Last month I attended the launch of the 2018 Defence Industrial Capability Plan. I have always been a strong supporter of close collaboration between Defence and industry. Now, as a board member of Australia’s aerospace company, I welcome the Plan’s emphasis on helping Australian companies play their part in global defence supply chains.
Export markets are the key to sustainable growth for Australian companies, particularly those owned and headquartered here. Australia is a very small player within the global aerospace market. However, our industry has the ability to play a major part in building and sustaining our defence capability into the future. Government support – whether it’s to ensure that Australian industry remains a Fundamental Input to Capability (FIC), or that IP developed in Australia is retained here – will help key enablers to be robust and ready when the ADF needs them.
Strong growth in Defence exports has helped TAE Aerospace to double in size over the last four years. In that time, export revenues have increased from less than 5% to around 30%, based on a clear export strategy for the Asia-Pacific region. It includes turn-key solutions for turbine engines for the Royal Thai Navy, Royal Malaysian Air Force and US Air Force, right through to manufacturing advanced liquid cooled avionics enclosures for the Joint Strike Fighter as part of the F-35 global supply chain.
Our fairly rapid growth has come from humble beginnings. CEO Andrew Sanderson tells the story of starting out with 6 employees, a laptop and a small cheque to do some contract work on the wing pivot pins of the F-111s. The electroplating expanded to engine work and painting over time, until the impending retirement of the F-111 fleet prompted our expansion into commercial aviation. We were fortunate to be able to leverage our F-111 expertise to win contracts to maintain other aerospace engines for Defence.
We now provide aerospace platform deep maintenance on the F404 engines of the F/A-18 Hornet, and the F414 engines of the F/A-18F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler, and have the region’s only dual redundant test cells for these engines in two locations. In the last few years, we have extended our services to the Australian Defence Force by taking on responsibility for the AGT1500 turbine engine fitted to Army’s M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank.
Today TAE Aerospace is a balanced mix of skills and capabilities - from complex engineering design and total logistics management, to turbine engine and component repair and overhaul, aviation wheels and brakes servicing and advanced manufacturing, as well as commercialising Australian-developed IP in assisted reality wearable technology.
The skills garnered working with aerospace engines has allowed us to handle anything aero-derivative, whether marine or land-based. The possibilities for future growth in each of these areas are exciting.
Much of our ability to grow internationally is based on our reputation for quality and innovation. The innovations we incorporate into our engine ‘best build’ policies have enabled us to achieve the longest ATOW (average time on wing) for the F404 and F414 engines worldwide. We are always happy to challenge the way things are ‘normally’ done which has led to great results for our customers over time.
Our aim is to push further into new markets globally, whether as part of the supply chain of defence primes, or in our own capacity. To this end, it is both welcome and timely that the Government, CASG, and the CDIC have committed to working with Australian companies for the benefit of the industry that supports our Defence Forces.
For the leadership team at TAE Aerospace, the most rewarding aspect of our current growth trajectory is being able to attract a wealth of talent to our company; in particular the skilled engineers, technicians and apprentices that have helped fuel our growth. Our staff numbers have increased by 25% in the past 3 years and we are pleased to have been able to source much of that talent from our local communities.
We are proud to be part of Australia’s Defence Industry capability. With the support foreshadowed by the 2018 Defence Industrial Capability Plan, we are confident that key enablers within Defence Industry can continue to grow, compete and win on the world stage.
Click here to find out more about how Australia’s aerospace company is supporting Australia’s Defence Forces – now and into the future.
By: Air Vice Marshal (retd) Mark Skidmore AM, non-executive director of TAE Aerospace