Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One of the really interesting things...

....about my recent trip to France, just before the Le Bourget air show, was observing the interplay between different parts of the French Ministry of Defence and between these and the French defence industry.

The French defence ministry's Delegation Generale pour l'Armement (DGA) combines the functions of Australia's Defence Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO), its Capability Development Group (CDG) and its procurement agency, the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) it also fills the role carried out by the UK government's Defence Export Sales Organisation (DESO).

In Australia these functions reside in separate, and often widely separated, stove pipes. Their purposes and goals aren't well aligned, and there seems to be nobody except the current minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, Greg Combet, who has any responsibility for ensuring they work efficiently together.

The difference is stark: France's defence R&D, capability development and acquisition processes are integrated, and the whole adds up pretty much to the sum of its parts - not even the French would claim they've got it right. Australia's processes, by contrast, add up to considerably less than the sum of their parts. Frankly, if the Australian defence industry didn't exist it's hard to imagine this would make the slightest bit of difference to the way DSTO, CDG and the DMO do their business - and that's very sad. (in fact, if the defence industry didn't exist, I suspect there would be many in DSTO, CDG and the DMO who would be quite grateful.)

I asked Combet about the French approach recently. He acknowledged that Defence in Australia needs to streamline its processes without compromising the outcomes it's currently generating; he also pointed out that the French government owns considerable chunks of the French defence industry which in turn colours its approach towards capability development, procurement and industry development.

However, many observers I've spoken to feel that even though the Australian government doesn't own the means of defence production, and therefore can take a disinterested, rationalist view of the consequences of its capability development and acquisition decisions, it wouldn't be hard to achieve a better alignment between the various organisations charged with these functions. And it wouldn't be hard to achieve a closer alignment with Australia's defence industry without compromising the probity and integrity of these processes.

Wouldn't it be nice to think Australia's forthcoming defence industry policy statement (due out around the end of this year) could incorporate some of this thinking? Nice thought, but I won't be holding my breath.

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