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Australian universities hold the keys to AUKUS Pillar I, II

Mr Joel Hoffman tests engine fuel during his Maritime Engineering work experience on board HMAS Sydney. Photo: LSIS Susan Mossop

Australian universities are building the foundation of the next generation of defence industry personnel for AUKUS Pillar I and Pillar II agreements.

Australian universities are building the foundation of the next generation of defence industry personnel for AUKUS Pillar I and Pillar II agreements.

Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States announced the AUKUS trilateral security agreement in September 2021.

The AUKUS agreement was further strengthened with an announcement from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, US President Joe Biden, and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in San Diego, California on 14 March for the development of AUKUS Class submarines and purchase of US-built Virginia Class submarines.


Pillar One of the AUKUS agreement is the delivery of nuclear-powered, conventionally armed submarine capability to Australia, the first time the US has shared its nuclear-propulsion technology.

Pillar Two proposes an enhancement of joint capabilities and interoperability, and the development of cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies, hypersonic, counter-hypersonic capabilities, electronic warfare, and information sharing.

It will be vital for education institutions to have relationships in place to respond quickly to calls and research grants in support of AUKUS technologies, according to University of South Australia (UniSA) defence and space director Matt Opie.

“The University of South Australia is partnering with universities and defence industry in the UK and USA to ensure we are positioned to provide research capabilities relevant to AUKUS Pillar One and Pillar Two. International alliances will be key in supporting the respective governments on AUKUS,” he said.

“UniSA has a world-class capability in human-centred design, psychology, human factors, and internal design on submarines where we are already working with the counterparts in the UK and US.

“We are well positioned to provide support in these areas in support of design enhancements on the Virginia Class and also to inform the design of the new SSN-AUKUS Class.

“UniSA is leveraging those areas of AUKUS Pillar Two where we have world-class expertise such as artificial intelligence and cyber technologies.

“UniSA has been designed programs and courses to support defence industry for decades. Currently, UniSA is working with BAE Systems Australia to design a new degree apprenticeship in software engineering, where students will spend approximately 50 per cent of their time within the company while they study.”

Opie said the university has also recently launched a global executive MBA in defence and space aimed at international executives from defence industry, governments, and defence forces to prepare participants for roles on AUKUS and other critical defence programs.

Educational institutions and universities will need a comprehensive array of academic programs and expertise to respond to multiple areas of workforce need identified in the AUKUS partnership, according to a University of Melbourne spokesperson.

“The University of Melbourne produces world-class graduates and research in a range of fields that align with the priorities of the AUKUS partnership, including maritime systems engineering, nuclear physics, as well as Indo-Pacific relations, defence, and legal policy,” the spokesperson said.

“The United States and the United Kingdom are significant research collaborators of the University – longstanding relationships where expertise and knowledge are shared between our researchers and AUKUS partner nation’s research institutes, government agencies, and companies.”

On the East Coast, the University of Queensland has continuing defence collaborations with more than 60 organisations, including longstanding quantum and hypersonics partnerships in the US and UK.

The university’s research capabilities align closely with technology priorities, with particular strengths in quantum technologies, advanced cyber, AI and hypersonics (including high-temperature composite materials) and undersea capabilities (neurocognition and perceptual decision-making for submariners).

The Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG)-UQ forms the backbone of current research collaboration between UQ and the Australian Hypersonics Research Precinct in Brisbane.

Through the Queensland Defence Science Alliance (QDSA), part of DSTG’s Australian Defence Science and University Network (ADSUN), UQ coordinates closely with fellow government and university constituent members regarding ASCA and AUKUS priorities.

“The research, workforce, infrastructure and relationship dimensions of AUKUS Pillar I and II priorities are actively considered by UQ, including at the central and faculty executive levels, and through the senior-level Defence and Space Working Group and DISP Committees,” according to a UQ spokesperson.

“UQ has invested in building its Research Partnerships portfolio including the appointment of a specialist defence advisor (Associate Director Enterprise Research Partnerships -Defence, Space and National Security) to lead defence engagement efforts, as well as appointing a specialist DISP and International Safeguards officer to enhance its security and defence export compliance.

“The Australian Program Office for Advanced Hypersonics (APOAH) is an example of a UQ initiative to identify and rapidly demonstrate technology emerging from the academic sector which can be integrated with existing or future Australian defence platforms.

“The APOAH develops the sovereign workforce pipeline in hypersonics by providing students and postgraduates at all levels with practical experience with design and implementing flight vehicle production and testing.

“With further support from Defence, the APOAH would constitute a valuable forum for coordination with US and UK government and industry partners under AUKUS Pillar II, mirroring the US University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH)

“UQ has funded appropriate DISP-compliant facilities to support AUKUS Pillar II-focused research.”

The UQ spokesperson said UQ maintains a close dialogue with key defence interlocuters and university peak bodies on AUKUS Pillar I workforce requirements.

“Our graduates will be in strong demand to meet defence and broader industry requirements in mechanical, chemical and electrical engineering, advanced materials processing and manufacturing, physics, business and law,” they said.

“UQ has a dedicated team ready with a suite of offerings for Defence to meet AUKUS Pillar I workforce requirements and welcomes further dialogue.”

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