Press Conference, Williamtown

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The Hon Pat Conroy MP

Minister for Defence Industry

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

Media contact

media@defence.gov.au

(02) 6277 7840

General enquiries

minister.conroy@dfat.gov.au

Release content

24 April 2024

SUBJECTS: Albanese Government’s $500 million investment in integrated air missile defence system.

MERYL SWANSON: Excellent. Good morning, and welcome to Lockheed Martin here at Williamtown on the land of the Worimi. I’m Meryl Swanson, the federal member for Paterson, and I couldn’t be prouder to welcome everyone here today and say thank you to Lockheed Martin and Boeing, but particularly Lockheed Martin, for inviting us to your house today here at Williamtown. It’s great to have good neighbours, and we know that we have fantastic neighbours here in Lockheed Martin at Williamtown.

I want to particularly welcome Air Commodore Martin Nussio, who is the Director-General of Air Defence Systems from CASG. Martin, give everyone a wave so they know who you are. Also Ms Kendell Kuczma from Lockheed Martin Business Development Systems. It doesn’t happen without the business development, and that is an important part of it. Also Group Commodore Peter Davies, who didn’t want to be recognised today but needs to be because he’s the OG, folks, when it comes to this work. And he’s been doing it for a long time, so thank you so much.

Also I want to thank Rob from Lockheed Martin, and Rob can potentially answer some more questions later about the detail of this. Tim Owen, who has been a fantastic Defence advocate is here today as well, and I thank him.

But the lead player is the Minister Pat Conroy who is here as Minister for Defence Industry. And that really is where I don’t want to say the rubber hits the road but it’s where the sound of freedom hits your eardrums on this one. This is such an important announcement. We’ve signed the contracts and there’s a lot of good work happening here in the Hunter, particularly here at Williamtown. And I am so pleased to join with Minister Pat Conroy in making this announcement and welcoming everyone here to Lockheed Martin today.

Minister, thank you for your time and work and energy. I know you’re passionate about this project. And at the end of the day, this is about cutting-edge, well, battle management, really. And it’s about great jobs here in the Hunter. And it’s about keeping Australians safe. Thanks one and all, and thank you, Minister.

MINISTER FOR DEFENCE INDUSTRY PAT CONROY: Thank you, Meryl. And I, too, join in acknowledging we meet on the land of the Indigenous people and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I also join in acknowledging all the dignitaries and experts standing behind me right now, and I appreciate their presence here today.

Last week the Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles and I announced the new Integrated Investment Program for the Australian Defence Force. The IIP, which contained $330 billion worth of funding commitments over the next decade, recognised – represented the culmination of the work begun with the Defence Strategic Review to move from a balanced force to a focused force and a focused force that is truly integrated. And I can’t think of a single project that demonstrates that focus and that real dedication to integration than the project we’re announcing and talking about today, which is all about the next steps in integrated air and missile defence.

If we think about where we are as a country, we’re facing the greatest strategic uncertainty since World War II, we’re facing the greatest arms race in our region since 1945, and the first responsibility of a federal government is to protect its people and our interests. And that’s why we’re making record investments in Defence, including a $50 billion increase in the Defence budget over the next 10 years.

And at the heart of that investment is AIR6500, a 5.7 to $7.7 billion project to deliver integrated air and missile defence for this nation. And we are making progress. We saw with tranche 1 a contract worth $300 million to deliver four advanced CEA radars to deliver tactical air defence. This is a project that is delivering the most advanced radars in the world, made in Fyshwick, Canberra, to the Australian Defence Force.

And today we’re announcing the contract signing for tranche 2A, which is a $500 million contract to Lockheed Martin for the deployable air battle management system. And this effectively is the brains to coordinate our air battle management across the country. And it’s an incredibly advanced project and it’s a real testament to the workforce of Lockheed Martin and their partners, including Boeing, C4i, ^ Latus, Lucid, Raytheon, Shoal and Silentium, that this project has come to fruition.

This is some of the most advanced work in the world and it’s being done and led in the Hunter Valley, which is a great testament to the incredibly skilled workforce here. A $500 million contract that will deliver 230 direct jobs including 60 high-tech, high‑skilled jobs in the Hunter, including things like software development and systems engineering, and 300 indirect jobs, all to deliver the most advanced deployable air battle management system that we can procure.

And accompanying and complementing that is the government’s investing – investment in the Effectors, the actual active missile systems to deliver that defence. That includes acquiring standard missile 2 and standard missile 6 for our Royal Australian Navy accompanied by an upgrade of the air warfare destroyers to Aegis Baseline 9 as well as the continuing delivery of the NASAMS missile defence system and the acquisition of 11 general purpose frigates that will include a significant number of missile cells to complement what's being acquired in the Hunter class frigates and the air warfare destroyers.

This is all part of our massive re-equipment of the Australian Defence Force. And this can only be delivered by an incredibly skill defence industry, as Meryl talked about. We have over 100,000 Australians working in the defence industry, including thousands in the Hunter region. And the 60 that we’re announcing today is additional to those thousands, doing high-tech work helping defend the nation.

And the precinct we’ve got here is a great example of that where we’ve got Lockheed Martin doing some of the most advanced air battle management systems in the world. We’ve got BAE down the road doing stealth codings for Joint Strike Fighters not just for Australia but potentially for our allies and partners. And we’ve got Boeing workers working on the E7 early warning aircraft that is the most advanced AWACS aircraft in the world. So the Hunter Valley truly is at the heart of the defence industry. The Hunter region truly is at the heart of the Albanese Labor Government’s commitment to re-equipping the Australian Defence Force to meet the needs of an increasingly uncertain world.

Happy to take questions on this announcement and then we’ll move on to other topics if there’s interest.

JOURNALIST: I guess, you know, there’ll be an average Joe sitting at home that this may not make a lot of sense. Can you explain what it is and how it will be implemented for, you know, folks.

MINISTER CONROY: I’ll have a go, and then I’ll invite Martin to correct me. I refer to this as the brains of the system. If you’re thinking about integrated air and missile defence, this is the brains of it which tells people what’s coming. So this tranche – and the equipment over there is an example of it – is deployable air battle management system. That coordinates our air defence, whether it’s Joint Strike Fighters or Super Hornets or the like.

Then on top of that the next tranche is moving to a brains of a really integrated system. So what you could have with the next tranche is you could have a Wedgetail aircraft detecting a threat then flowing through automatically through the system to tasking and missile to be fired from an air warfare destroyer off the coast of Darwin to deal with that threat. So it’s all about integrating the various forces, taking the humans out of the loop as much as possible to improve the speed of it.

But I’m not sure, Martin, was there anything you wanted to add?

MARTIN NUSSIO: I think you [indistinct].

MINISTER CONROY: Fair enough.

JOURNALIST: And in terms of jobs, you know, you’ve spoken pretty extensively here and before about wanting the Hunter to be the home of, you know, industries like this. How do you see it in, say, 10, 15 years’ time when these sorts of things are on the ground?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, I see more and more jobs in the Hunter for the defence industry. We’ve got such a skilled workforce here. They’re incredibly experienced. They’re not just doing mining and heavy manufacturing but defence. Like, we built modules for the air warfare destroyers here. We built mine sweepers here. And we’re doing great work now. There’s a great success story about how the life of the Boeing Classic Hornets was extended through skilled workers here. And, as I said, the work here, the work that’s being done down the road at the stealth codings facility, I see more and more jobs in the defence industry for the Hunter not just for Williamtown. I don’t want to offend Meryl, but in my own electorate we’ve got some great companies.

MERYL SWANSON: We want them all, Pat. No, we’ll share. We’ll share.

MINISTER CONROY: We’ve got Nupress Engineering that’s working on components for missiles right now. I’ve got 3ME that’s electrifying Bushmaster protected mobility vehicles. We’ve got thousands of workers in the Hunter defence industry, and I can see that growing day by day, week by week.

JOURNALIST: With Anzac Day, we’re preparing to reflect on the legacy, for instance, that the Royal Australian Air Force has in our region. What do you think the legacy will be in years to come?

MINISTER CONROY: Well, I think it’s always very careful to be respectful and not draw comparisons between solemn remembrance ceremonies like Anzac Day and current threats. But I think one of the things that’s always struck me is we never want to see those sacrifices having to be made again. And I’m enormously grateful, as is everyone in this nation, for the sacrifices of over 100,000 Australians who fought and died for our country. And we never want to see that happen again. And the best way of avoiding that is investing in our defence to deter aggression. And I think that that is what the Albanese Government is doing right now by record investments in our Defence Force, because the best way of deterring future conflicts is projecting strength. And that’s what we’re doing right now.

Prime Minister Albanese is walking the Kokoda Track right now with Prime Minister Marape. And I think we never want to see that happen again, and the best way of avoiding that is investing in the best possible Defence Force and the best possible defence industry.

Do we have any other questions on today’s announcements?

JOURNALIST: Maybe for Lockheed Martin.

MINISTER CONROY: Sure.

JOURNALIST: Can you just elaborate on jobs again and the positions and what some of the staffing will be doing?

KENDELL KUCZMA: Yes, so, at the moment we currently have 30 people in this area working on AIR6500. We will have up to 60 as part of the tranche 2A. In the future, like we said, there’s over 230 people that will be built up over Australia supporting the AIR6500 capability.

JOURNALIST: And will this – is the workforce already highly skilled, or will there be further education opportunities for the people involved?

KENDELL KUCZMA: I think we have a really highly skilled workforce. We’ve been working on this program a long – for a really long time in Lockheed, and so we’ve actually built those skills and we have a lot of really key subcontractors that are really helping us. And we have key capabilities like the Silentium passive radar, which is absolutely phenomenal technology. And it’s just a really proud moment for Lockheed Martin to actually be able to bring all these things together and offer world-leading technology.

That’s it? Okay, thank you.

MINISTER CONROY: And I’d just point out on the skilled workforce, we’ve got some excellent programs in schools, particularly the Hunter Manufacturing Excellence programs that are developing and kids are coming through every day. And I can’t think of a better career. And what I want to say to kids in school today is: you could start a career, whether it’s an apprenticeship or an electrical engineering degree right now at the University of Newcastle and you could work your entire career working on the most advanced projects in the world in Williamtown, in Cardiff, in Newcastle, helping contribute to the defence of the nation. And that’s a great story for all of us. Excellent.

We might – are there any questions on other matters? No? Excellent. Thank you very much, everyone.

ENDS

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