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Research Question

  1. How can Australia's creation of a Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise be informed by comparable international case studies?

Australia's 2020 Defence Strategic Update calls for increased weapon inventories across the Australian Defence Force, and the authors of this report describe the relevance of five international case studies to Australia in relation to the creation of a Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise. Comparable enterprises in Japan, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Canada and Norway are reviewed to identify the most relevant aspects of each country's experience and its lessons for the development of an Australian Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise.

The examination provided is not meant to enumerate a list of definitive recommendations based on similar experiences in other countries but rather to highlight areas for consideration and broad early insights (or 'overall lessons') for the Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise. To support ongoing enterprise deliberations, the authors craft a framework for the enterprise, based on established best practices.

The authors draw seven lessons for establishing a Sovereign Guided Weapons Enterprise. First and foremost is the need for such an enterprise to be bespoke to the Australian domestic and strategic context. Recognition of the complexity of creating such an enterprise is also crucial. The remaining lessons focus heavily on ensuring sustainable economic conditions for a sovereign enterprise, as well as prioritising partnerships and collaborations.

Key Findings

  • Australia should first define and prioritise its desired outcomes. Its defence-related politics, systems and institutions for defence acquisition, and its technological strengths and weaknesses, are all distinct from those of even its closest allies.
  • Operational sovereignty, in the case of guided weapons, is about removing the risks of losing access to, or control over, needed capabilities.
  • Development is reliant upon supporting innovation and education systems. However, even with sufficient expertise, investments in complex weapon systems can take a decade or more to come to fruition.
  • If Australia's domestic defence industry develops and manufactures a relatively small number of guided weapons, they will likely have high unit procurement and sustainment costs.
  • Having common systems can aid interoperability and mutual logistic support, reducing localised wartime supply shortfalls. Each partner of a joint development team can learn from the others — if information is shared freely.
  • A continually adapting offsets program can enable defence-sector growth and encourage joint ventures that lead to the transfer of critical technology.
  • Right-sizing industrial capacity will require deliberate analysis, forecasts and decisions to produce a capability that is sufficient to meet Australian needs and adaptable to compete in the international marketplace.

This research was sponsored by the Australian Department of Defence and conducted by RAND Australia in conjunction with the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center within the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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