The Department of Defence is ready to accept submissions from companies large and small with innovative ideas for the Australian military through its Innovation Hub, in another sign that a new approach to procurement is taking hold in Canberra.
Part of the new Centre for Defence Industry Capability, the Defence Innovation Hub shares some characteristics with the Commonwealth’s new digital marketplace in that it hopes to establish more fruitful relationships between government buyers and potential suppliers.
The point of the new Innovation Hub is “to support Australian companies, businesses, and academic and research organisations in the collaborative development of innovative solutions with the potential to enhance Australian Defence Force capability” according to a call for submissions from interested companies that went out this morning.
In this new approach, procurement is seen as a two-way street where requirements don’t have to be as tightly specified as in ordinary requests for tenders, and industry can proactively suggest a wider range of ideas to solve problems or meet needs, including some the agency hasn’t quite imagined yet.
Defence has published a range of guidance to potential suppliers of innovative new technology and equipment on the CDIC’s innovation portal, including its six key priorities and the assessment criteria it will employ. From time to time, the department might also advertise a “special notice” of a very specific requirement on its innovation portal, more in line with the traditional approach to government purchasing.
For investments in the 2016-17 financial year, the department has narrowed down its needs even further to a top three:
- Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, Electronic Warfare, Space and Cyber
- Key Enablers
- Land Combat and Amphibious Warfare
Further down the priority list are: Strike and Air Combat; Maritime and Anti-Submarine Warfare; and Air and Sea Lift. But at the same time, Defence is also casting a wide net. It wants to hear about any “unexpected or unforeseen technologies or ideas” that don’t fit into the six categories but could still be useful to the military.
And, for promising ideas that are ahead of their time, the department is also launching its Next Generation Technologies Fund early next year, administered by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG), to “develop early ideas into innovation concepts that could be further explored and matured through the Defence Innovation Hub”.
The list of futuristic areas most likely to win funding from the NGTF show “integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” is expected to remain the top priority well into the future.
Further down the wish-list are interesting concepts like “de-risking Defence’s dependence on space” and “enhanced human performance” as well as directed energy weapons, new medical countermeasures, quantum encryption and hypersonic flight.
Much like the digital marketplace, the Defence Innovation Hub is open to proposals at any time. The department has $640 million budgeted to run it for the next 10 years at this stage. The CDIC website explains the basic process:
“The Hub facilitates innovation activities from initial concept, through prototyping and integrated testing.
“Development of innovations procured through the Hub will fall into four distinct phases depending upon the current maturity level of your innovation:
- Phase 1: Concept Exploration Phase;
- Phase 2: Technology Demonstration Phase;
- Phase 3: Prototype System Phase; and
- Phase 4: Integrated Capability Development Phase”
New ideas won’t all follow the same path through this “innovation cycle” — the department says it will ask each company to nominate which phase its proposal should start from, depending on how mature it is, and negotiate from there based on the assessment result.
The Defence Innovation Hub is most likely to ignore proposals that are covered by the department’s current procurement and research activities, have been developed by or with the assistance of a serving federal public servant, or under a contract with the Australian Commonwealth unless specifically allowed.
In October the government appointed a range of defence industry figures and its former defence minister David Johnston to the CDIC advisory board, which is jointly chaired by former Lockheed Martin Australia chief executive Paul Johnson and Kim Gillis, the deputy secretary in charge of Defence’s Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group.