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Technology key to unlocking Australia’s defence capability, says top former US official

18 November 2021

High-tech guided missiles will be a gamechanger for Australia’s defence industry, says the former chief weapons buyer for the Pentagon.

The Hon. Ellen Lord, who will speak tomorrow at a session in Brisbane of defence industry stakeholders meeting to discuss opportunities around the Sovereign Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance (GWEO) Enterprise, said advanced precision weapons would provide an immediate boost to the ADF while offering enormous potential for the domestic defence industry.

Ms Lord oversaw hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons acquisitions for the United States as the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.

She said that while much of the focus of the recent AUKUS security pact announcement between Australia, the US and UK was on the new-generation submarines, this capability is likely two decades away.

“The first of the nuclear-powered subs probably won’t be in service until the end of the next decade,’’ Ms Lord said.

“Somewhat lost in the AUKUS announcement, the US Government has agreed to transfer sensitive intellectual property and manufacturing capability to Australia to produce advanced guided weapons.

“Another more clear and present opportunity that will boost the capabilities of the ADF while offering enormous potential for Australia’s defence industry is technology.’’

Ms Lord’s comments support Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s critical technologies blueprint announced yesterday in an address to the Australia Strategic Policy Institute.

Mr Morrison identified “security and defence related science’’ among a number of key technologies to “keep Australia prosperous and to keep it strong and safe’’.

The Australian Government recently recognised the changing nature of battlefield technology by including four additional sovereign industrial capability priorities (SICP) including robotics, autonomous systems, and artificial intelligence; precision guided munitions, hypersonic weapons, and integrated air and missile defence systems; space; and information warfare and cyber capabilities.

“This is a potential gamechanger for Australia’s defence, science and technology sectors,’’ said Ms Lord.

“The impending announcement of a strategic partner for the $1 billion sovereign guided weapons enterprise is a once in a generation opportunity to build industry knowledge and capability.’’

The Australian Missile Corporation has partnered with the Queensland Defence Science Alliance (QDSA) to pull together a formidable line-up of defence representatives, industry leaders and academia to target potential opportunities around the GWEO Enterprise.

Ms Lord, who sits on the NIOA advisory board, joins Commodore Nigel Smith, RAN, Director General GWEO Enterprise for Joint Capabilities Group on the agenda which also includes former Chief Scientist of the Defence Science and Technology Group’s Aerospace Division Dr Ken Anderson, Black Sky Aerospace director Blake Nikolic, Queensland Strategic Defence Advisor Brigadier (Ret’d) Alison Creagh, RAN Rear Admiral (Ret’d) Lee Goddard, Maj-Gen (Ret’d) Gus McLachlan and Queensland University hypersonics expert Professor Allan Paull.

Robert Nioa, CEO of NIOA and the AMC, said he was delighted with the interest shown in the information session to be hosted at NIOA’s Eagle Farm headquarters.

More than 90 people are expected to attend on site, with hundreds more from around Australia linking into the livestream.

“The sovereign guided missiles enterprise will offer significant scope for technology development and advanced manufacturing in Australia,’’ he said.

“The AMC is committed to engaging with universities, government and industry to harness emerging opportunities that will build on Australia’s growing reputation in the defence sector.’’

The AMC is a wholly owned subsidiary of NIOA - the largest Australian-owned supplier of weapons and munitions to the Australian Defence Force.

It was launched earlier this year to facilitate collaboration between industry, academia, state governments and Defence on the back of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement that the government would invest $1 billion to accelerate the establishment of a domestic missile manufacturing industry.

The AMC has linked up with more than 300 partners from Australia and overseas with world-leading defence and aerospace expertise.

The GWEO is part of a $270 billion Commonwealth Government spend over the next decade to bolster Australia’s defence forces, including high-tech submarines, new fighter jets, hypersonic weapons, and advanced munitions.

Ellen M Lord resize