Weapons-buying "system" contributes to costly mistakes

Tuesday, 11 June 2002

The Australian Defence Force's system of buying weapons is inefficient and contributes to mistakes that can cost millions of dollars of taxpayers' money, according to University of Adelaide academic, Dr John Bruni.

In a newly published book, Dr Bruni argues for an overhaul of the current defence procurement system and the establishment within the Defence Force of a permanent core group of professionals to manage the acquisition of aircraft, naval vessels and other military hardware.

"Because of the career path structure within the Defence Force, people spend only two or three years working in defence procurement before moving on," said Dr Bruni, a Visiting Research Fellow in the Centre for Asian Studies. "A major defence procurement project usually lasts up to 10 years, but we do not have the same personnel staying with a project from start to finish. People are being cycled through the process too fast. We are not getting the professional corporate skills base we need in an area where more than two billion dollars of taxpayers' money is being spent each year.

"When people know that they can stay for 10-15 years, until a project is completed, a clear line of accountability is established. The defence industry is having to retrain Defence Force personnel constantly to bring them up to speed with projects and industry developments, so a more streamlined approach would also encourage closer collaboration with industry."

In his book, On Weapons Decisions: How Australia chooses to arm itself (1963-96" (Southern Highlands Publishers), Dr Bruni identifies six key influences on Australia's weapons acquisition decisions: the political environment, the state of the domestic defence industry, the strategic environment, defence policy, the bureaucratic environment, and key technological events globally.

Dr Bruni says that controversy over the Collins Class submarines and, more recently, Seasprite helicopters creates public perceptions of "stuff-ups" in the defence acquisitions process.

"We have some very good people involved in procurement, but the problem is systemic," he says. "It's also bipartisan, and has nothing to do with whether a Liberal or Labor government is in power. The Collins Class submarine project was a good project in many ways. It employed many people and resulted in the completion of six submarines. The airframes of the Seasprite helicopters are 40 years old but that does not necessarily mean they will not be a viable concern. The problem is that when legitimate mistakes are made they can cost hundreds of millions of dollars to correct, and that is a lot of money for a country with an economy the size of Australia's."


Contact Details

Dr John Bruni
Email: jsbruni@bigpond.com
Director, SAGE International
(defence consultant and former University of Adelaide staff member)
Mobile: +61 448 581 890