Australian Arms Export Ambitions

By Max Blenkin

Australia is on track to reach the government’s ambition of leaping into the top 10 of global defence exporters and it could do that well inside a decade.

New Defence Minister Christopher Pyne said in the first six months of 2018, defence export permits worth $1 billion were approved.

And in the June quarter, applications for permits for export of defence equipment rose 25 per cent on the same period in 2017.

“Primes around the world, SMEs around the world are establishing here in Australia because there are huge opportunities here,” he said outside LAND FORCES 2018 on Tuesday.

“They are looking to export and that is why defence industry is growing. Manufacturing is in its longest period of growth since 2004. This isn’t a coincidence – it’s because of the government’s policies.

“That will flow into exports which we are already seeing this year. I think we will reach our goal of being a top 10 defence exporter well inside the 10-year frame we have given ourselves.”

Launching the new defence exports policy in January, the government announced its ambitious plan to push Australia into the top 10 of global defence exporters. That will require a very significant increase from the current annual level of $1.5-2.5 billion over the next decade.

Australia ranks 20th in a list of the 25 largest military equipment exporters for the period 2012-16, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The US heads the list, followed by Russia, China, France, Germany and the UK. Australia sits behind South Africa, Belarus, Norway and Turkey.

On SIPRI’s figures, to reach 10th place – a position now held by Israel – Australia would need to lift its share of global arms exports from the current 0.3 per cent to more than 2.3 per cent.

Speaking outside Land Forces 2018 with Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr, Mr Pyne said he first attended Land Forces two years ago and it is now 50 per cent bigger. Twenty-six countries are represented and 15 regional army chiefs are attending.

“What we are seeing in the last two years is a dramatic change, an improvement, a growth in people’s interest in defence and defence industry in the capabilities we have here in Australia that we can export around the world,” he told reporters.

Asked if the Army was big enough to meet the challenges of a changing and uncertain world, LTGEN Burr said that was why the service was exploring opportunities with new technology.

“The opportunity for robotics and autonomous systems, manned and unmanned teaming, the technology that is emerging gives us enormous opportunities to scale and do broader capabilities with the same number of people,” he said.

“We are absolutely engaged with technology and industry to think about how we can use that in new and creative ways. Let’s focus on exploring that tech – that’s where the future is.”

LTGEN Burr said there was no doubt the ethical and legal challenges from artificial intelligence (AI) and various robotic systems were being considered around the world and would be discussed at this conference.

“That is why people need to be at the centre of all this technology and people remain central to the Army’s competitive advantage,” he said.

This article was first published by our partner ADBR on September 5, 2018.