Doorstop - Avalon
Doorstop at Australian International Airshow (Avalon)
27 February 2019
SUBJECTS: Avalon Air Show; Loyal Wingman project, partnering with Five Eyes governments; the Kashmir conflict.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, it’s great to be here at Avalon 2019 this morning with Sarah Henderson, the Member for Corangamite. This year’s Avalon Air Show is bigger than 2017; more exhibitors - close to 700. About 450 of those are Australian exhibitors and 250 are from overseas. More chiefs of the Air Force, 16 chiefs of the Air Force; the previous record was 13. More expenditure on stands, more interest in Defence Industry and cooperating with the Royal Australian Air Force and other parts of the services for building our military capability. This is all testament to the fact that we are undergoing our largest build-up of our military capability in our peace time history, $200 billion over the next 10 years, making an enormous difference to Defence Industry but also military capability; which remains, of course, our number one priority.
We’re seeing out on the tarmac the fruits of the Government’s decisions over the last few years. The Poseidon’s on display, the Triton is on display, the F-35A, of course the Growler, and so it goes on. The major platforms that will be defending our nation and ensuring that we are a serious military capability in the Indo-Pacific.
But I’m particularly excited to be here in front of the Loyal Wingman. This is the first aircraft concept that Australia has invested in, in the military since the Boomerang in 1942 to ’45. So it is a red letter day. A $40 million investment - which is significant - but more importantly, it’s the decision by the Government to invest in the capability here in Australia, our own ingenuity, our own innovation, supporting Australian research and development and partnering with a company like Boeing, which is a very good corporate citizen in this country who are making their biggest investment in unmanned aerial vehicles outside the United States in their corporate history. So it’s a very significant day for Air Force, but it’s a very significant day for all those Australians who dreamed to be part of a big project that makes a difference to our military capability and our industrial capability.
QUESTION: Minister, realistically, when we would see this aircraft in the sky and when could we see it exported?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, it’s a concept design at this stage – and $40 million sounds like a lot for a concept design – but these projects are enormous of course. The Joint Strike Fighter project is an $18.5 billion commitment from the Australian taxpayer. So they are at the beginning of the project. As you can see, they have a prototype that they’ve developed; they’re working in Brisbane on it on a daily basis. But I would say that we are some years away from exports. We’re probably years away from it being in operation here in Australia. It requires a lot of work to be done to make sure that it is capable of achieving what we hope it’ll be able to achieve. But Boeing might be able to give you a better timeline for what they’re proposing. But I would say we’re some years away from it actually being in use along with the F-35As.
QUESTION: Minister, how many do you expect Australia to have? Will we have more of these than F-35s?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, I think it’s far too early to say, but as Boeing says, it’s not just a protector for the Joint Strike Fighter - it could also be used with Wedgetails, with the Poseidon, with other important platforms. Its concept of course is to be militarised and be able to take out enemy attacks on our much more expensive platforms. So it’s designed to be a cheaper platform, a shield, if you like, around the more expensive platforms. And of course, to protect our servicemen and women who might be on a Poseidon, or a Wedgetail, or an F-35A. But in terms of the numbers, I think we’re years away from being able to prove at what point we’ll reach certain critical mass.
QUESTION: How much is your investment in this Minister?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: [Talks over] Forty million.
QUESTION: And then is Boeing ponying up any money here?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, Boeing is certainly ponying up money. [Laughs] At least that’s what they told me.
But you’ll have to ask them about their own commitments. They might be commercial in confidence.
QUESTION: Minister, it’s definitely intended to build a flying demonstrator or is that something that [indistinct]?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, you’d have to ask Boeing about the details of their research and development projects.
QUESTION: Do you have any other secret projects going on in [indistinct]?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Are you disappointed you didn’t hear about this one before we actually launched it?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, this was a big one for Avalon. This is really the piece de resistance of projects that I have been working on. It’s been some time in the making. I decided as the Minister for Defence Industry and now the Minister for Defence, that we needed to be on the forefront – the bleeding edge as they say – of making decisions about big projects; not just being a good international customer – although we are – but also pushing forward the boundaries of what we thought we could do. So I have been a very passionate advocate for this project. It’s a different approach to what we’ve seen in RAAF for the last many decades, and I’m very excited about that. I think we’ve moved the dial substantially. As for other announcements, there’s always announcements in our portfolio, and they will come when they are announced.
QUESTION: Minister, who was the- where was this concept launched? Was it within Defence, within DST Group, or within Boeing?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: This was a proposal put to me by Boeing.
QUESTION: Are you worried that this could have a destabilising effect on the region?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, we have committed to a F35A capability – 72 joint strike fighters – and that means that we have a potent and lethal Air Force, which we’ve always prided ourselves on. We regard that as a sovereign capability, and now we’ve developed sustainment and maintenance into a sovereign capability, as we announced in the Defence Industrial Capability Plan last year. The region knows that Australia has capabilities to have forward defence, to protect our region and our friends, to work with our allies, to be able to take part in operations. It’s why our Hornets and Wedgetails and refuelers were operating in Iraq and Syria, and we want to continue to have those capabilities. If we can protect our air service men and women and give our F35As and other platforms a leading edge through Loyal Wingman, then that is a continuation of our very proud history in the air.
QUESTION: Minister, what discussions have there been with other Five Eyes partner governments about the development of this project? Has that taken official status?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, there’s certainly interest in the Loyal Wingman project amongst other Five Eyes countries, not least of which of course because they’d like to do the project themselves, but we are at the forefront of it. We’ve taken the first step and that means we should be the great beneficiaries of it.
QUESTION: Why did Boeing come to Australia for this and not start in the US with this project?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well you’ll have to ask Boeing. Maybe they thought I’d be an enthusiast for it.
QUESTION: Will they still be around for investment in whichever partner [indistinct] the most?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think Boeing, like many other corporations around the world, as we’ve seen at Avalon, land forces, pacific conferences in recent years; when we announced the Defence Whitepaper – the Integrated Investment Plan; the Defence Industry Policy Statement; the Defence Export Strategy; the Defence Industrial Capability Plan; recognised that Australia was taking seriously the largest build-up of our military capability in our peacetime history, and all of those companies are interested in being part of that story. And why wouldn’t they make a suggestion to us about something that we could do which ticks the box of using our capabilities here, research and development, supporting things like the Defence Innovation Hub, the Next Generation Technologies Fund, the Defence Export Strategy, and they had a willing partner in the Australian Government.
QUESTION: Minister, has this made the F35 obsolete?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No. It enhances the F35.
QUESTION: Is this, in your mind, a replacement for the third tranche of F35s that you’re yet to decide upon?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, a quite separate project.
QUESTION: And this will be fully autonomous and armed?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Armed and autonomous? Yes.
QUESTION: Minister, how long before you know whether one of these will ever be built and taken to the skies?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well that depends on how the concept goes and the research and development as it proceeds. And as I said, I think we’re years away from being able to make those final decisions. This is a concept design, which is very exciting in itself, but of course with all concepts, they may or may not bear fruition. But you have to be able to take a risk in business, in Defence Industry, in building our capabilities. Not all of those risks necessarily come off.
QUESTION: Minister, on the conflict in Kashmir, both sides have shown increasing tensions in that dispute. What is Australia’s message to both sides, and will you heed India’s call to put pressure on Pakistan?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well the Government’s position is that Pakistan needs to take firm and clear action against terrorist organisations that are operating in Pakistan, and starting with the prescription of some of those terrorist organisations, and stop them from incursions across the border into Kashmir. India’s response is a matter for the Indian Government, but it wouldn’t have happened if- it wouldn’t have come about if Pakistan had taken that firm action. So, of course we don’t take sides in the Kashmir conflict, but it remains the case that Pakistan needs to take firm action against terrorist organisations operating on their soil in some time with legal status.
QUESTION: Minister, will you be recontesting you seat at the next election?
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I’ve answered all these questions before.
On that note, that might be the last question I think. You soured the mood.