AUSTRALIAN AIRSHOW NEWS: U.S. Defense Contractors Arrive ‘Down Under’ Seeking Partnerships

By Stew Magnuson
Australia's F-35A Lightning II

Photo: Lockheed Martin

MELBOURNE, Australia — The Australian government has committed to spending $200 billion of its currency modernizing its military over the next decade. As a result, U.S. companies are flocking in record numbers to this year’s Australian International Air Show.

But U.S. firms thinking it will be business as usual — with the Australian Defense Force simply placing orders for their wares — will find a markedly different business climate since the last airshow was held in 2017, government officials said.

Damien Chiefly, executive director of the defense industry branch in the Australian Department of Defence, said, “The Australian approach is to partner.” The country’s defense contractors are predominantly medium to small companies who can’t go it alone. They need help bringing their innovative ideas to prime contractors.

If a U.S. or foreign contractor wants to vie for an Australian contract it must now submit an “industry capability plan,” which spells out exactly how they will work with local firms to bring the project to fruition, Chiefly said Feb. 25 at a pre-airshow event sponsored by Global Victoria, the state in which the conference and exhibition is held.

“The idea is they go out the main gate with Australian industry,” he said.

These plans are not offsets, the mechanism used by some nations to make contractors invest a certain amount of dollars in the local economy as a condition of winning a contract. However, these industry capability plans will be weighed by the contracting authority when selecting a winning proposal, he noted.

The Australian government has big plans for its $200 billion and some major programs on the books. It is purchasing 72 F-35A joint strike fighters, which is the star of the airshow and part of all its billboards and posters. The Royal Australian Navy has a future frigate program in the works along with the SEA 1000 attack-class submarine. The army also wants to replace all of its armored vehicles, Chiefly noted.

Meanwhile, major U.S. defense contractors are planning to expand in Australia, following Boeing, which already has some 3,000 employees here. Northrop Grumman intends to double the number of its 500 employees in the next three years, according to a statement from Kallman Worldwide Inc., the organizer of the U.S. Partnership Pavilion. Lockheed Martin Australia recently opened its largest research laboratory outside of the United States in the city of Melbourne.

Claire S. Willette, CEO of the Australian Defence Alliance, said in an interview that the nation’s effort to bolster its aerospace and defense sector should be seen in light of its losses in manufacturing jobs — particularly the automotive industry — rather than security concerns.

Australia wants a “sovereign capability to support itself” in the defense industrial sector, she said.

“From a long-term sustainable economic perspective, you need to build something. You need to have a growth area,” said Willette, an American who served in the Pentagon for 20 years before moving to Australia.

“Because we did have this burgeoning defense industry and because we have some really niche, high-tech areas of excellence, I think that [the government] saw that this was a natural fit and something they could grow off of,” she said.

The U.S. contingent at the Feb. 26 to March 3 exhibition — also known as the Avalon Air Show — comprises 80 companies and seven state economic development groups, the Kallman statement said. The company is sponsoring a PitchFest event Feb. 27, where local companies can show off their products and ideas to representatives of the U.S. delegations.

Some 35,000 attendees are expected for the trade show part of the exhibition, with 160 buying delegations from 28 countries, Kallman added.

James S.B. Chew is chair of the Science and Engineering Technology Division at the National Defense Industrial Association, and a group director at Cadence Design Systems, which is one of 32 U.S. companies attending the show for the first time.

“Because of our involvement in the joint strike fighter, our CEO allowed us to make the investment to bring three of our executives over here,” he said in an interview. “Australia is a growing market. ... We’re looking for partners. We think what we are doing in the United States is very scalable here.”


Topics: Global Defense Market, International, Air Power

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