AUKUS — Much more than submarines

With billions of dollars on the line and a surge of media headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking AUKUS is a deal exclusively about submarines. It is not.

The landmark trilateral agreement is split into two distinct Pillars. Pillar 1 focuses on Australia’s game-changing acquisition of conventionally armed, nuclear-powered submarines.

Pillar 2, equally significant, goes beyond the deep blue and addresses cooperation and collaboration on advanced capabilities. It embraces six key areas, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cyber technology, undersea capabilities, hypersonics and counter-hypersonics, electronic warfare, and information sharing. Pillar 2 is less well-known, and less understood, but has already had practical deliverables. In May, the UK hosted an AI and autonomy trial that saw a joint deployment of UK, US, and Australian AI-enabled assets in a collaborative swarm to detect and track military targets.

In theory, the successful implementation of Pillars 1 and 2 will usher in a wave of opportunities for Australian industry and Australian workers. But it would be sensible to remember that the success of AUKUS is not predetermined; instead, we must build it.

Earlier this month the Australian Industry Group CEO, Innes Willox, said AUKUS would be transformative for the economy and supercharge defence-related jobs. Willox remarked that Australian businesses will need to demonstrate the skills and capacity to the satisfaction of supply chain partners in the US and UK. But if they can do this, there are 20,000 jobs waiting in submarine infrastructure, sustainment and construction alone.

What are the challenges?

Many Australian businesses would like nothing more than to launch themselves into the defence supply chain. After all, the reward can be large and long-lasting, but the barriers to entry are often seemingly impossible. Companies often speak of the entry hurdles, including high initial costs, stringent regulations and compliance, long sales cycles, advanced cyber-security requirements, limited resources for bidding or building partnerships, and a reluctance for the government to try, and fail, and try again – when bringing industry, defence and research teams together to collaborate and innovate quickly.

In March this year, the Australian and Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) released an ongoing assessment of global leadership in developing technologies critical to the strategic competition for economic and strategic influence. ASPI’s June update to their assessment suggests China is ahead of the US and its allies in 19 of the 23 technologies relevant to AUKUS Pillar 2.

If this isn’t a wake-up call, what is? 

Australian society, industry, academia, and defence need to work together to build and maintain our strategic edge, but the conditions must be suitable for that to be possible. So, while the policymakers are sorting out workable export frameworks and investment pathways, you might be wondering what role you can play. How can you or your business get involved?

If you’re a student or prospective student, we encourage you to think about your interests as well as the skills Australia requires now and in the future. Yes, we hear about STEM often, and we will need nuclear experts, AI experts, more naval engineers, cyber and space specialists, researchers, and data analysts. Interestingly, there is a push from within the defence sector to increase the ability to up our game when it comes to communication. Australia will need people who have good soft skills, with outstanding written and verbal communication abilities.

If you’re a business owner or industry leader interested in your organisation exploring what is possible in the world of defence – through a supply chain arrangement or partnering with an academic institution on a research project – we would invite you to talk to the Salentis team. Your business might already work in the defence sector, but you need support in learning more about AUKUS or the recently released Defence Strategic Review and how to grapple with these strategic initiatives. It’s a misconception that Salentis only facilitates tender submissions; we do much more, and we have a strong interest in helping companies grow.

How Salentis can support you

As a leadership team spanning Australia, the UK, and the US, we are strategically well-placed, working across all three nations. Our unique insights working with many defence businesses – spanning Primes to smaller and medium-sized SMEs, academic institutions, infrastructure and logistics businesses, social enterprises and First Nation and veteran-owned businesses.

We are seeing a growing trend amongst smaller and medium-sized Australian companies banding together to be able to offer Primes viable solutions, that wouldn’t be available in isolation. We are also seeing these consortiums win work in their own right – sharing the cost and risk burden and overcoming some of the barriers to entry. 

Salentis has expert associates who regularly attend defence, policy, and industry forums and work closely with the Federal and State governments.  In short, we can be your eyes and ears and guide you on who may be good to work with, or what a consortium arrangement could look like. We work with you to understand your business, and then help your team best position your company for future growth.

If you are interested in learning more about how we can best support your business’ growth in the current Defense climate, please contact us a:

Author: Jason Hope, General Manager Asia Pacific

Article published: September 2023

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