I attended the HunterNet Defence Conference at the end of August. It was my first in a few years, so it was interesting to see the change in ‘vibe’.
Matt Hall, former RAAF fast jet pilot and Red Bull Air Race competitor kicked things off, wowing us with his amazing flying skills as he manoeuvred his racing aircraft above us. Matt generously donated his time and resources, and impressed us that evening as guest speaker at the conference dinner.
Into the conference the next day, there were three main themes.
The Government is Here to Help
- Our new Defence Export Advocate, and former Minister for Defence, David Johnston encouraged SME’s to get their export controls sorted. The Defence Export Office will then support the promotion of our products overseas. $3.8b of funds for Export Finance Support available from government, and every overseas attaché will be utilised as a commercial advocate.
- The Shadow Minister for Defence, Richard Marles gave a refreshingly non-partisan assessment of the opportunities ahead for industry.
- John Harvey, the NSW Defence Advocate stressed the importance of the states cooperating and focussing on where they have a competitive advantage.
- Damian Chifley from the Australian Defence Export Office reported NSW businesses have received 32% of the CDIC’s innovation funding to date.
The Future Air Force
- On Plan Jericho, GPCPT Jerome Reid explained the focus is on AI and sensors. He invited anyone who has great ideas, but especially in this space to make contact.
- Data shows that RAAF COs have a low risk threshold. This needs to change to allow RAAF to innovate to the levels needed.
- F35 is moving from acquisition into sustainment.
Skills & Workers
- Skills needed to sustain the F35 will be different to those used currently. There will be more emphasis on ICT and software, overlayed with a requirement for high-level security clearances.
- With the first F35s arriving in 2019, there was much discussion on how the Hunter Region was going to provide the workers to support the F35.
- What’s clear is that workers with the required high-level security clearance will not be available in the numbers needed for a few years, if then.
- Collaboration with local education organisations will largely address the shortfall, but it will be years until current initiatives deliver.
Overall, this year’s event had a great energy. It’s clear everyone sees much opportunity, and some risk, in the imminent arrival of our new F35 capability.
As to how the region will provide the workforce to support the F35, watch this space!
By Rob Kremer