to carry the required communications equipment, Air Force mobilised four air traffic controllers and two technicians, from different bases in Australia to the edge of Fitzroy Crossing’s air strip where they managed over 200 air movements a day. An incredible effort by our people, which I am extremely proud of.

And talking of the C-27J, it is a wonderful story of industry collaboration to sustain our capability. When the platform was first introduced, there were over 500 deferred defects across the fleet. Now, due to collaborative and focused efforts, there are less than 150, which is in the normal range for any fleet. When you walk the floor at 35SQN, you see genuine collaboration with Northrup Grumman built on trust and respect. The results are evident with C-27J’s agility to support remote communities such as Fitzroy River and reach out to our neighbours in times of need – including in NZ following the devastation of Cyclone Gabrielle.

These are just a few examples of what can happen when we work together with our resourceful industry partners to achieve rapid capability outcomes.

The outcomes that I have just spoken of can be further enhanced through expanded partnerships with academia and think tanks. For example when I look at the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), mostly with envious eyes, it is quite inspiring to see what creative collaborations between think tanks, universities, industry, small businesses and government can design and create together. I know Australia is working towards emulating DARPA with the Advanced Science Capability Accelerator and I am excited to see this organisation find its feet. This presents a fantastic opportunity to connect our Force Structure Planners with Industry and enhance our collective ability to pull innovative concepts and capabilities through into Service. As a way to solve the ‘Valley of Death’ problem in innovation, the key is to connect innovative ideas for an asymmetric advantage with clear guidance, priority and direction, and resources, and then introduce into service at speed.

There is much we can be proud of in Australia – there is more we need to do. I look forward to continuing our partnerships with industry and delivering these vital capabilities.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention, have a wonderful evening tonight, and enjoy the Airshow. Thank you.