LTGEN Rick Burr - video transcript

Defence Innovation Hub Industry Update

LTGEN Rick Burr: Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a great privilege to be here. And I am sure it’s already happened this morning, but I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are meeting this morning-- the Ngunnawal people-- and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I’d like to start by saying how good it is to see so many people with an interest in innovation and defence and from such a broad cross-section of industry, the public service, university sector, and research institutions. The Defence Capability and Innovation Branch is to be commended for bringing everyone together for this Defence Innovation Hub Industry Update.

No one has a monopoly on good ideas, just like no one can possibly have all the answers to the many challenges posed across the broad portfolio of Australian defence interests. This is why events such as today are important to bring people from different sectors together, to share information and ideas, to create mutual understanding, and to inspire collaboration in order to realise real innovation.

This gathering is a tangible demonstration of the role the Defence Innovation Hub has in furthering innovative development within and across our force. As Chief of Army and the Land and Capability Manager for the Australian Defence Force, I want to realise all of the potential partnering for innovation can offer Army and the Joint Force.

You are probably starting to see a shared theme amongst service chiefs developing here. I know CAF made a similar approach to you just an hour ago. This morning, I will outline what Army is doing in this space, tell you why we are doing it, and invite you to think about how you might be able to join in.

We are an army in motion. And I want you to come along as partners on this journey with us. Upfront, I will state that I think the Partnership Peace is the key enabler of innovation. We develop capability through collaboration enabled by a culture that embraces change, that understands its continuously changing context, and empowers its people and partnerships.

Armies are about teams, and we want to team with the best people for the problem at hand. The Army has a rich fabric of partnerships, and we need to build on it. This was demonstrated last month in Adelaide at the very successful LAND FORCES conference which is, by far, the biggest and best LAND FORCES event yet and showcased the power of partnerships and the potential of innovation between Army and industry.

I’d like to, again, acknowledge and thank the hundreds of industry and trade organisations who came along with us and contributed to the success of LAND FORCES this year. The sheer number of organisations involved hints at something unique about Army in this space.

Just like the Air Force and the Navy, we have a lot of leading-edge technology flowing into our force from the integrated investment plan. A key difference is that we do a large number of smaller things. This not only gives a greater opportunity for innovation and integration, it opens up the field for more people and different expertise to become involved.

In short, the nature of land capability innovation and its development and acquisition offers more diverse opportunities for partnering with industry and in particular, for smaller- to medium-sized enterprises. It is not just the nature of land capability development and acquisition that drives the way we seek innovation. Army does not face the future alone. We are necessarily joint by design and consciously partnered by approach.

Being partnered by approach means deliberately seeking to work together with industry, enabling each other to be our best. It is through this approach we meet the challenges of our shared strategic context. I see three shared challenges, and I’ve grouped them under the labels of technology, people, and concepts. And let me outline each of them.

It is an accepted truism that the rate of technological refresh, change, and development is accelerating. At the same time, the barriers that once denied access to high technology to all but a few are diminishing. We’re seeing an unprecedented democratisation of access to technology combined with an accelerating rate of technological development and refresh.

Many nations, private corporations, and even some individuals now routinely have access to capabilities previously only held in the hands of relatively few technologically sophisticated militaries. The challenges this poses for the Army and our joint force are many. Determining what our specific capability edge could be in this new context is difficult.

How do we achieve relative advantage? Where and how can we be asymmetric? This is so important for an army and joint force of our size. And how can we accelerate our capability definition and acquisition process to meet the rate of technological innovation and refresh we now face?

The second challenge we face is that of people. Many of you have heard me say that our army is our people. They lead, inspire, and make the difference. They are our competitive advantage. This is especially important given the capability challenge being posed by technology. Our people capability must continue to be developed and nurtured.

Army and its industry partners will need to work through the variable aspects of technology on our workforce as issues associated with robotics, autonomy, big data, and artificial intelligence wash through. The changing nature of work in the 21st century and the associated challenges and opportunities with regard to talent attraction, management, and retention in our emergent workforce will have a definitive impact on our capability edge.

Our conceptual approaches will be key to meeting the challenge which is why concepts are the third shared challenge I’m identifying today. The key conceptual question we face is how do we lift ourselves from modernising the past to realising creative and bold thinking for new outcomes. It is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that getting new stuff, replacing old equipment with new, is innovative, or that just finding new ways to do old things better is the answer.

True conceptual innovation is only realised when we think a previously unimagined thing to do could supplant old ways to achieve superior outcomes. Innovation is not innovation unless it truly changes the way we do business. To achieve the results needed, we cannot rely on the status quo. More of the same will not get us there, and incremental improvement probably won’t be enough either.

The creation of the Defence Innovation Hub is an example of a departmental response to this imperative. Within Army, we need to build an engine for change, which is why I released my future statement called “Accelerated Warfare” at the LAND FORCES seminar in Adelaide.

“Accelerated Warfare” is designed to stimulate thinking about ourselves as an army in a rapidly changing context. It seeks to create a pathway in our minds to the future so that we can unpack future threats and trends in order to develop Army strategy. I see it as our way to energise the debate for our part in the joint force and to develop a partnered approach to the necessary innovations to get us there.

“Accelerated Warfare” describes both the operating environment and a description of how we respond. It provides a starts date for how we might think, equip, train, educate, organise, and prepare for war. I urge everyone in industry who is interested in working with us moving forward to get a copy of “Accelerated Warfare,” and it’s certainly available online.

There is a real role for industry in helping Army to see what we are missing. We need and I want “Accelerated Warfare” to be a dynamic dialogue to create the mechanism and enable industry to come forward with innovative ideas not just new products. It is about industry and Army identifying and embracing risk together where appropriate to achieve superior outcomes.

Which takes me to the way ahead for the innovative future Army aspires to with its partners. We must shorten the loop between ideas and the realisation of changed outcomes for the user. We have to, given the challenge of the rate of technological change.

The thing about Army and our people is that we can harness a lot of energy. We can push that into the system to achieve positive momentum for the future. To get the full benefit of that, we need trusted partners. So you will notice Army seeking a much more positive embrace of partnerships.

We also need a contest of ideas and the development of Army strategy. To do this, we will need to access the best minds and best ideas for the future. We know that we won’t have all of the ideas and levers of change, but in all probability, some of them may reside with you, and I am fine with that.

Because our army never fights alone, we rely on others and others rely on us. This is what true partnership means. The Defence industry and research sectors help us protect Australian lives every day through what you do and your innovative response to tackle new threats. And I thank you for that.

And I also thank you for your collaboration with the Defence Innovation Hub today to help us see further into the future and be the best that we can be. I hope you gain a lot from your attendance today, and I’m happy to take any questions that you may have. Thank you very much.

[APPLAUSE]

Question: So Lieutenant General, a question from the audience. Risk-taking is needed when innovating-- both in trying new things and investing dollars. Do you think Defence culture supports risk-taking?

LTGEN Rick Burr: I think it does. A lot of people would wish that we could take more risk. But as a government enterprise and being accountable for a lot of their money, I think that drives a lot of that inherent risk aversion, if you like. It’s the role of leaders to help drive a culture to be able to truly innovate about failing fast, failing early, fail safely so that we can learn from that and feed that into that constant innovation to get better, to learn by doing, and to be bold and accept new ideas.

And certainly that’s what I’m trying to do with “Accelerated Warfare” and my command philosophy for life which I’ve described as the “Army in motion” to help create, I guess, a normalised environment where change is normal. The need to innovate is not only normal but is actively sought. And through those command themes, actively get after an appetite for risk and create those conditions.

So I think we all know that it’s difficult. But there’s various levels of risk in terms of which part of the organisation we’re talking about. Certainly at the higher end, things like this Defence Innovation Hub allow us to have a more purposeful and deliberate approach to understanding innovation and mitigating risk early on in the process. And from a bottom-up point of view, setting the culture and the mechanisms for change and the ability to be comfortable from a leadership point of view with change and the ability to fail safely is certainly the bit that I’m focused on internal to the Army.

We’ve all got a role to play. All have to understand the totality of our ecosystem and work together to understand the totality of risk and how we can achieve that outcome together. I think avoiding risk is not the answer.

Question: We’ll do one final question noting that time is of the essence. With the fast pace of technology development, are we innovating and introducing enhanced capability fast enough?

LTGEN Rick Burr: Look, I think I alluded to that. I think we can always do it faster. You know, the difficulty with the big projects is that they take time. We need to get them right upfront and set the requirements and follow a very deliberate process. Certainly inside Army, I alluded to the point that we have a lot of small things, and I think that’s where real accelerated change can occur.

There’s lots of opportunities to do lots of little things and stimulate change and add new capabilities and new capacities much more quickly through lots of small things. And I think that’s the space that we can innovate quickly and get after this, and certainly, that’s my approach. We will have big signature projects that will take time, and they will eventually deliver what we want.

It’s about the budgeting cycle but also, the time that it takes to get this right. And sometimes, you can, by rushing, you may miss the, certainly, the big projects. You might actually get ahead of yourself waiting for the right-- and this comes back to risk, is when is the right time to go when there’s a new technology just around the corner? And when you’re equipping a whole army or a whole navy or a whole air force, that can be a very expensive and capability and risk-based decision.

For Army, what we’re trying to do is lots of little things quickly and experimenting as we go. And where we see a big thing that we can pile on, let’s do that. We’re doing that with drones right now. That’s a simple example, I think, of where we are both creating an exciting future from our recruiting and marketing point of view about the excitement of Army, but it’s helping us find our way into the future where we know drones will be more prolific.

I think we’ll see a future where there will be one drone per 60 people in the army, on average, because of the sheer numbers that we will have. We need a drone-literate army. I think that’s easily achieved to get there by bringing these things in, letting people experiment, become familiar, normalise the culture, and then you follow the lead from an organisational and training and equipping point of view down the path that is set through that experimentation.

So I think we’re doing lots of little things. But my message to, I guess, the broader industry is there’s lots of opportunity in the SME space and with small innovations where we can we control a lot of things in lots of different environments. I’ve just spent the last five days travelling around all of the North and Northwest looking at our regional force surveillance units and the incredible diversity of not just the terrain and the operating environments but from a people perspective, just incredibly rich with opportunity for trialling new innovations in all sorts of ways.

And Army, by nature, is ripe for innovation. And we welcome your ideas, your opportunities not with just equipment but ideas and concepts. I think that’s the true power of a diverse land force. Is that the last question?

Question: We’ll do one more. Do one more, yeah. So we do have one more question in the time we have available. What our Army’s plans for non-warfare robotics going forward?

LTGEN Rick Burr: We are working on a robotics and autonomous systems strategy as we speak to sort of work out where that might take us. Absolutely-- coming back to risk, risk in many forms-- there’s the budget risk, but there’s risk to people, risk to capability, and mission success. Wherever we can drive threats down and achieve our missions more safely, robotics or unmanned systems, generally, unmanned ground systems, absolutely rich with opportunity.

But also, what I’m very interested in, and I mentioned the word how can we be more asymmetric, and how can we achieve scale? We’re not a big force. So how can we leverage technology and operate in new and creative ways to achieve scale is certainly something that I’m very interested in. To have a greater effect in more places with less-- well, not necessarily with more people. And, of course, unmanned systems and technology generally are part of that solution if not the solution.

And I see a big future for robotics in our army. And then there’s all the associated parts that go into that puzzle around ethics and so forth and the legal dimension. That’s all part of it. The true application of it is where we should be thinking about before we start constraining ourselves. I look at the unlimited potential, and it’s wound up back to a space that we’re comfortable with.

And we do that through policy settings but also, just experimentation. And I think there’s real, real potential there. But it’s not the only answer, but it’s a big part of the answer. And I’ll keep coming back to people. It’s the smart people that will come up with these ideas, but it’s also the people that will allow this to happen or not.

It’s our people and the culture and our organisation and the leaders in our organisation that will allow this to be either accepted and embraced or not. So I think people remain such an important part of everything that we do regardless of talking about unmanned things. It’s the person who’s still central to making all of this work and is the big focus of everything that we do. OK, done.

Master of ceremonies: Ladies and gentlemen, please thank Lieutenant General Rick Burr, Chief of Army.

[APPLAUSE]

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