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Go8 submission to the Defence Strategic Review

The Group of Eight universities (Go8) welcome the opportunity to provide this submission to the Defence Strategic Review. Please note that this submission represents the views of the Go8 network, and member universities may choose to make their own submissions.

Please also note that we are happy for this submission to be published and have no wish for any of it to be treated as confidential.

Universities are a critical element in the defence innovation ecosystem. The Go8 recognises that there is huge potential to do more in generating the future Australian Defence Force (ADF), defence industry and defence and security Australian Public Service (APS) workforce, and in accelerating the ‘concept to defence’ capability cycle aimed at sustaining a competitive advantage for our ADF operators.

As noted in the terms of reference, the strategic context in which Australia is operating is undergoing rapid change. Geostrategic forces are applying pressure across many aspects of Australian industry and society, a process exacerbated by COVID and associated effects.

There is a need for universities, defence industry and government to work much more closely together and with with shared purpose in accelerating the discovery, translation, prototyping and scaled up sovereign manufacture of competitive advantage IP for ADF operators, and for our partners and allies in AUKUS, the 5-Eyes, and the QUAD.

The enormous defence-related research capacity in our universities has not really begun to be applied at scale in accelerating the discovery and fielding of new capability for our volunteer ADF operators – the best of Australia.

This makes it timely to review not only Australia’s defence capabilities, but also the essential factors that underpin it.

Two of these essential factors are workforce and research: workforce, to ensure that defence can draw on the skilled and specialist talent needed, including in associated defence industries, intelligence and government support services; and research, to ensure that the capability cycle remains equipped to compete at the cutting edge.

As a middle power with a population only a fraction of that of the UK, US or China, Australia cannot compete on size alone. Instead, our strategic advantage lies in maximising the impact of what we have through innovation, strong interconnectivity across defence and associated industries and services and clever use of limited resources.

Australia has a key strategic advantage in providing both workforce and research capabilities: its world-class research-intensive universities. The Go8 conducts 70 per cent of the nation’s university-based research, makes an annual investment of around $7 billion in R&D, and offers:

  • High quality research services across a broad range of fields, of which 90 per cent is rated as being above or well above world standard;
  • Seven universities rated within the Top 100 in the world, placing us behind just the US, UK and China;[1]
  • Eight universities rated as in the Top 100 in the world for subjects relevant to defence and defence industries, such as engineering and technology; [2]
  • Eight universities that collectively produce more than half of Australia’s science graduates, more than 40 per cent of engineering graduates, and awards half of all domestic research doctorates in Australia;
  • Eight universities with significant innovation and commercialisation capacity, collectively generating nearly a billion dollar economic impact from spin-offs and start ups;[3]
  • Eight universities that collectively invest almost $70 million in defence R&D each year, which is 44 per cent of the total university sector’s investment; and receive almost 80 per cent of total US Department of Defense funding to Australian universities;[4] and
  • Eight universities with demonstrated impact – with an independent assessment concluding that each $1 of Go8 research income delivering around $10 of benefits to the broader community. [5]

This valuable resource can be leveraged to support Australia’s entire sovereign capability – our defence forces, defence industries, intelligence agencies and Government services. Harnessing the capacity of our high performing, research intensive universities is an urgent national strategic imperative.

Research intensive universities understand the importance of their role in the defence-defence industry-academia capability development triangle. Each of us is pivoting towards the defence research value proposition with the aim of generating social impact in the national interest. For example, UNSW Sydney and the University of Adelaide have established the Defence Research Institute and the Defence Science Institute respectively, and the extensive capabilities of Go8 members are listed in the attached Capability Statement.

This submission will provide a high-level overview of our response; we are happy to provide more detail in any of the areas covered.

Workforce

Workforce considerations need to incorporate talent pipelines that support skills and capability needs in defence, defence industries, Government departments and intelligence services, while facilitating greater inter-operability and connections between them.

The key objective is to leverage the strategic advantage residing in the talent and expertise in our universities, our defence industries and our defence forces to engage Australians in meaningful employment that boosts our overall defence capacity.

Considerations should include:

  • Multiple career pathways. Traditional graduate pathways – from school to postschool education or training and then into the workforce – will always be core to Australia’s workforce needs. However, a second talent stream, that of post graduate education – often overlooked in workforce planning processes – represents a significant resource of underutilised skills and capability that offers a shorter-term solution to address areas of immediate need. A graduate with a solid grounding in a relevant field who is interested in a career change or pivot could potentially be fast tracked into a specialist area through a 1–2-year postgraduate or masters program. Such employees bring with them the benefits of maturity and workforce experience which can foster and supplement the graduates coming through more traditional pathways.

For example, much of the public discussion around AUKUS has focused on the need to grow domestic pipelines in areas currently lacking in the Australian knowledge base. A pathway leading from foundational knowledge gained at secondary school level through to graduate or PhD training – while an important part of the puzzle – could take literally a decade. Repurposing the skills and talents of an interested physics or engineering graduate offers a more expedient solution.

The Go8 collectively educates nearly a third of domestic postgraduate students and completes half of all domestic research doctorates.[6]  The Go8 is willing to work with relevant areas of Defence and defence industries to design pathway graduate programs to facilitate this fast-track process and provide graduates in the areas of need.  

  • Facilitating greater connectivity between different parts of the system – Defence forces, defence industries, university research – is critical to maximising Australian capacity. One solution would be to develop programs that link research capability with industry and defence. A long running and successful French program, known as CIFRE, provides a model whereby talented university students, under the supervision of both a research-intensive university (to maintain a high-quality level of research) and an industry partner address an area of known need. The process produces multiple benefits, including: an evidence-based and fully researched solution relevant to the industry partner; a highly qualified employee who is industry ready in an area of skills need; and deeper connections between industry, defence and universities. A small Australian pilot, leveraging existing connections between our leading research universities and defence industry could be run at a modest cost split. If effective, the program could be scaled up.  


  • Greater connectivity can also be achieved through university spinouts and startups, based on university IP generated through research. The Go8’s research commercialisation potential was recognised in a landmark agreement signed in 2017 between the Go8 and the UK’s IP Group PLC, which was the first of its type in Australia. Prior to this agreement, IP Group invested only in the US and UK.[7] Spin offs or start ups could be leveraged to progress defence industries in areas of developing need, and help to ensure Australian sovereign capability remains at the cutting edge.
  • Greater connectivity to key strategic partners. The core of an Australian defence strategy must be development of Australian talent, however in some cases it is appropriate to look offshore. The AUKUS agreement, for example, is aimed at leveraging existing alliances with the US and UK to help build Australian capabilities in nuclear technologies, as well as broader capability around Cyber, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Technologies, Additional Undersea Capabilities, Hypersonics & Counter-hypersonics, Electronic Warfare, and Space. The Go8 has deep and longstanding partnerships with our counterpart organisations in these countries, the Russell Group in the UK and the Association of American Universities in the US. Australia could leverage these partnerships to support development in areas of specialist need.
  • The recently announced Defence Trailblazer Concept to Sovereign Capability program, a collaboration between UNSW Sydney, the University of Adelaide and 52 defence industry partners, is an exemplar of the type of transformation required. Funded in part by the Department of Education, and in part by the university and defence industry partners, the collaboration will see co-design of two major streams of activity over the next four years, with intent to generate enduring positive change. The first stream consists of a series of nine programs aimed at driving greater integration between academia and defence industry, including university culture transformation through incentivising promotion pathways via defence research. The second stream features academic co-leads from each university alongside our industry partners, and supported by senior defence scientists in the DST Group, co-designing and executing major research programs in those disruptive technology areas identified by Defence as strategic priorities. These include quantum materials, technologies & computing; defensive hypersonics & countermeasures; information warfare & advanced cyber technologies; robotics, autonomous systems & AI; and defence space technologies.

Research

Research capacity is also core to advancing Australia’s sovereign capability in defence and defence related areas.

This is both directly – via contracted services between high quality researchers and Defence or its associated industries – and through the development of highly trained research professionals who form part of the essential workforce.

The Go8 conducts 70 per cent of Australia’s university-based research.  All of our members have either obtained, or are in the process of obtaining, DISP membership. The Go8 was a founding member of the Universities Foreign Interference Taskforce (UFIT) and has continued to play a key role in counter foreign interference work across the sector. A statement on Go8 Measures to Safeguard Australia’s Research is available on our website.[8]

Our extensive defence-related research capability is outlined in detail in the Go8 Defence Capability 2019 Statement attached to this submission: allied areas are outlined in the Go8 Artificial Intelligence; Go8 Space Collaboration and Commercialisation, available on our website.[9] A brief overview is provided below:

  • Stakeholders and relevant connections: some of our stakeholders and industry connections include: Defence Science and Technology (DST), Lockheed Martin Australia, BAE Systems Australia, Boeing Defence Australia, Australian Submarine Corporation, Tectonica, Thales, DefendTex, the RAAF, Veterans Affairs, the US Office of Naval Research Global.
  • Areas of Capability include: Additive manufacturing; Aerospace research; Trusted autonomous systems; Cyber security; Decision making; Defence communications and networking; Distributed software systems; Enhanced human performance; Hypersonics; Machine learning and artificial intelligence; Medical countermeasures; Metals and alloys; Microwave technologies; Photonics & Advanced Sensing; Power and energy; Quantum technology; Radar and signal processing.
  • Research infrastructure relevant to defence includes:
    • High Powered Laser Laboratory at The University of Adelaide for Directed Energy research.
    • The National Security College at the Australian National University, a joint initiative of the Australian Government and ANU, established to address significant national security policy questions and challenges that confront Australia, the Indo-Pacific region and the world.
    • Maritime and Aerospace Research Infrastructure at the University of Melbourne, a world class ocean simulator 60m tunnel (Extreme Air-Sea Interaction Facility), Seaice-wave interaction facility, high Reynolds number wind tunnel.
    • Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy (MCEM) at Monash University, a world class centre for multi-scale characterisation of materials that can determine the composition, structure and bonding of materials down to the atomic scale. It researches the development and application of electron microscopy methods and provides advanced instrumentation, expertise and teaching in electron microscopy.
    • Cyber range, at UNSW Sydney, that provides war gaming, training and exercising co-designed with CSIRO for teaching, training and research.
    • Hypersonic/space facilities at the University of Queensland.
    • Research and Protype Foundry at the University of Sydney. It enables the development of optical chips, electronic devices and new quantum science and technology via outstanding lithography, etching, deposition and metrology. A purpose-built cleanroom provides an environment with extremely precise regulation of temperature, humidity, light and air composition, vibrations, and electromagnetic interference. The facility is recognised as one of the most advanced of its kind and houses many of the world’s leading quantum physicists. For this reason, Microsoft chose to partner with the university for the advancement of quantum science.
    • The Microelectronics Research Group at the University of Western Australia runs a completely vertically-integrated sensor facility, from materials growth, through device design, fabrication and testing, to packaging and sub-system assembly.

Recommendations

  1. That the Government recognise the considerable national asset that is the capacity, capability and connections of its research intensive universities, that can be leveraged to advance Australia’s sovereign capability across a range of areas and industries relevant to Defence.
  2. That the Government consider working with the Go8 universities on a small pilot program, based on the French CIFRE model, to increase engagement between Defence, industry and universities while addressing areas of known need.
  3. That the Government consider partnering with the Go8 to develop new models to facilitate engagement, such as the Lincoln Labs at MIT in the US or an Advanced Strategic Research Agency (ASRA) – based on the US DARPA model – as announced by Prime Minister Albanese prior to the election in April 2022.[10]

As always, the Go8 is happy to further engage with the Defence Strategic Review leads or discuss any aspects of the above submission. I can be contacted via my Chief Operating Officer (e: tracey.wright@go8.edu.au; p: 02 5123 6701).

Yours sincerely

VICKI THOMSON
CHIEF EXECUTIVE


[1] Academic Ranking of World Universities, 2022
[2] QS subject rankings
[3] London Economics, 2022 (unpublished).
[4] https://go8.edu.au/media-release-focussed-defence-research-funding-agency-crucial-to-safeguarding-national-security-go8
[5] London Economics 2018, https://www.go8.edu.au/Go8_London-Economics-Report.pdf
[6] DESE Higher Education Research Collection, All Students, 2020
[7] https://go8.edu.au/group-of-eight-in-landmark-first-for-australia-welcomes-200-million-vote-of-confidence-in-its-research-from-the-uks-ip-group
[8] https://go8.edu.au/media-release-group-of-eight-measures-to-safeguard-australias-research
[9] https://go8.edu.au/engagement/capability-our-experts
[10] https://anthonyalbanese.com.au/media-centre/labors-aukus-boost-an-australian-strategic-research-agency-oconnor-keogh