By Ross Eastgate

ELEPHANTS have the longest gestation period of all mammals, 18 to 22 months before giving birth. Actually, making an elephant is a relativity simple process. Two elephants, one male one female, have a eureka moment and, after a bit of preliminary discussion, begin the construction process.

By comparison, defence capital equipment procurement programs generate far more complications while inevitably running over time and budget.

Far from a team of two getting on with it, they require countless public servants and uniformed bureaucrats to write reams of feasibility studies, concept papers, budget projections and ministerial briefings.

That also requires multiple overseas trips to look at international equivalents and possibly lengthy overseas postings for those tasked with preparing the foregoing.

They have to visit countries where similar equipment is already in service to evaluate how it performs.

This naturally divides those planners into more competing teams than a national football league, with the attendant passions of diehard fans.

Dragging this out for at least a decade provides career security for public servants and for more than a few uniformed personnel who transfer to the bureaucracy, as well as those who secure lucrative lobbyist positions with competing suppliers.

A critical requirement is taking a platform perfect for environments totally different from Australia’s immediate area of influence and modifying it – often unsatisfactorily – to satisfy local content requirements.

Negotiating where various options might be manufactured will impose further delay. Australia once had a potential design-and  manufacturing capability that has all but disappeared, having priced itself out of international competitiveness.

The last ‘purpose’ designed and built Australian military aircraft proved an unmitigated disaster, so local assembly only is an option. It’s a familiar story.

Except that in both world wars the Allies went from a low material base to mass producing complex, innovative technology, including aircraft, scrambling to catch up with the Germans who had defied international arms restrictions.

From Ford manufacturing aircraft to Singer sewing machines making rifles and shipyards mass-producing welded Liberty ships, major US companies tackled anything.

Some were intended to be expendable, such as the C47 Dakota and the Willy’s Jeep, many of which remain serviceable.

This week it was reported Australia’s new Hunter class frigates being manufactured by BAE may have unforeseen faults and HMAS Adelaide suffered a catastrophic power malfunction.

Australia’s matériel acquisition apparatus seems to have selective memory loss about its many failures.

Meanwhile, elephants, who forget nothing, just get on with it.


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