04 Nov 14. Australia Needs a National Drone Strategy. Australia needs a national strategy that links development of its unmanned aerial systems industry to the requirements of the Defence Department, drone operators have told the government. A submission to the Defence white paper by Australian Certified UAV Operators proposes that a national unmanned aircraft industry strategy be jointly developed by the Department of Industry, the local unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and broader manufacturing industries as well as local research and development organisations and commercial operators.
“Australia is unusual in global terms in that it does not have a national strategy for its UAS sector, neither in the Defence-specific nor the broader commercial market contexts,’’ the submission says. “Defence’s own short-lived public domain Unmanned Systems roadmap was issued a decade ago.
“Likewise, in wholly commercial terms, the only consideration of UAS industrial capacity as a national asset was a brief inclusion in the Australian federal government Aviation White Paper of 2003.
“The 2009 Aviation White Paper was wholly silent on UAS industry policy. For an industry undergoing extraordinary global growth, this national strategy void contrasts sharply with the priority being accorded to the sector by governments in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.”
The submission notes Australia already produces some unmanned aerial vehicles, there are now more than 160 certified commercial operators as well as a multitude of small airframe, sensor, avionics and operating system developers.
It concedes the national industrial base will grow regardless of what actions governments take but argues the absence of considered national planning means the sector is “exposed to headwinds and shackles that only benefit the industrial bases of other nations.”
It notes Australian universities regularly launch research programs with funding support from the Australian Research Council to develop capabilities that are already available commercially, while the CSIRO and Defence Science and Technology Organisation launch research programs with “extraordinary potential” but in isolation from the domestic industrial base that might be capable of carrying them into the global market.
“Federal and state government law enforcement entities buy UAS at significant cost but, as with the early history of railways in Australia, different systems with different support needs are adopted by different states with the result that efficiencies cannot be developed in the broad. Defence buys and operates a variety of UAS types, but by not engaging with the national industrial base in effective ways, is then required to carry alone the heavy fiscal burden of research and development, testing, production, training, operational work-up and all allied costs associated with such technology shifts.”
“Australia cannot afford to approach Defence capability planning and development in isolation from extant national realities, particularly given the demands this places on the federal budget. Defence may be partially unique in its capability needs, but it nonetheless remains an intrinsic element of the Australian economy. Likewise, Australian industry cannot provide cost-effective and efficient means of capability supply and support to Defence if the overall patterns of demand operate in isolation to wider market realities.”
The paper recommends that Defence, as part of a new industry policy emerging from next year’s white paper, commit to the creation of national UAS strategy to be issued by the end of 2016 and that this become a “a key source of guidance by Defence in its planning of future UAS capabilities.”
It also calls for the establishment of domestic sourcing thresholds for tactical class UAS acquisitions in Group I and II and that the Department of Industry, Defence and CSIRO explore ways of jointly funding a tactical drone development progra