No warning time. Industry for defence.

No warning time. Industry for defence.

In response to the evolving geopolitical landscape and the absence of warning time for major conflict, Australia’s defence industry is undergoing a critical reassessment of its strategic priorities. A recent analysis underscores the need to refocus industry objectives towards strategic imperatives rather than purely economic gains.

That was the message from Shoal’s Head of Strategy, Graeme Dunk, as the keynote speaker at the Defence Teaming Centre Defence Leaders Breakfast on 23 May, 2024. His presentation, ‘No warning time. Industry for defence’, highlighted the issues for industry and Australia in defending our shores with no warning time, and in the context of the recent defence industry reviews and Federal Budget 2024-2025.

“Defence industry has been traditionally tasked with two objectives,” says Graeme. “One is economic – jobs, exports, technological spillover, regional development, and the flow on effects of a thriving industry. The other is strategic preparedness, the ability of Australia to position and defend itself in times of conflict. We are now at a crossroad.”

His presentation reflected on the trend of the Government’s defence industry spending, and whether it supported the proposition of no warning time and the opportunity to do so. Historically, there was a clear recognition of the strategic value of domestic industrial activity for defence. However, shifts over the years have seen offshore primes dominate the industry, relegating local companies to subcontractors. This trend raises concerns about Australia’s ability to maintain sovereignty and control over its defence capabilities.

“The critical importance of sovereignty in defence industry cannot be overstated,” says Graeme. “Sovereignty entails not just being domestically operating but having the capacity to act independently, control intellectual property, and manage requirements effectively. The level of sovereignty directly impacts operational risks and the ability to address threats swiftly and effectively, and for the term of the conflict.”

Recent Government Defence reviews and the Federal Budget have come under scrutiny for emphasising economic gains over strategic preparedness. The current geopolitical environment demands a recalibration of priorities to ensure national security.

Graeme’s presentation uses the construction mix of Tier 1 and Tier 2 shipbuilding as an example, calling to reconsider and invest in autonomous systems for rapid deployment. He says that it would be wise to prepare for conflict scenarios where the force structure at the outset may not be the force structure that persists. This necessitates flexibility, innovation, and a whole-of-nation approach to defence.

A regular writer about Australia’s strategic defence capabilities and challenges, Graeme has articles published by Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Strategic Analysis Australia. He has a PhD in defence industrial sovereignty and extensive knowledge of Australian defence industry, gained throughout his career, his role with Shoal and current work with The Australian National University on the development of Australian strategic policy documents.

An interesting event to be involved with, hearing the perspectives of learned colleagues on what sovereign and sovereignty means in Defence and how we are to address it now, and into the future. Presenters included Rebecca  Shrimpton, Director – Defence Strategy and National Security, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Jim McDowell, Deputy Secretary Naval Shipbuilding and Sustainment, Department of Defence and Professor Colin J Stirling, President and Vice Chancellor, Flinders University.

You can review Graeme’s full presentation here.

His PhD thesis can be found here.