Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Australian defence innovation

As some of you might know, I'm taking a three-month sabbatical to pursue my Ph.D, thanks to the generosity of the Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC) in Melbourne. I shall be one of its first Research Fellows and I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge publicly the support of its CEO, Dr Mark Hodge, and some of its board members and staff, particularly Mr Viktor Verijenko and Mr Tony Quick.

My Ph.D research topic is "Factors affecting innovation performance in the Australian defence industry". It's not something too many other academics have explored in detail, one of the leaders in this area being Bob Wylie at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) in Canberra.

Why this topic? Because when I emigrated to Australia in 1991 I was struck by one of the big differences between the UK and Australia. In the UK, where I had previously lived and worked for British Aerospace, it was generally accepted that the government and industry would invest in defence R&D and then commercialise the resulting knowledge to develop new products, processes and services for the UK Armed Forces and for export customers.

The contrast with Australia is stark. Even allowing for the significant difference in size between the UK and Australian defence forces, the relative lack of innovative locally-made equipment in frontline service with the Australian Defence Force has continued to puzzle me.

Cynics might say that many Australian defence officials would rather eat their own children than buy anything designed or built in Australia; others would no doubt argue that Australian companies are too small to be able to compete with northern hemisphere rivals, and that the domestic market is too small to sustain a competitive local industry base in any case; and some might argue that Australian defence manufacturers simply aren't as innovative or smart as they think.

Any of these suggestions, or none of them, may be true. The whole area is a maze of urban myths, convenient (and inconvenient) truths and half-truths and downright ignorance.

What I intend to do is find out what encourages, or inhibits, innovation in the Australian defence industry and the factors that make innovation success more likely.

If you're a member of the Australian defence industry (or working for Defence) and you'd like to offer some thoughts I'd be very glad to hear from you. And if you receive a request from me to take part in an industry survey, please don't reject me out of hand. I'm actually trying to help.