Opinion: In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, the defence sector is increasingly looking towards innovation to maintain its edge in an increasingly contested security environment. One powerful avenue for driving defence innovation is the utilisation of dual-use technologies – technologies that have applications in both civilian and military domains, explains the executive vice-president and chief executive outreach officer of Technology Accelerator, Bernice Kissinger.
The 2023 annual Accenture technology report released on 9 August 2023 provides some fascinating insights into the deep technology and innovation relationship that already exists between the US and Australia. One which should be better leveraged for national security objectives.
Dual-use technologies offer the defence sector an avenue to enhance efficiency and affordability in various ways. By leveraging research and development conducted in the civilian sector, defence organisations can access a wealth of pre-existing knowledge, reducing the time and resources required to develop new capabilities. This crossover allows for cost savings by capitalising on economies of scale in the commercial sector, where larger consumer markets drive down production costs. As a result, defence innovation benefits from a streamlined approach, enabling quicker adoption of cutting-edge solutions while maximising limited resources.
The convergence of dual-use technologies facilitates the rapid advancement of innovative capabilities. In a time when technological progress is exponential, defence organisations can harness developments in fields like artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and materials science that have dual civilian and military applications. For instance, advancements in data analytics and sensor technologies can translate to improved situational awareness and decision-making in defence operations. This acceleration of innovation allows military forces to adapt swiftly to emerging threats, maintain tactical superiority, and respond effectively to unforeseen challenges.
Defence benefits from tapping into dual-use technologies
Dual-use technologies bridge the gap between the defence and civilian sectors, fostering cross-sector collaboration and knowledge exchange. The integration of expertise from diverse fields encourages fresh perspectives, innovative solutions, and a broader understanding of complex problems. Collaboration between academia, research institutions, and industries that serve both civilian and defence markets facilitates a two-way flow of ideas and insights, ultimately leading to more robust defence capabilities. This cooperative approach strengthens relationships between defence organisations and the broader society, garnering support for defence initiatives.
Modern defence strategies demand a high degree of adaptability and relevance to stay effective in a rapidly changing global landscape. Dual-use technologies provide defence organisations with the tools needed to address diverse challenges, from cyber security threats to unconventional warfare scenarios. The inherent versatility of these technologies allows for swift adaptation to new missions, ensuring that defence capabilities remain aligned with evolving strategic priorities. This adaptability contributes to long-term strategic advantage and resilience in the face of dynamic threats.
Investments in dual-use technologies not only strengthen national security but also stimulate economic growth. Defence innovation initiatives often generate spillover effects that benefit the broader economy, contributing to job creation, knowledge sharing, and technological advancements. The dual-use nature of these technologies allows defence investments to have positive ripple effects in various sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, transportation, and energy. As a result, defence-related spending contributes to local and national economic development, enhancing overall prosperity.
Australia – US technology relationship – a solid foundation
The depth of the US-Australia alliance is the natural first point to explore to help leverage dual-use technologies. This is supported by the existing technology relationship.
Some key takeaways from the Accenture report include:
- One-in-two successful Australian start-ups were started or scaled with experienced US technology talent.
- Eighteen per cent of Australian technology graduates will be employed by US firms by 2030, underpinning Australia’s future workforce demands.
- US technology alumni have founded 50 successful businesses in Australia over the past decade, supporting 7,000 employees and pumping $1.4 billion into the economy.
- Around 150 new start-ups are founded each year in Australia by US tech alumni.
- The technology sector contributes 3.8 per cent of Australian GDP, which is significantly below the US (10.2 per cent), the UK (8.1 per cent), and Canada (6.8 per cent).
The US ambassador to Australia, the Hon Caroline Kennedy, noted that “boosting US-Australia collaboration and investment on defence, climate and critical minerals would strengthen stability in the Indo-Pacific”.
“Through AUKUS and other initiatives, we will develop artificial intelligence, quantum information science and biotechnology solutions to tomorrow’s challenges,” she said. “We will promote broader economic development of the Indo-Pacific as a free, open and stable region – one where individuals and families can lead better lives and communities can become prosperous and resilient’.
The Allied Nations Defence Industrial Base Accelerator – a strategic enabler
However, to build a truly allied nations defence industrial base, we will need to look beyond this bilateral cooperation and include other nations such as the UK, Japan, India, the Republic of Korea, NATO, and potentially other Southeast and Pacific partners.
This is why for some time, we have been working with key US, Japan, Australian, and other allies and partner governments, universities, and start-up communities to develop an “allied nations defence industrial base accelerator” platform (DIBX). This has been led by various non-for-profit organisations composed of former senior government, industry, and civil-society members from the US, Japan, the UK, Australia, India, and NATO countries.
The DIBX is supported initially by US government funding and has the mandate to engage allied nations with a shared strategic interest in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific. As the DIBX develops funding from other governments and industry will help ensure there is “skin in the game” and build out sovereign capabilities.
Many of the DIBX focus areas align with AUKUS Pillar II and has a focus on supporting testing and evaluation programs. Including, but not limited to, hypersonic and long-range strike capabilities, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and other critical and emerging technologies.
The DIBX has two key value propositions for the Australian (and other) market. One, it is not ITAR constrained and as such, can help assist rapid acquisition to SMEs, particularly for prototype development. Importantly, this ensures the intellectual property stays in Australia. Second, it is a fully vetted program which participants will need to go through a rigorous process to ensure supply chain security and sovereignty.
The DIBX can provide valuable benefits to Australia’s dual-use technology ecosystem as well as defence industrial build-up efforts. A range of industry briefings will be held in the coming months by the DIBX team to explain how Australian companies and start-ups can get involved.
Bernice Kissinger is the executive vice-president and chief executive outreach officer of the Technology Accelerator, a US non-profit, and the chief operating officer of the International Security Industry Council of Japan. She is developing dual-use innovation labs in Australia and Japan.