How prime CEOs can help defence startups

Scientist research computational fluid dynamics flow modelling of a submarine as part of the Next Generation Technology Fund to provide solutions for defence

The defence industry needs to do smaller outfits a favour and “remove the romance”, says former Lockheed Martin chief executive Rear Admiral (Ret’d) Raydon Gates.

During the recent Avalon Airshow, Gates told Defence Connect how he thought the current group of prime CEOs could help ease the transition for up-and-coming businesses in the defence sector in securing a position in the supply chain, giving them a shot at reeling in those lucrative contracts as a result.

"I [am] not sure we're going to make it more attractive [but] I think the very first thing that we can do, the past CEOs like myself and the present ones, is [provide] the reality checks," said Gates, adding that by no means is everyone wielding a wonderful idea in defence going to be able to sell their product.

"We have to remove the romance and all that glitters is gold bit right at the moment, which you can get excited about, and say, 'are you really meeting a need?'" he urged.

Gates said this sobering attitude must be one of the first priorities for SMEs and startups in the defence game.  

"I think that's one of the first things," he said. "Rather than building something and saying 'this is fantastic, now let me go find a buyer', [ask yourself] 'are you meeting a need?' Does your product meet a need [and] have you spoken to primes? Have you spoken to defence departments [and] have you spoken to national security circuit outside defence?"

In addition, Gates emphasised the significant role the Australian Defence Force could play in this process.

"I did learn that in the defence export unit …  where we would take companies overseas, and they would have great ideas, one of the very first questions they're always asked is, 'what does the ADF think of this?'" Gates added.

He said that unfortunately the response from Australian defence business hopefuls would often be that they had not sold it to the ADF, "which is a big hurdle when you're trying to sell overseas if your own parent nation hasn't purchased your product".

"I think we need to work harder on that,” said Gates. "Having a defence industry minister is a huge step, [but] let’s see if we can get more SMEs inside the Australian product, which allows them to become more effective, more competitive overseas as well."

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