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Authors propose an Australian DARPA to turbocharge universities’ national security research

An American-made Ghost Robotics legged robot stands ready with Australian Army soldiers during an autonomous systems showcase at the Majura Training Area, Canberra. An Australian equivalent of DARP would better enable university and industry research that produces and explores such systems. Photo: Defence

More than at any time since World War II, science and technology (S&T) breakthroughs are dramatically redesigning the global security outlook. Australia’s university sector now has a vital role to play in strengthening Australia’s defence.

In a paper published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), authors Peter Jennings and Robert Clark propose establishing a formal partnership between Australia’s Defence Department, defence industry and Australian universities.

“There’s a significant opportunity to boost international defence S&T research cooperation with our Five-Eyes partners: the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand,” they say. “We outline how this can be done.”

Central to this partnership proposal is the need to restructure current arrangements for Defence funding of Australian universities via the creation of an Australian Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)— based on the highly successful American model, which the UK plans to emulate in 2022. In Australia, implementing these initiatives will contribute significantly to a vital restructuring of the university sector’s research funding model. An Australian DARPA, with robustly managed security, will enhance research ‘cut-through’ in the defence sector and the wider economy.

We think it’s also vital that this work, underpinned by a DARPA-like culture of urgency and innovation and with potential to affect several portfolios beyond Defence, needs to be championed at the government level. In the modern Australian system of government, that means the Prime Minister needs to be directly involved. Urgent means urgent. At least for the first few years of its life, an Australian DARPA should, in our view, report through Defence to the Prime Minister and the National Security Committee of Cabinet.

To download their paper, go to the ASPI web site.

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