November 26, 2015

Buying Subs, Decline in Australian DoD Technical Knowledge?

Defence Minister Payne trying to keep the submarine Competitive Evaluation Process (CEP) on track. (Photo: Andrew Meares via Canberra Times)

Rarely are there behind the scenes newspaper articles concerning:

-  arms company marketing tactics,

-  the thin technical knowledge of defence bureaucracies, and

-  the consequent Government reliance on arms companies to explain the technical intricacies of the company's submarine products.

Maybe Governments also rely on arms companies to do much of the marketing (eg. on subs and "Joint Strike Fighters") to ordinary citizens (whose tax money ultimately pays for these weapons)?

Fortunatly Phillip Thomson for The Canberra Times, November 26, 2015 has reported on the above issues. Here are some excerpts from his article. I've bolded and redded some parts for emphasis :

"Defence has handed redundancy payments to people they have re-employed as contractors

…The Australian government was warned during the inquiry that its purchase of Joint Strike Fighters could be risky if it continued to cut expert public servants from the Defence Department [DoD].

Defence would find it harder to tell the difference between facts and ambitious marketing claims, said Mr Bussell, a Defence scientist of more than 30 years.

"Industry do a wonderful job at developing technologies but they also do a wonderful job at marketing those technologies," Mr Bussell said.

The committee inquiry has been investigating the capability of Defence's physical science and engineering workforce.

"Unless you have the in-depth detailed expertise to question those marketing claims you're putting yourself at risk of buying a product that doesn't perform to a specification you thought it might," he said.

"It takes a long time for defence scientists and engineers to develop a degree of expertise that allows them to look through the cracks of those marketing brochures."

Professionals Australia ACT director David Smith said "we don't have the expertise to be a smart buyer" in procurement and sustainment because in too many areas the in-house technical experience was one deep or at most three deep.

Mr Smith said the risks of being an ignorant buyer existed in Defence's naval activities as well with two key senior naval engineers working on submarines possibly accepting voluntary redundancies.

"[Defence] will have no internal expertise [in submarine naval architecture] if that happens," he said.

Alan Gray, a public servant specialising in technology for 25 years, said Australia's technological advancement behind the scenes was lagging behind neighbours in the Asia-Pacific.

"Too little attention is being paid to recruiting [physical science and engineering] workers," he said.

A range of fields Defence would need people to work in included satellite and communications technology, sensing, propulsion, mechanical engineering, modelling and simulation and next generation batteries.

He co-authored a report with Dr Martin Callinan which called for Defence to have a plan for how it would deal with its technical workforce in the future in the face of disruptive technologies and to better scrutinise in which cases it was best to use contractors compared to in-house staff." See WHOLE ARTICLE



So the Defence Science and Technology Group within Australia’s DoD appears to be suffering experience and technical knowledge problems. This is in addition to that other technical knowledge base, the Defence Materiel Organisation ('DMO'), being disbanded and absorbed, on 1 July 2015, into the DoD's Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group. Also a new Prime Minister and new Defence Minister, with new political advisers/offices may lead to a lack of continuity and depth in handling complex technical matters.

Presumably this is not adversly impacting the future submarine CEP process? Of course the 3 CEP contenders would be reluctant to talk about this publicly!



Anonymous said...

hi Pete,
This is an interesting issue you have highlighted, however the case being don't modern weapon systems have a some form of tendering process associated with the product i.e does the user of these system create the specifications. A manufacturer can make many a claim right and usually weapon or user trials bring forth the weaknesses

Peter Coates said...

Hi Harish

So do you think Australia should be running a tender process instead of the CEP?