Waste not, want not – Australia’s DMO

I recently spent nearly a fortnight in Australia to cover the large-scale Exercise Talisman Sabre. It’s always a good opportunity to see the latest developments in weapons and equipment, as well as a chance to talk to soldiers at the spear tip.

A topic of conversation with one battle-hardened sergeant was the disbandment of the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) on 1 July. This institution was responsible for procuring and sustaining equipment for the Australian Defence Force.

The sergeant was scathing of the DMO’s performance. He gave one example of a bracket that had been retrofitted to the roof of Bushmaster 4×4 vehicles. After being fitted by a contractor, crews found it was perfectly located to wallop them in the head if they weren’t careful.

To solve this, they turned the bracket upside down and, voila, the problem was solved! However, such a modification hadn’t gone through the DMO’s certification regime, and so when the contractor found out, the bracket had to be changed back.

The sergeant smiled as he reported how, after inverting the bracket to its ‘proper’ site, the contractor prepared to exit the Bushmaster and promptly smacked his head against the bracket and cut open his head!

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Another example of the DMO’s inefficiency is the delivery of 2,700 MAN trucks under Project Land 121 Phase 3B. New Zealand ordered similar-specification MAN trucks in April 2013, just three months earlier than Australia’s contract.

Here’s the interesting thing, however. In late June, the New Zealand military received the last of its 194 trucks. However, Australia needs to wait till next year even before the first truck is handed over. Why? Because the DMO must conduct an intensive testing period to make sure it’s fit for Australian service, even though the platform is widely operated by other militaries.

The ‘First Principles Review into Defence’, released on 1 April 2015, determined, ‘The current [DMO] organisational model and processes are complicated, slow and inefficient in an environment which requires simplicity, greater agility and timely delivery. Waste, inefficiency and rework are palpable.’

Speaking to Shephard earlier this year, Harry Dunstall, the DMO’s acting CEO, said, ‘For the most part, DMO does a good job at managing very complex projects. Of course, there will always be technical challenges with cutting-edge projects. Defence projects and procurement are some of the most complex in the world.’

Whether things will improve under the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), which now falls directly under the Department of Defence, remains to be seen. After all, the staff from DMO is pretty much the same, but just under new management.

I’m sure you have plenty of stories of wasteful or laborious procurement practices as well…

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