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See, Defence can get it right!

written by WOFA | June 4, 2010

photo - Paul Sadler
photo - Paul Sadler

Much has been said in recent years about defence projects that have stalled or have been cancelled, many due to capability creep or bureaucratic mismanagement. Seasprite and JP129 instantly spring to mind.

The Wedgetail project has also received its share of criticism, but not all of it is justified.

I spoke with project head AVM Chris Deeble recently for an upcoming article scheduled for our July issue, and again came away impressed not only at the way the project team has managed to retain momentum despite the not insignificant issues that have confronted them, but at AVM Deeble’s genuine enthusiasm for the potential of the capability, one that will be transformational for the RAAF and ADF as a whole.

Much of this credit must also go to prime contractor Boeing for ‘keeping the faith’ by sticking with the fixed price program despite huge financial losses which may never be fully recouped, and for keeping sub-contractors Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems on task.

With two aircraft now delivered, the first fully capable aircraft due by the end of the year, and the expectation that the full potential of the Wedgetail’s capability will be realised by the end of 2012, it’s time for the program’s detractors to focus elsewhere and let the project team and RAAF get on with getting up to speed.


  • Eduardo


    Much is made of the failings of Defence (and global defence forces) to ensure projects run to time and cost, however little fuss is made about what must generally be an naive “over-commitment” by industry in promising to deliver these projects.

    Whilst acknowledging that project creep and bureaucratic bungles occur all too frequently, industry is also complicit. The can-do attitude (most likely in good faith) of many companies seems to perpetuate the issue, yet often this failing seems to be ignored.

    Having said that, all too frequently the tender process (seen as good and responsible fiscal practice by governments) only serves to stymie decision making and delivery timelines. This creates and nurtures an environment that allows project creep and resultant cost and time blowouts. The most successful recent projects for this country have involved second generation, military or commercial off the shelf solutions that have not been arduously embuggered by local content requirements or “forced” open tendering processes. The result is a quickly delivered capability that may “only” deliver an 80-90 percent solution (and sometimes more), but does so with little if any delay. The result is that there is no human or man management costs resulting from a “lost generation” of staff who wait forlornly for entire posting cycles to see, let alone employ the equipment.

    Unfortunately the cost of delay is only ever seen in commercial terms, and financial benefits of the project are often “used” (or abused) for social policy, rather than looking at the implications of a delayed project on those depending on the equipment. These other costs are less tangible.

    Surely an 80-90 percent solution delivered quickly (with or without local content) using commercial or military off the shelf, and in the hands of the operator within 1 generation of staff is better than a 100 percent solution that is delayed, over budget, subject to the efforts of keen but critically naive industry, and being used as an extension of fiscal or social policy by government.

    The crutch of many modern projects seems not to be the platform, but instead systems integration. How industry can continually under-estimate this beggars belief, particularly in projects conducted on fixed terms. Having said that, the lesson from this as far as industry is concerned (or so it would appear) is not to be less naive and ambitious, but rather to write contracts that don’t leave industry so poorly placed if delays occur. Always the commercial imperative. Surely the problem to solve is how to establish what is beyond current industry capacity to deliver (and thus not promise it!), and more broadly how to structure the procurement process so that a quick majority solution is seen as the favourable outcome, rather than projects serving mixed puposes of capability procurement, and fiscal or social policy.

  • Erik Sherwin B.Tech, ME(T&E)


    The observations by Eduardo above merely highlight what the US discovered and applied corrections to some 40 years ago, namely a fully independent, staffed and qualified Test & Evaluation Directorate. It should also be noted that the recent appointment of the US Director Developmental Test & Evaluation was an appointment not by the Secretay for Defense, not by the President, but by Congress: the USA takes effectiveness of system acquisition very seriously indeed! The Director of Test & Evaluation answers to both the Secretary for Defense and the Senate Select Committee for Defense. Those who set up the Australian (nearly) equivalent have determined to keep lessons available from the US at arms length, if possible, when duplication of the US system would have put Australia immediately in step with lessons learned elsewhere. As a consequence one must assume that the acquisition path of the MRH 90 helicopter will follow the in the same footsteps as the Kaman Super Seassprite, the Wamira Trainer, the Nomad, the Colins Class Submarine, etc, etc. Why?catastophic path

  • Bob Brinkley


    It’s always difficult to determine whether an ADF capability has truly met its minimum performance standards but, in the case of the Wedgetail, it has been through the wringer and come out the other side looking pretty good. Well done to Chris Deeble for keeping the project together. His performance has been exemplary and we should be thankful for leaders like him in th ADF.

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