AIR 6500 is one of the most complex and hotly contested programs that will transform the Australian Defence Force, for key contender Northrop Grumman, industry capability will be essential to delivering a future-proofed capability.
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The long-awaited release of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) highlighted the growing interconnectivity of the Australian Defence Force and emphasised the tactical and strategic edge these capabilities individually will bring.
Equally, the DSR highlighted the importance of combining these capabilities into a single, aggregated and “focused force” capable of delivering impactful projection and deterrence across the Indo-Pacific.
At the core of Australia’s push to knit together this disparate “system of systems” is the multi-billion-dollar AIR 6500 Joint Air Battle Management System (JABMS) program which will deliver a world-leading, sovereign command and control (C2) and integrated air and missile defence (IAMD) capability.
This synthesis of capabilities across sensors, multi-domain platforms and effectors will fundamentally change the way the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and the broader Australian Defence Force (ADF) operate independently and in partnership with its partners across the Indo-Pacific.
Delivering this capability will require a major step change for Australian industry, combining the project execution and know-how from a large, experienced prime, with the cutting-edge capabilities delivered by Australia’s own vibrant defence SME sector.
Northrop Grumman Australia (NGA) is one of the two shortlisted companies selected by the Commonwealth to participate in the Competitive Evaluation Process for AIR 6500, which is scheduled to be announced later this year.
The prime’s ambition and design for AIR 6500 will leverage its relationships with Australia’s burgeoning defence industry, while also drawing on the depth of experience, knowledge, and expertise of the broader Northrop Grumman Corporation.
Companies like South Australian-based Daronmont Technologies, Silentium Defence, PLEXYS, SRC Australia, and Dingo will draw on the experience, expertise, and scale of Northrop Grumman Australia’s relationships at home and abroad.
Terry Saunder, director, Northrop Grumman Australia, told Defence Connect, “AIR 6500 really is the next stage in the evolution of Northrop Grumman Australia, it leverages a core US capability that we will be bringing forward, and helping to synergise that with existing and future Australian technologies that will help build the sovereign defence industrial capability.”
This will see Northrop Grumman Australia build an in-country ecosystem of “sovereign capability partners” involving 20 companies that are involved in the development of the solution not just the delivery. This approach will act to not only deliver sovereign control but to transfer knowledge through sharing of intellectual property and technical data with and across the JABMS Enterprise.
At the core of this, Northrop Grumman will emphasise a number of key priority areas, namely:
- Australian workforce uplift: Under AIR 6500-1, NGA will create more than 300 new jobs for Australians in the JABMS Enterprise, as well as secondary employment growth through work that flows down into the integration ecosystem.
- Boost the Australian economy: NGA will meet greater than 60 per cent AIR 6500-1 Australian Contract Expenditure to IOC and will seek to grow that over the life of the program.
- Global Opportunities: As a result of the broader Northrop Grumman Corporation’s global role in IAMD markets, the company’s strategy will identify and cultivate export opportunities for Australian industry.
Saunder added, “Our emphasis on building a true, in-country ecosystem that can grow and evolve with the capability over the lifetime will see us help mould our supply chain into a flexible, adaptable, and future-ready industrial base, meaning we can evolve the capability as the Commonwealth presents new challenges.”
Integrating Australian industry into this ecosystem of collaboration and partnership through organs like the company’s AU$20 million Parallax Labs provides Northrop Grumman with the opportunity to incorporate Australian innovations and novel solutions at the ground level.
This integration of Australian industry will also benefit from the company’s ability to “reach back” into the US-parent company providing the Commonwealth with a strategic partner leveraging decades of space-based communications, situational awareness and IAMD experience, de-risked capability delivery while maximising the flexibility of a technology and platform-agnostic approach.
Importantly, this evolutionary approach and emphasis on agility, flexibility, and adaptability in the face of tactical and operational challenges will set the standard for the way in which defence industry, particularly the primes, like Northrop Grumman Australia approaches challenges in the future.
By embracing a fluid, yet experienced approach to solving challenges and delivering capability outcomes, Northrop Grumman Australia is positioning itself for decades of opportunity in shaping the Australian Defence Force and ensuring that it has the capability it needs to defend the nation at this critical juncture.