Our national security - indeed Australia’s future - depend on ensuring our sovereignty. With a new Albanese Labor Government and the Defence Strategic Review underway, the time is ripe to revisit what “sovereign” defence capability really means.
If you look up the word “sovereign” in the dictionary, the overwhelming definition is to have control.
In other words, if you have sovereignty over something, you have control over it.
Australia’s critical need for sovereign defence capability has been exposed over the past two-to-three years. Access to global supply chains and the ability to import international expertise is no longer assured. And we are now faced with unprecedented geopolitical tensions not witnessed since World War Two.
It’s commendable the Albanese Government is signalling a renewed focus on a need for sovereignty in our defence industry.
Federal Defence Minister Richard Marles recently said: “We need to be looking at sovereign capability. We need to protect the country, to defend the continent and defend our key interests.”
Without doubt Australia needs true sovereignty in defence to ensure our ongoing national security is not solely reliant on our international partners and multi-national entities. Yes, we all have a role to play, but where we can do something locally for a reasonable price and have control, we should.
There has been a clear shift from the long-held assumption we have at least a decade to respond to a threat. This was highlighted in the Commonwealth’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update and is even more pressing now.
Capability realisation with pace is needed.
The good news is Australian industry has the workforce ready now. We have expertise and experience.
Decisions are timely and made here in Australia. Decisions get made with Australian interests as the priority.
A truly sovereign capability not only supports our Defence Force personnel, profits made stay in-country and are reinvested in future capability and R&D, contributing to our national economy and jobs for Australians now and for future generations.
Policy already exists around embedding sovereign industrial capabilities in Australia. We must act on it.
We have some nascent policies like the Sovereign Industrial Capability Plans (SICPs) in which the Government has nominated key capabilities in which Australia requires sovereignty – i.e. control. That level of control will vary case by case.
Australia will likely never achieve the same level of sovereignty with say, building very complex submarines or warships. But it makes sense to strive to get the best sovereign position as we can at a reasonable cost.
But there is one SICP that Australia can and should maintain sovereign control – Test and Evaluation (T&E), Systems Assurance and Certification.
This complex area of expertise is Nova Systems’ bread and butter.
Having a truly sovereign partner will allow Australia to make smarter technology and capability decisions earlier. The IP developed remains in Australia. A truly Australian company is the systems integrator and the steward of the supply chain.
We deliver T&E to de-risk capability realisation.
Sovereign T&E capability means ensuring Australian Defence Industry is provided the stewardship necessary to ensure Australia grows and retains a highly capable domestic workforce able to perform its own independent joint-force assurance activities.
The workforce issue is compounded by a global specialised workforce shortage, when resources are short on the ground, foreign companies are likely to prioritise their domestic requirements first which represents a significant risk for Australian Defence Force.
Australia needs to accept the risks if we continue to rely on other nations for our national security.
We shouldn’t sit on our hands and accept the status quo. In this time of unprecedented global tension, we can’t continue doing things the way we always have.
With the emergence of AUKUS and an increasing pipeline of defence work for decades to come, a window of opportunity exists to ensure critical defence capability is kept in Australian hands for the benefit of our future generations.
As a nation, as taxpayers and for our national security and safety, we shouldn’t settle for anything less than the most sovereign position we can achieve.