It’s a pleasure to be here at such an important gathering of representatives of government, business and the military – and at such an important showcase of technological excellence and innovation.
It is a particular pleasure to be back in the United Arab Emirates so soon.
I was last here in October 2016, when I had the honour of meeting the Crown Prince, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan for discussion.
Australia looks forward to continuing to build and strengthen our relations in the Middle East region, including with our partners here in the United Arab Emirates.
As part of that task, I am here in Abu Dhabi to add a new dimension to Australia’s relationship with the region – a new dimension of engagement using defence industry collaboration – industry collaboration hinging on the development of technology, materiel and research and development.
Australia is seeking new partners, partners we can cooperate with at government, industry, academia and research institution levels to build our defence sectors and promote security.
The Australian Government has placed defence at the forefront of our policy agenda.
We are determined to use the defence dollar to drive a high technology, advanced manufacturing future.
This is reflected in my appointment as Australia’s first Defence Industry Minister – and our new approach to the sector; our efforts to build a new partnership with defence industry to deliver and sustain Australia’s defence capability.
And it is reflected in our new determination to reach out to the world, to our friends and allies, to the governments we share security interests with to see how we can work together, how Australian industry and ingenuity can help with the defence of all our nations.
We live in a world characterised by such rapid, dramatic and fundamental change we think nothing of speaking of “disruptive technology”.
Disruptive technology is a concept that sits particularly well with defence and security.
In a military context, disruptive technology is best defined as innovation; the innovation that provides a crucial technological advantage to the warrior.
As we look at the global security climate and threats, it is clear that disruptive and emerging technological innovation is driving the next generation of modern warfare.
Defence and security have always relied on disruptive technology.
The evolution of weapons and weapons technology – from the discovery of how to forge iron and steel, the development of the longbow, the emergence of the first small arms, the advent of automatic weapons, the birth of armoured vehicles and the appearance of the first aircraft over the battlefield – have all reshaped modern conflicts.
Each technological advance has necessitated the creation of counter technologies; counter technology that over the past century has included anti-tank munitions, radar and missile technology, lightweight body armour and stealth capabilities.
We face a constant challenge to deliver and challenge military capabilities.
We are always seeking those technological advances that will give us – and enable us to maintain – an advantage over our adversaries.
As we look to the next century, we must all rise to meet the challenge of the emerging technologies that are confronting the superiority in weapons of offence and defence and their support and maintenance that we have come to rely on.
It is increasingly self-evident that nations are progressively more dependent on breakthrough technology to gain a competitive edge in any field of endeavour
And while disruptive technology may not be new in defence and security, the pace of its evolution and its sheer diversity are.
This new challenge requires a new response – a multi-party response, a collaborative response that involves governments, industries, universities and other research institutions.
With today’s globalised access to knowledge and the rapid pace of technology development, innovation, speed and agility have taken on greater importance.
Advances in manufacturing processes and materials, discoveries in quantum computing technology, the new accessibility of 3-D printing and automation all have driven and will continue to propel this increasing pace of change – and give it greater momentum with every development that emerges.
Military advantage will heavily depend on the ability to exploit innovation and technology to produce game-changing military capabilities – such as the tools needed to counter special threats such as terrorism that cannot be met by conventional war fighting forces.
Military advantage will also depend on developing strength and capacity in new domains.
No longer do we find challenges to peace and security only on land and in the water and the skies above.
Modern military forces must be able to meet threats in the electronic world of cyberspace and above our earth in space itself.
Over the past half-century we have seen the importance of space with the emergence of satellite capabilities for intelligence, surveillance, communications and geolocation.
We are still discovering the security and defence implications of the cyberspace domain.
Innovation in the non-geographically bound domains – air, space and cyber – is driving connectivity and complexity.
It is bringing us close together, making us more tightly networked – and demands a multi-domain strategy, rather than the single domain focuses that in the past characterised so much of our military thinking.
Defence and industry now have the far broader challenge of integrating capability across five domains rather than one or two and dealing with increasing layers of technology.
At the same time, however, we still need to maintain the ability to operate in digitally and technologically deprived or denied environments.
We still have to deal with low-tech and “primitive” adversaries.
For this is the paradox of modern military and security environments.
The arsenal our adversaries may deploy is diverse – diverse and potentially at opposite ends of the spectrum.
They range from directed energy weapons to box cutters, hypersonic ballistic missiles to improvised explosive devices or even a standard courier truck.
For every cutting-edge weapons system fielded there are others more than 50 years old – and everything in between.
We are more than aware of this in Australia.
We sit in the heavily militarised Indo-Pacific region, which we share with seven of the world’s 10 largest standing militaries and five of the world’s declared nuclear nations.
Our forces increasingly depend on science, technology and innovative engineering to not only protect our personnel but to advance national interests and prepare for an uncertain future.
So, what makes a technology disruptive?
In everyday terms it is when something changes the fabric of our lives irreversibly.
For defence and security and the military it is when an adversary deploys an effect or technological solution quicker than we can respond and deploy our own defensive or offensive solutions.
In the commercial world, this might mean the difference between profit or loss, the failure of a business or collapse of an industry.
For defence and security the consequences might be far more significant – potentially catastrophic.
That is why identifying, assessing and contextualising emerging technologies are critical for any defence force.
And while this accelerated pace of technological change is a challenge, it also brings opportunity.
Australia is emerging as a leader in developing next-generation game changers.
In Australia, defence and industry have worked together to develop the internationally acclaimed Jindalee operation radar network, the Nulka anti-ship missile decoy and world-class counter improvised explosive device systems.
These last threats, IEDs – Improvised Explosive Devices, are an example of technology disruption used against our troops in a deadly way.
The Australian Defence Science and Technology Group’s REDWING program has developed critical counter IED equipment for our defence forces and has also developed similar devices for the Afghan Army and Police under the REDWING program.
The Australian designed and developed REDWING program has developed devices no bigger than a walkie-talkie that are stopping IEDs from detonating near individuals or vehicles. They work by jamming the wireless signals between a trigger and the buried IED, stopping the IED from detonating near individuals or vehicles.
Over 150,000 REDWING devices have been produced by Australian industry and sent to Afghanistan.
This remarkable Australian made technology is saving lives.
It highlights how innovation can provide timely solutions to new threats.
For we know the timeliness of new developments that boost our defence and security capacity are absolutely critical to protecting Australian lives and capability.
In another example a collaboration known as Diggerworks – a joint initiative between the Australian army, our Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group and the Defence Science and Technology Group – has vastly improved the way Australian soldiers are equipped for combat by identifying and delivering technology that enhances the position of our frontline soldiers.
Innovation focused on continual improvement and collaboration between science, industry and defence has been able to ensure that our combat troops are among the best equipped in the world.
One particular outcome of this work has been the development of lightweight ceramic body armour in conjunction with the Defence Material Technology Centre, our national research body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and a private company, Australian Defence Apparel.
As a result Australian Defence Apparel is today manufacturing ceramic ballistic plates in complex, curved shapes for use in body armour by the Australian Defence Forces, technology we are now exporting to other militaries.
Often a new innovation is not a breakthrough technology development.
Instead, it can be an ingenious integration of tools we already have at our disposal.
The smartphone is the standout example of this.
In the decade since the iPhone first appeared, smartphones have transformed how we do business and live our lives.
However, when Steve Jobs first unveiled his device, its technologies weren’t particularly new.
Instead, it was a clever integration of a touch screen, a high quality colour display, high battery densities and data networking – a clever integration that could be made even more useful and tailored to specific needs and interests through the creation and purchase of third-party developed apps.
This convergence of technologies is one of the key attributes of disruption.
And one of the most fascinating disruptive technologies is being created by the convergence of autonomous devices and human-machine interfaces.
We are seeing the development of technology that allows us humans to seamlessly integrate with artificial intelligence so it can provide us with the information or undertake the actions we desire or need.
Again, Australia is taking a lead here.
The Royal Australian Air Force and Defence Science and Technology are actively researching augmented reality concepts that will enhance fighter functions and effectiveness through better situational awareness, decision tools and training as part of their Plan Jericho program. Plan Jericho is the Chief of Air Force’s plan to transform Air Force into an integrated, networked fighting force that enhances joint warfighting outcomes.
We know that digital disruption is underpinned by foundational technologies such as big data, machine learning, data analytics and digital communications.
We also know that one of the ramifications of this is that both nations and non-state actors can now conceivably achieve their strategic objectives without any conventional warfare, without boots on the ground or without shots being fired.
Instead, nations dependent on networked data and capabilities could be virtually blockaded using cyber attacks.
This is the new paradigm of warfare.
The Australian government has recognised the importance that strategic defence research has for our future security and economic prosperity as we strive to become a force in the international defence market.
We understand that the innovation that drives defence capability will also be the innovation that secures our defences and ultimately wins wars.
To this end, the Australian government has established a new defence innovation system, allocating one point six billion Australian dollars to extend the technological capabilities and collaborative opportunities of our research institutions and industry to deliver innovative solutions for defence capability.
The two main programmes of this new system are the 640 million Australian dollars Defence Innovation Hub and the 730 million Australian dollars Next Generation Technologies Fund.
We are determined to develop the Australian Defence Force’s capability to ensure our national security while strengthening the Australian defence industry, growing exports and expanding wider high technology manufacturing across the Australian economy more generally to create new jobs and underpin our prosperity – what I call our great national endeavour.
The new Defence Innovation Hub, brings the disparate range of innovation programs managed by defence into a single streamlined program which unites our armed forces with industry and research bodies.
We are working towards the creation of a defence industry that can not only protect Australia’s interests, but generates innovative products that can assist our friends and allies and form an export industry that supports global peace and security.
The Defence Innovation Hub will be able to take these innovations from proposals through to development and on to the contract stage, managing intellectual property and tackling the challenges of converting ideas into practical capability when they are needed to deliver a battleground advantage.
It will take the efforts of the Next Generations Technologies Fund, which is working on longer term scientific research to identify key game-changers such a cyber warfare, quantum computing, space and hypersonics to enable us to respond to future threats.
Technology is the future of warfare, and military applications of this technology will radically shift the balance of global power.
The Australian government’s approach to innovation means that we will be much better equipped to harness potential breakthroughs in technology.
Along with security, it will also deliver jobs, growth and economic prosperity in an ever-increasing global marketplace.
We are embarking on a great national endeavour, our largest ever investment in our defence capability.
We are determined to meet the challenges of the emerging strategic environment, in our region and wherever our national interests are at stake.
We also intend to use our defence dollar to drive a high technology, advanced manufacturing future for our nation.
We know the long lead times of much of this process leaves us with no scope for complacency – and makes building new partnerships a vital element of success.
It is a pleasure to be at this showcase of innovation.
I trust I have left you in no doubt about the opportunities offered by Australia.