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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 13

I Colonial Origins

II First World War

III Between The World Wars

IV The Second World War

V Post-second World War

VI After The Joint Project

VII Science And Decisions At The Top

VIII Armed Services Technology

IX New Tasks And Projects

X Transfer Of Research And Development

XI Acknowledgement



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Chapter 13 - Defence Science and Technology (continued)

For most of the nineteenth century colonial status dominated defence thinking, and there does not appear to have been much new technology, except perhaps the investigation of the use of indigenous materials. In the latter half of the century, armed naval vessels (e.g. Spitfire, Sydney 1856) were built, but generally there were no pressures to create new technologies.

The post-colonial period reveals a growth of interest in new technologies and technological transfer; these are discussed at some length in the next section. Nevertheless, even at the outbreak of the First World War, Australia's industrial role was seen as primarily a supplier of food. The ammunition crisis in Britain in 1915 changed that view.

The prospect of the Second World War stimulated some planning for the introduction of new military technologies; some of the proposals were adopted into an industrial base which had strengthened considerably since the previous war. German successes in Europe heightened the sense of isolation and initiated genuinely new technologies and weapon development. Some of these continued through the war, but some, including some good ones, were stifled by the flood of equipment into the Pacific region from America after the entry of Japan into the war.

American dominance of the logistics of the Pacific region was to have stultifying effects many years later. Australian units eager to participate in the main drive to Japan were either engaged in island clearing campaigns or were left for some time on the mainland while the U.S. troops went ahead. It was alleged that this was because the Australian equipment was not standardized with the American equipment -but see Charlton.[1] The relegation engendered great frustration in young professional officers. Later those officers became national military leaders with a strong leaning towards American oriented (standardized) equipment policies. The effect of this on Australian production and development was not inconsiderable. During the Pacific war itself, however, many problems were encountered which stimulated indigenous research and development. The tropical environment called for new production techniques in textiles, optics, leather goods, communications, and ammunition.

The coming of peace created the usual sense of uncertainty and redirection. Industries turned to civilian production and the CSIRO set its face firmly against defence research. The remaining defence scientists felt isolated. Some international contacts remained, such as the Commonwealth Aeronautical Advisory Research Council (CAARC) but this was increasingly civilian in outlook.

It might have been expected that the defence research laboratories would be dismantled in the general rush towards post-war reconstruction. The foreseeable withdrawal of the United Kingdom from South East Asia and the remaining sense of isolation engendered by the war itself dictated otherwise. The laboratories so kept provided a fortunate basis for what was to follow.

The United Kingdom's experiences of the First World War and the presence of the USSR in Europe had led it to a high technology program for air defence and nuclear weapon development. Its geographical position was unsuitable for field testing of such programs and Australian territory was made available. The Long Range Weapons Establishment (LRWE) created facilities for joint research and development at Salisbury and Woomera in South Australia, and provided training in Australia and overseas for very many scientists and engineers. When the British withdrew from the project, these people, together with those of the wholly Australian research and development establishments, formed the basis of what is now known as the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

Organisations in Australian Science at Work - Commonwealth Aeronautical Advisory Research Council (C.A.A.R.C.); Defence Science and Technology Organisation (D.S.T.O.); Long Range Weapons Establishment (L.R.W.E.)

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 918 - 919, Online Edition 2000
Published by Australian Science and Technology Heritage Centre, using the Web Academic Resource Publisher