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Defence reveals heavily redacted Innovation Review

Defence has published an unclassified version of its heavily suppressed Review of the Defence Innovation System, also known widely as the Peever Review. However, the version released last week was so heavily redacted that it makes the Australian government a laughing stock.

The implication is clear – to quote the AuManufacturing web site: “It is now clear why both the Coalition and current governments attempted to bury a major Defence Innovation Review – its contents and findings are too sensitive to be seen by the public.”

EX2 agrees – but we also wonder about the timing of the release and what hidden messages it might contain for Defence’s industry and academic eco-system?

Several senior Defence leaders, including the Chief Defence Scientist and a former Head of Navy Capability, have said openly that they want to see Australia innovate quickly: to see problems identified and then tackled quickly and solutions put into service rapidly. The Chief Defence Scientist has even talked about putting ‘Minimum Viable Products’ into service to meet initial needs with subsequent iterations building on this to deliver greater functionality in the light of user experience on live operations.

Two projects in particular suggest this approach has gained traction quickly within Defence: the Boeing MQ-28A Ghost Bat and the Anduril Ghost Shark Extra Large Autonomous Undersea Vehicle (XL-AUV): both are being developed in partnership with Defence and DSTG with a combination of public and private sector money and outside the traditional capability development and acquisition system. And both look remarkably cheap for what they are, compared with what a traditional defence project might cost.

So the conclusions one might draw from this are:

  • Defence seeks to innovate both internally and with external partners
  • Defence seeks to identify challenges and develop solutions to them quickly
  • Defence intends to get these solutions into service quickly
  • Defence will refine and further develop in-service equipment in the light of operational experience
  • Defence will work with companies that are willing to invest their own money in a development project
  • Defence is willing to contemplate dual-use projects (such as Ghost Shark which has several identifiable commercial markets)
  • Defence is willing to pick winners in order to achieve ‘speed to capability’

Many of these conclusions are utterly incompatible with the slow, majestic processes followed by Defence’s current capability development and acquisition system. This leads to a further conclusion: that Government is looking to introduce fundamental change to this system and may make significant announcements as part of the release of the Defence Strategic Review (DSR) in, probably, April.

We shall see.

In the meantime, Defence’s redaction of the Defence Innovation Review lends weight to the suspicion that its content and conclusions are highly critical of Defence’s innovation capabilities and the way it has implemented innovation stimulation and support measures announced in the Defence White Paper and Defence Industry Policy Statement in 2016.

As for the Review itself, two thirds of the foreword, an introductory note by the lead reviewer, were redacted. Three quarters of the Executive Summary have been redacted, along with all of the recommendations – we don’t even know how many there are, still less Defence’s response to them.

As to the purpose of the Review (which wasn’t redacted), the Review states: “The Hon Melissa Price MP, Minister for Defence Industry and Minister for Science and Technology, commissioned this Independent Review into the Defence innovation ecosystem – specifically Defence’s science, innovation, research and development programs, including their governance, frameworks, accountabilities, gaps and inefficiencies.”

For the record, the Terms of Reference for the Review are not redacted (they were published when the Review was announced) and are simple:

Approach to Independent Review

The Terms of Reference for this Independent Review were to independently review and provide recommendations on:

  • Governance, management (administration) and funding of all Defence-funded innovation programs across the Defence organisation. Particular focus should be given to the Next Generation Technologies Fund and the Defence Innovation Hub
  • Defence organisational structure, governance, and funding of the Defence innovation ecosystem
  • How the Defence innovation system can be adapted to create a greater link between academia and industry to solve Defence’s unique capability challenges
  • How to commercialise Defence-funded research and innovation more effectively, and stimulate Australian innovation for the development of mission-focused technology solutions that could give Defence a unique capability edge
  • Development of a simplified suite of contractual arrangements to support rapid acquisition and transition from concept to capability
  • Refinement, consolidation and streamlining of the research, innovation and technology development priorities and topics, with the aim of strengthening participation of Service Capability Managers to direct ‘mission-set’ specific innovation
  • Transition between Defence and other department’s innovation and manufacturing programs to support the continued development and commercialisation of technology that does not meet a direct Defence requirement

To fulfil the Terms of Reference, the Independent Review team have conducted stakeholder interviews, workshops, targeted expert engagement, and internal and external surveys.”

The Review was commissioned by then-Minister for Defence Industry Melissa Price in September 2021. Lead reviewer David Peever, a former CEO of Rio Tinto, was scheduled to complete it by the end of that year, which he did, and successive governments have refused to publish it, until now.

So we at EX2 wonder what was the point of having a review and of asking so many to make a meaningful input during the very short time available, and then refusing to publish it?

The review was commissioned by the then-Minister, a servant of the public, using public funds to generate a report for the benefit of the government of the day.  It is important to note that were the report to have been released and acted upon when it was received, as was expected at the time, the current Opposition would have still been in power.  The review could have created a legacy upon which the government of today could have built.

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