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Op-ed: Defence Acquisition Failure And Reform – A Compelling Analysis And Persuasive Solution

Defence Acquisition

The nation’s $270 billion, decade-long defence spend will suffer the same all-too-familiar cost and time failures without a bold new program of weapons acquisition reform, as described by author Gary D. Stewart in his new book, Drain the Defence Swamp: A Blueprint for Weapons Acquisition Reform.

The nation’s $270 billion, decade-long defence spend will suffer the same all-too-familiar cost and time failures without a bold new program of weapons acquisition reform, as described by author Gary D. Stewart in his new book, Drain the Defence Swamp: A Blueprint for Weapons Acquisition Reform.

After 10 years working in and around Defence, the book and the open letter to the PM are written to directly confront Defence’s status quo thinking around what actually constitutes acquisition success by posing and answering a series of questions about both failure and reform that reveal why most acquisition programs can double in price and take up to twice as long as planned.

The answers to these and many more questions are addressed in a compelling analysis that demolishes every excuse used by Defence and the supply chain to justify Defence failure or the preservation of the status quo.


“The Book that Defence Does NOT Want You to Read”

For Defence: The analysis walks step-by-step through real life examples of unaffordability and failures, examining five case studies – Collins Submarine, Air Warfare Destroyer, Hunter Frigates, JSF and French Attack Submarines explaining why and how the failures happen, and enumerates in simple terms precisely why the well-documented cost and time blowouts are entirely unavoidable as a result of Defence’s current reactive processes and thinking.

The analysis brutally and unflinchingly critiques current performance failures at product development in terms of Defence weapons programs – while brutally and effectively dismantling the excuses used to justify past and current equipment acquisition failures – that simultaneously defines a robust blueprint to easily and competently reform all future equipment acquisitions into a now ‘fit for purpose’ world-leading capability for Australia.

In simple terms, the analysis compares and explains Defence’s current abysmal deliverable performance result of 1.5 out of 10 (part 1 of the analysis) against what I will describe as a ‘really good’ Step-Change transformation target of 9.0 out of 10 (part 2). Thus revealing Defence acquisitions as an affordability and producibility disaster of epic proportions for the Australian taxpayer.

This ‘really good’ benchmark is already being achieved by a number of the world’s most astute CEOs, who currently use these same methods to create a distinct edge over their rivals – and therefore can also be achieved by Defence in Australia with effort.

The enormous amount of ‘taxpayer gold’ that is wasted is truly astounding and disturbing. The ‘wall street’ view of Defence is just plain disturbing to say the least.

A blueprint for weapons acquisition reform - A persuasive solution

Totally problem-free Defence equipment acquisition success is about defining a new mechanism to create, establish, and execute superior systems for all future weapons acquisition programs.

Only such superior systems  will deliver much-needed reform.

“That is why this blueprint for weapon acquisition reform is a must-read for our military chiefs, the Chief of the Defence Force, the Minister for Defence and our Prime Minister. The stakes are that high.”  ~ Dr Mark Rehn

For defence manufacturers and engineering firms: It’s about dysfunctional product development versus competent best practice product development in a Defence context and using five Defence examples.

The narrative ‘How to fix every product development to be more affordable, producible and problem-free’ illustrates a new way to create a much better and more affordable manufacturing capability – and a new type of design and engineering competence that will drive a new level of business growth for Defence supply chain firms who decide to adopt this same thinking.

Linking to Morrison’s new Defence manufacturing policy

The reform solutions described work so well for some astute Defence CEOs (all outside of Australia) that they have been able to reduce the cost of products by 20-50 per cent and deliver final affordability results within 5 per cent of the original cost and time targets set at the start of the development program two-five years earlier. Thus eliminating all cost and time blowouts and delivering affordability.

In this context, the reform solution describes a new way to create better Australian-made manufacturing affordability capability as described in the PM’s ‘Transforming Australian manufacturing to rebuild our economy’ policy which he hopes will drive a new level of economic growth and better jobs in post-COVID-19 recovery Australia.

"There are many good lessons to be discovered for both Defence and general industry and I believe that everyone in business leadership and engineering should read this book. Do not pass this book by; it’s well-worth your time to read." ~ Bruce Griffiths OAM

Political imperatives to reform  Legislating the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act 2021

Forty-nine Defence reviews in 42 years prove two things:

  1. That Defence can’t ever fix it themselves. (no matter how much time and money we give them); and
  2. That every previous attempt at reform has failed to deliver the required outcomes or results.

Attempted reforms like the first principles review simply moved the deck chairs around on the RMS Titanic.

Proposing a new weapons acquisition methodology is easy. But nothing will actually change until the Parliament legislates a new reform framework that will mandate upon Defence a complete change of thinking for the entire end-to-end Defence weapons acquisition delivery system.

Reform problem: No compelling reform authority currently exists in the Parliament – or Ministry – for this scale of reform.

Therefore, what is required is a dynamic and highly potent reform function directly under Prime Ministerial authority with the vision, responsibility, and especially the political cojones to succeed, and finally deliver total reform  for all future weapons acquisitions.

Deliverable results from such reform:

  • 20-40 per cent lower total cost of every future acquisition;
  • 20-40 per cent less total time to deliver capability to the warfighter;
  • At least 30 per cent lower sustainment (and whole-of-life) costs;
  • More affordable, easily producible, easily manufacturable, problem-free equipment; and
  • More innovation, better technology, lower costs, will create more export potential.

"It’s a sobering read for anyone trying to run their business in the most effective way possible." ~ Dr Mark Rehn

Why should you care?

Because without significant and mandated reform the planned $270 billion defence spend will almost certainly suffer the same all-too-familiar cost and time failures that have been the nemesis of Defence acquisition programs for far too many years.

But with authoritative reform, all of the cost, time and sustainment blowouts can be avoided – and spent on even better equipment for the warfighter – returned to the taxpayer, or used elsewhere for the economic recovery of Australia.

For far too long now Defence has been selling us 'square wheels' and telling us they will eventually make them round. That time is over. The time for disruption has arrived. The time for reform is now.

The original open letter to the Prime Minster and the PDF attachment to it are available on the book website: www.draintheswampbooks.com

Gary D. Stewart - Author – Drain the Defence Swamp: A Blueprint for Weapons Acquisition REFORM  

Gary D. Stewart has decades of experience in transforming complex business systems including 10 years in Defence. He learned his craft at the world’s most effective company alongside the leading thinkers in this field. He is semi-retired and writing a series of four books that identify problems seen in bureaucratic strongholds (especially government).

*Please note, Gary D Stewart is not Gary Stewart, Chief Executive Officer Vehicles Systems Asia Pacific at Rheinmetall Defence and Managing Director Rheinmetall Defence Australia. 

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