Land Warfare Conference – Melbourne, Oct 2012 – Entering the Lion’s Den

It was that time of year again, when the major arms dealers and procurement types in the Australian Defence Industry come together and discuss what issues are affecting the industry.

Trends seen:

There is still a great deal of angst in the industry about the way DMO conducts business. This is consistent with what I was hearing at the last Land Warfare Conference held in Brisbane two years ago.

For the first time I’ve heard, acknowledgement was made that some of the feeling of frustration was mutual from within DMO.

It was mentioned that for major capability acquisitions, that from when requirements are first written and issued, to delivery of that required capability, takes on average ten years. Whilst I completely understand many of the constraints placed upon organisations such as the Dept of Defence, DMO and the ADF, are many and varied. In addition, it is public money (tax dollars levied off all of us, and I know I’m paying nearly 50 cents in the dollar at the moment) that requires some essential accounting. However, I compare this to my experience in industry – such similar projects can take less than two years, with far more financial accountability.

 

Yet we still have many problems with project management in the Defence industry.

 

Mention was made of the successful rapid acquisition projects that have been undertaken in the last decade of deployments to the Middle East and Western Asia. Granted, they have managed to reduce the acquisition time downwards considerably, but it makes me wonder why “we” (the Royal “we”) can’t slough off the useless procedure, bureaucracy and if you’ll pardon my bluntness – the bulldust, for normal, day to day business operations.

We do after all, come from an industry where extraneous and useless concepts, mindsets and equipment are instantly jettisoned when not appropriate to the mission. It makes me wonder then, why the no-nonsense attitude that is shown at the bottom rungs of the ladder has not permeated up to the upper echelons.

 

Having said that though, it was apparent to me that with the upcoming SCE tender rapidly approaching, there has been a noticeable increase in safer and ergonomic load carriage solutions for ground forces. It would appear that grass roots information and education is starting to have some effect on the higher procurement echelons. Allowing for the normally glacial rate at which these organisations can move, some movement is better than none.

 

Unfortunately, this year I wasn’t able to take as many photo’s as I did at the last conference. This was mainly due to me actually attending some of the Conference’s forums as a delegate, and pounding the floor building business contacts for myself. For that, I do humbly apologise. You can rest easy, that I will put myself through the pain machine for not indulging all of you who need visual input of cool toys.

 

But the interesting products and trends that I saw:

Gear industry – serious players are starting to realise how serious copyright infringement is. Such that they are now stating in their tender submissions to government bodies that they WILL NOT copy others designs. This is a brave action to take, since it can lead to loss of tenders and can earn something of a reputation of being a troublemaker to Australian procurement agencies. But I applaud this company on their stance. It’s great to see there are major players in the Australian gear industry who are willing to step above the rag-trade origins and play the game in an honourable fashion. This was even communicated to their competitors, as a gathering of mature adults.

I’m a Nigel Nobody in this industry, a purely amateur hour sort of bloke. But this is a really great thing to see. It means that the industry is starting to self-police, which shows a mature internal locus of control.

 

The industry is probably (actually, MOST CERTAINLY) going to be better off if the major players follow those broad parameters of following the law and being responsible corporate citizens  rather than get caught ripping off others designs – it’s a little bit of pain now. It’s going to be much better than later having the government toe-cutters (auditors and legal beagles), or even worse, civil litigation specialists, going over their books, taking their house and other assets, putting their families in the poor-house, making their employees jobless, and all the other consequences that this sort of thing entails.

If the industry players can’t or refuse to police themselves, by stepping away from the rag-trade origins, then they have to play Big Boy’s Rules when called up on it. It’s far better they get the message NOW, rather than get thrown in the big house, or go bankrupt from the legal damages LATER. That’s going to lead to negative repercussions for EVERYONE.

That old line from your mum is rather appropriate here:

If one doesn’t do anything wrong in the first place, life gets much easier.

 

The standards of product coming out of design houses such as Mystery Ranch, Crossfire and other market leaders in innovation is leading to the bar being raised across the industry.

This was apparent with Australian Defence Apparel’s (ADA) effort to use Deakin University to aide in their design of a hiploading pack harness using the DEI 1606 frame. Given that over the years that ADA has had something of a reputation when supplying the ADF, this innovation is great to see.

 

Satellite Communications –

Most of us are familiar with satellite communications suites. Whether it be the satellite dish in the backyard to receive pay television, or actual satellite communications systems for work.

These satellite dishes can be large, unwieldy constructs that don’t lend themselves to quick movements, and generally aren’t easy to transport, unless mounted on a dedicated vehicle. They are also vulnerable to high wind and other weather extremes.

GATR Technologies has come up with an inflatable 2.4m satellite dish that can be more easily staked down for operations in high wind conditions, and best of all, can be packed up into two suitcase sized containers. The company suggests 50-80% less volume and weight compared to rigid sitcom dishes.

The GATR closely resembles large inflatable balls that were used as a young child in school during Physical Education classes.

I thought the concept had a great deal of merit for many expeditionary applications.

 

Battle Management systems (personal computers) seemed to be in high evidence, with increased Command, Control and Communications suites for full integration into a soldier’s personal equipment. There still seems to be huge problems with a suitable power source for all these extra electronics.

 

Kord – I managed to speak to the team from Kord about their rifle smartgrip. It’s a Picatinny rail mounted weapon accessory that allows the non-master hand to switch non-firing functions of fitted equipment without removing hands off the weapon, or eyes away from scanning arcs. A programmable device, that works on the HOTAS (Hands on Throttle And Stick) principle used in aircraft cockpits. The demonstration rig was setup to allow weapon mounted light, weapon mounted laser, thermal weapon sight and radio use and switching.

Whilst the ergonomics seemed a little clunky, being an add-on accessory, I was very impressed with the functionality. It works on combinations of buttons or “chords” as the team call it, to access desired functions. This combination of buttons also prevents any unwanted or negligent button presses when under other stress inputs.

In the couple of minutes “playtime” with the Kord team explaining the functions to me, the only time my head came off the mock-up weapon was to check with the company rep which combination of fingers I needed. For most of the younger generation who have grown up with a video game controller in their hand, this could be a very promising system.

Whilst somewhat bulky in its current iteration, I can see how an integrated forearm on a rifle would be a great deal more low profile and integrated in the weapon’s ergonomics. I’ll be watching this device with great interest. I’d really love to have a more thorough chance to play with it.

 

Amphenol –

This company is in partnership with Kord for the manufacture of their Smartgrip. But what really caught my eye about them, is the variety of military grade electric/electronic plugs and sockets they have available.

If you’re anything like me when I was serving, it was often necessary to beg the unit electricians and electronics specialists rig up a variety of “adaptor” plugs for several items. What I wanted to do at the time was use the newly introduced Wagtail and Raven radio sets, and be able to use the last generations antennae which used a different plug. Of course, being a diligent bloke, I checked that the equipment was actually going to be compatible without frying expensive radio equipment.

Asking the tradies in the Combat Service Support Squadron for such favours gets a wee bit easier when one can provide the parts and plugs themselves, rather than risk getting caught mis-appropriating from Commonwealth equipment stores. An important factor to consider in this age of increased budgetary restraint and oversight.

 

SORD –

I caught up with the team at SORD to hear what’s new with them.

SORD USA is now open in Kentucky, the American arm has apparently been operating since late 2011. SORD has always aimed to source milspec materials from the USA for quality, and now have even better access to such textiles. This is best illustrated by the new release of their smock (reviewed by myself elsewhere) in the new camouflage pattern ATACS-AU. This new pattern is a derivative of ATACS. My personal opinion is that ATACS-FG will have some serious applications in thick jungle. On a less serious note, it’s kind of reminiscent of the camouflage pattern worn by  Rebel forces on the Endor Moon in that serious training film, Return of the Jedi.

For those of you who may be interested, it was SORD that approached their competitors about not wishing to copy registered designs. I applaud their actions on this brave move.

 

Nikon –

I was able to have a discussion with the Nikon representative about their latest EGR glass technology. This gives some really nice, crisp glass without paying exhorbident rates from the German optics companies. It’s nice to see more options available on the market, given current budgetary constraints and restrictions.

 

 

Military Gear –

Military Gear had some international visitors in the form of Dana and Paul Gleason from Mystery Ranch. It’s always good to catch up with those wacky Montanans, and hear what the new developments are in their world.

The 2nd Generation BASE (Body Armour Support Equipment) frame has just been released. I’m still in the process of reviewing the 1st generation BASE, and will be publishing that review sometime in the near future.

 

For those of you who may find that the current 3 Day Assault Pack may not quite meet one’s needs, there’s two new versions of the 3 Day Assault Pack. One is slightly larger – the Komodo, and one slightly smaller, the ASAP. Reviews on these will be forthcoming in the near future.

 

For all of you who have been waiting with much anticipation, from SHOT Show 2011, you’ll all be pleased to learn that the Mystery Ranch Spartan pack is finally in production. Yes, I say again: The much awaited Spartan is in production and has been released. I know some of you amongst the readership can smell the burning plastic of your credit cards as we speak.

 

Crossfire has released the latest incarnation of their venerable DG-6, fitted to an NICE frame. I have one in my possession as we speak, and will have the review posted sometime in the near future. Something to whet your appetite though: this newer version of the DG-6 is really looking like the premier general purpose combat pack available on the Australian mainland. I like it a great deal.

 

TAQ –

Tactical Advantage Queensland is one of the new kids on the block for supplying technical clothing and footwear, lighting, eyewear, watches and PPE for the police, military and other emergency services.

As a serving police officer himself, the proprietor knows himself just what is needed for true comfort whilst doing “The Job”. Give him a look, and tell him I sent you.

http://www.taq.com.au/

 

It really was a busy week. There was far more to look at than I had time for.


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