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Opposition proposes formation of Australian DARPA equivalent

The Labor opposition has pledged to launch a new defence research agency to drive the development of advanced capabilities, with the agency expected to absorb the Defence Innovation Hub.

The Labor opposition has pledged to launch a new defence research agency to drive the development of advanced capabilities, with the agency expected to absorb the Defence Innovation Hub.

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese, shadow minister for defence Brendan O’Connor and shadow minister for defence industry Matt Keogh have jointly announced plans to establish the Advanced Strategic Research Projects Agency (ASRA) if elected to government.

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The proposed research and development (R&D) body – an Australian equivalent of the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) would be established within the Department of Defence, responsible for funding research into breakthrough technologies.

ASRA would also be tasked with facilitating technology sharing and collaboration between Australia and its AUKUS partners (the United Kingdom and the United States) by linking local industry and academia with DARPA and the UK’s newly established Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA).

According to a statement from the opposition, the Defence Innovation Hub would be amalgamated into the ASRA.

The agency is expected to leverage both public and private investment.  

“[There] has been a lack of strategic defence and national security-focused sovereign research, funding and projects,” the trio said in a joint statement.

“This is leaving Australia vulnerable to strategic technological surprises.

“…ASRA would ensure cutting-edge research from public sources, such as universities and industry, and classified research from industry and other government agencies (such as CSIRO), are supported and co-ordinated.

The statement cites recent DARPA research into unmanned anti-submarine vessels, sixth generation fighter jet capabilities and hypersonics to evidence the benefits of the proposed ASRA on Australian defence industry.

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Labor’s proposal comes despite some defence stakeholders questioning the need for an Australian DARPA equivalent.

Richard Williamson, an Australian Defence Force veteran and a senior project officer at the Defence Science Centre, has recommended decisionmakers to leverage the existing opportunities in the defence capability life cycle, particularly by facilitating access to new technology for ADF personnel.

“We don’t need to dilute our relatively low defence spending and create our own DARPA,” he writes.

“Instead, capability managers must drive innovation in CASG and the Defence Science and Technology Group by moving early-stage technology out of the lab and into the hands of the warfighter as an acquired, sustained capability.

This latest announcement from the federal opposition follows its launch of a new plan to bolster Australia’s influence in the Pacific amid concern over China’s growing presence in the region, particularly off the back of its security agreement with the Solomon Islands.  

Labor has pledged to establish a new Australia-Pacific Defence School, set up to provide training for members of defence and security forces from Pacific Island nations.

The school, which would be funded by a $6.5 million investment over the next four years, aims to ramp-up Australia’s defence engagement in the region through the development of deeper institutional links between the Australian Defence Force and Pacific counterparts.

[Related: Federal opposition tables Pacific security plan]

Charbel Kadib

Charbel Kadib

News Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media

Prior to joining the defence and aerospace team in 2020, Charbel was news editor of The Adviser and Mortgage Business, where he covered developments in the banking and financial services sector for three years. Charbel has a keen interest in geopolitics and international relations, graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a double major in politics and journalism. Charbel has also completed internships with The Australian Department of Communications and the Arts and public relations agency Fifty Acres.

Opposition proposes formation of Australian DARPA equivalent
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