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An Australian DARPA to turbocharge universities’ national security research: securely managed Defence-funded research partnerships in Five-Eyes universities

By Robert Clark and Peter Jennings

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 this paper, we propose establishing a formal partnership between the 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. 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.