An innovative defence industry has more wide-ranging benefits than just defence. Many of the most popular features in electronic devices have been funded by the US Department of Defense, such as the iPhone’s click-wheel, multi-touch screen and Siri. But there are fears Australia’s inability to commercialise its innovation and complexity is letting down the defence industry, among others.
Managing director of the Australian Manufacturing Growth Centre (AMGC) and former managing director of Airbus Group Australia Pacific Jens Goennemann told Defence Connect he is fearful that Australia is currently only mastering "medium complexity" and, as a result, may miss out on a "moonshot opportunity".
"What scares me the most is probably a realistic stocktake of where we stand as a country in mastering complexity," Goennemann said.
"There are investigations from smarter organisations like the MIT, who have like a complexity index. This complexity index is put into a relation of income [per capita]. Australia sits on the higher income level ... together with other economic powerhouses, but in regards to complexity we are sitting in the middle. And that worries me. Because if we have the ambition to pull something so complex off as a nation, and we are at the moment only able to pull off medium complexity, then my moonshot rocket will miss the moon. We will not utilise this opportunity, and this is why I think we need to be very clear what in this process we want to do. We want to focus our strengths not trying to do everything a little bit. That's my worry."
But despite this fear, Goennemann said with the strong focus, both industry's and government's, on Australia's large defence procurement projects, the defence industry may be the catalyst needed for changing how Australian industry commercialises its innovation and complexities.
"On the positive, it is widely known that Australia struggles with commercialisation of the research but we have very strong research in itself. So we have the smarts, and to contribute, and as I said earlier, big defence procurement can be the catalyst for that," he said.
Goennemann used the example of defence company Thales as one leader that is helping to export Australia's defence, manufacturing and research and development capabilities.
"With Thales we have a defence company who is deeply embedded in the Australia defence constituency," said Goennemann.
"Thales does the right thing, has a local presence, works with research. It's not importing defence, but in fact they are exporting. Some of their technology is world leading, so it's not that a French company imports to Australia, in fact it's Thales who export their technology to France and other countries. I think it's a fantastic example. It is a global company with a local presence who utilises Australia's ingenuity in further developing technologies."
To hear more from the AMGC managing director and former Airbus Group Australia Pacific managing director, listen to our podcast here.
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