JOURNALIST: How does the Growler stand up at the moment to any potential adversary? How would it go jamming a modern warship for instance? What are its vulnerabilities there – what needs to be done to quote-unquote future proof it?
MINISTER: I think I am going to leave that to Chief of Air Force.
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: This is part of the understanding and ownership of something that is as integrated but also as complicated as the Growler is. There is no one single answer to that question - it’s not about “it works there” or “it doesn’t work there”. It’s more about us understanding what effects we can have, what effects we desire to have, and how we integrate this aircraft to be able to get those effects. I have no hesitation in saying “is this aircraft in the Australian inventory perfect right now, for every battle?” No. But that’s what we’re going to learn. We’re going to use all of the pieces that we can get to make this aircraft more effective. So the answer is, really, it’s extremely effective and we’ll keep it that way.
JOURNALIST: Question for the Chief. About the programme with the US Navy and Boeing to have a new anti-radar jamming suite, could you let us know why that’s necessary and what it brings to the Growler?
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: Thank you for the question. It’s a very similar answer. We’ve seen all the way from having knives and black powder, bows and arrows, we’ve evolved as militaries to be able to counter the threat and indeed, where we can, to be in front of it. So that evolution is a quite necessary one. Those potential adversaries are not standing still. They themselves are evolving and we must as well. That’s part of that evolution.
JOURNALIST: Minister, a question to you. President Trump has today announced an indication of a massive increase in defence spending. Do you see any immediate implications for Australia and are you concerned about his comments about arms races in the region, and wanting to out-match anyone in terms of even nuclear arms?
MINISTER: Thanks very much, Andrew. I have heard some reports. I have been here since early this morning, so mostly engaging with exhibitors and key defence industry here but I have seen the announcement. From Australia’s perspective we have the utmost respect for how the President has indicated he wishes to advance the US military and he made that clear contextually many, many months ago. We will work closely with counterparts and as you know I’ve already met with Secretary Mattis and will be visiting Washington fairly soon myself to follow that up with key interlocutors there. I think it’s a positive announcement. We have much to gain from continuing to develop that relationship and I couldn’t be standing in a better place to reinforce that right now, today. If the United States is intent on the development of the military to the degree that the President has indicated, to the degree that has been flagged by the Secretary of Defense, then Australia’s work in that context can only be enhanced as well.
JOURNALIST: … and on the nuclear question?
MINISTER: On the nuclear question, obviously we have expressed our concerns about, for example, the actions of the DPRK in our region most recently. These are issues which we take very seriously. I know that the Foreign Minister in her discussions last week with the National Security Adviser, with the Secretary of State, canvassed those as well. We would want to speak, I think, very seriously and very carefully with the United States with regard to that too.
JOURNALIST: What about opportunities for the Defence industry as well?
MINISTER: Well the opportunities are enormous, in a way that’s what I was saying. You don’t have to walk very far here this week to see the extraordinary engagement between Defence and defence industry here, between defence industry and countries all over the world but we’re talking about the Unites States right now. You don’t have to walk very far at all and you’re going to see another great example of that later this week, but let’s not pre-empt that discussion, of exactly that engagement. What we have laid out over the two decades of the Defence White Paper and the Integrated Investment Plan is $195 billion worth of spending in the context of the ADF itself, about making the ADF a more potent, more capable, more agile force. That can’t happen without the engagement of industry, it can’t happen without the engagement of our key ally.
JOURNALIST: Can we just ask you please to give us a sort of layperson’s real world scenario about how the Growler will be used integrating with the other assets [inaudible]?
CHIEF OF AIR FORCE: Sure. The Growler brings with it the opportunity for us to embed it with a non-kinetic option. At the moment for most of the target sets that we train for, the option is of course, a kinetic one. This brings the opportunity for us to operate in an electronic space and that would be because we want to have a particular electronic effect, that is, not allow someone to use a particular device. It could be that we’d just like to disguise where we are and what we’re doing. It is very much, as I said earlier, a surgical aircraft in terms of us being able to determine what effect we want on the battlefield and its versatility is one of the true elements of the Growler. It’s now a single option in the electronic spectrum.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can you comment on President Trump’s remarks about the F-35 and the cost being out of control and the need to rein it in? Is that an opportunity for Australia to actually reduce the cost of that purchase or is it in fact locked in? Are there also impacts of Australian industry, given we’re sort of duplicating some of the manufacturing here?
MINISTER: Both the Prime Minister and my colleague, the Defence Industry Minister, have made comment on this already. We’ll obviously watch very closely the engagement in the United States between the DOD and key industry partners, but as a partner country that is advantageous for Australia and that is an opportunity for us to participate in whatever alterations or constructive shifts in price the US Department of Defense is able to achieve. I think that goes to the closeness of the relationship and the amount of work that is being done here as well for the JSF – there’s not an F-35A that will fly without an Australian part in it and I think it is really worth a walk just over there to speak to some of those businesses from all corners of Australia, from my own part of Western Sydney, from Victoria, from South Australia, from Queensland, to see the sort of contribution that we’re able to make and more of that later in the week.
JOURNALIST: Minister, just in regards to the partnership …we’re going to have these aircraft based in Amberley. Are Queensland businesses going to be involved in that or [inaudible]?
MINISTER: In terms of the development works, I think there will be a lot of Defence to Defence work in that context and in terms of our ability to sustain and maintain new platforms such as this, we proactively encourage the engagement of domestic industry and that will be the case with this as well.