What can one of the world's most successful research and technology agencies – the United States’ Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – teach Australia as its defence innovation community undergoes a once-in-a-generation reform?

A new research brief from the United States Studies Centre authored by the director of the University of Sydney's Quantum Control Laboratory, Professor Michael J. Biercuk, looks at the potential for a “DARPA model” in Australia. He suggests such a model can only be achieved through significant reform within the Department of Defence to address structural issues that could otherwise produce a gap between expectations and capabilities.

"DARPA’s success highlights the role that incentivised competition amongst the top performers in a research ecosystem can play in developing new technologies of national interest for both defence and civilian applications," Professor Biercuk said.

"Just as Canberra accepts the need for long-term force modernisation, the Department of Defence should embrace a broader vision for the development of advanced technologies that will position Australia at the forefront of new technological capabilities."

Key points

  • In contrast to Australia’s civilian-oriented system, the US Department of Defense and military play a central role in supporting scientific discovery and the development of new technologies.
  • Building on Australia's history of major defence technology successes and recent strategic reviews, Canberra has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fully integrate the defence, university and industrial sectors. This will require broad structural and cultural changes.
  • The DARPA experience shows that Australia’s defence innovation system could improve its competitive edge and better support domestic industry by directing greater investment to non-defence fundamental research via a standalone research funding agency.

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