Speaking to Defence Connect during the Avalon Airshow, Gates also emphasised the healthy condition of SME engagement in general, as well as a growing awareness among smaller players of the need to develop more effective ways to connect with the primes and Defence itself.
"I think [SME engagement] is very much happening," Gates told Defence Connect’s Phillip Tarrant. "To pick up on your point, Phillip, it really is an exciting time."
Gates cited the Defence White Paper and the Integrated Investment Plan as key markers of what he classed as an exceptionally dynamic defence sector.
"Then you've got the Integrated Investment Plan [and] we had the recognition of the industry as a fundamental input to capability, which I think is just so critical," he added. "It really was there, but no one had said it as much and made it happen."
Gates identified a key game changer around the benefits to the industry as a whole due to the certainty created as a result of the launch of the Defence White Paper.
"It gives you what industry's been looking for … certainty," he said. "We've got certainty and some clarity. Then that flows down to where the medium and small companies in defence industries now have again that opportunity to say, 'well, I can go to my finance, or I can go to my bank saying look at this: $195 billion [is] going to be spent across defence industry across the next decade and it has got bipartisan support'."
"So we'll change governments over that time, undoubtedly, but this is what they're pushing forward," added Gates.
Finally, the initiative should revert back to the major players, Gates said.
"Then it's up to the companies like Lockheed Martin and major primes, and also for companies in that growing area like QinetiQ, to say, 'how do we work the smaller in? How do we give them the opportunity to be part of our companies as we go forward with their ideas, and transform their ideas into reality'," he said.
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