Four WA universities contribute significantly to the defence sector, operating together as ‘team WA’.
The collaborative efforts of Western Australia’s four top-ranked universities provide the state with a significant advantage in the engagement of resources supporting the current and future needs of the defence sector.
The University of Western Australia, Curtin University, Edith Cowan University and Murdoch University all offer education programs that generally apply to defence, such as law and engineering. Each university also offers highly specialised research and education endeavours.
Murdoch University defence research coordinator and director of biosecurity, Chad Hewitt, describes research across the following specialised areas: strategic policy, geopolitical history, political economics of Indo Pacific nations, social epistemology and ethics, human physical and cognitive performance, precision molecular medicine, metabolomics and phenomics, materials science, drones and control systems, AI and machine learning, and operational biosecurity protections.
UWA chair of defence studies and director of the UWA Defence and Security Institute, Peter Dean, notes that UWA (ranked first by total staff on Data & Insights) provides research and education in defence policy, cyber, human performance, health and medical science, maritime and undersea operations, task automation, space, advanced optical communications, and remote and autonomous systems.
Gary Hale, who is director of defence and space research partnerships at Curtin, says the university has generated millions of dollars in defence collaboration over the past decade.
This includes contributions in space domain awareness, world-leading radio astronomy and earth and planetary science, undersea surveillance, maritime strategy, operations and sustainment, space platform engineering, remote operations and robotics.
Additional research areas include supercomputing, data visualisation, human-machine factors, secure data lakes and analytics, and complex mathematic modelling.
ECU director of defence research and engagement, Andrew Dowse, says ECU’s contributions to defence research and education include specialisations in cyber security, science, engineering, human performance, information warfare, AI, and cognition.
Additionally, he says, ECU is the education partner of the Naval Shipbuilding College, providing several engineering degrees relevant to the defence industry.
The commitment to future defence activities is resolute. All four universities provide strong signals of intent to expand their work in this arena, driven by a sense of responsibility to contribute to the best interests of Australia.
Professor Hewitt cites Murdoch’s continued commitment to the collaborative approach of ‘team WA’, drawing attention to the state’s defence industry workforce strategies and potential impact in preparing WA for its defence-related future.
UWA’s Professor Dean referred to comments by vice-chancellor Amit Chakma at the launch of the UWA Defence and Security Institute.
“[It] brings together our existing capabilities, activities and experience, allowing us to better understand some of the complex and challenging issues we face to ensure Australia’s wellbeing and defend its national interests. It is UWA’s contribution to the defence needs of our country,” Professor Chakma said.
ECU’s Dr Dowse said his vice-chancellor, Stephen Chapman, had expressed an ongoing commitment to defence, and a determination to evolve to meet the needs of the sector.
Mr Hale further emphasised Curtin’s focus on the defence domains of maritime, space, and remote and autonomous operations, with the university seeking to drive exponential growth in defence and space research and innovation activities over the next five years.
The ability to provide a ‘neutral’ venue, where defence stakeholders, startups and non-traditional industry players can catalyse the innovations that can flow through to WA industry, is key to driving Australia’s sovereign capability and regional superiority.
“The ‘team WA’ approach is unique in Australia,” Mr Hale said.
“A number of initiatives are already in discussion with the WA government and ‘team WA’ that will see increasing announcements aligned to defence and space.
“This already happens outside defence, particularly in the public health, mining, oil and gas sectors, where initiatives generated through these market sectors are highly applicable to defence’s needs.”
Dr Dowse from ECU agreed with this view, acknowledging the opportunity it presented for WA.
“WA differs from other states in terms of the cooperative approach between the WA universities in pursuit of collaborative research,” Dr Dowse said.
“The VCs … have agreed in-principle with the WA government that this approach will in future also be applied to education and training support to the defence sector.”
What resonates most strongly is the spirit of collaboration: across sectors, across ‘competing’ universities, all working together to lend their skills and experience.
‘Team WA’ illustrates what is so often witnessed in the state’s industry, forged by distance and a sense of independence, and stands as an example of the best of WA … individual excellence collaborating locally to achieve shared outcomes.