At 2pm tomorrow the invasion of the jet heads will drive the spooks away from the Australian International Airshow at Avalon near Melbourne as the “trade days” end and an afternoon and weekend of public access begins.
The once-every-two-years winged migration of top military brass from a diverse and often mutually suspicious range of Indo-Asian nations to a coastal paddock with a long runway in a land far away will be over.
If David Attenborough was narrating the proceedings he would no doubt say “they go home not to lay eggs, but write reports on who did what to whom, what signals were sent, and how they were received.”
Make no mistake. Avalon is one of the top sites in the world for bringing together potentially co-operative or hostile defence personnel and their legions of civvy dressed minders and observers over cocktails and golf for useful exchanges of views.
People who might well end up dead if seen together in Taipei can just randomly run into each other in Avalon. That’s what noisy flight displays and stands full of weapons and systems of mass destruction from the likes of Boeing, Thales, EADS and Lockheed Martin are there for. They don’t actually sell anything at Avalon. But they do bring customers and “others” together.
“It’s all about sending subtle messages about capability and intent, or updating profiles, and of course golf,” says Gregor Ferguson, editor of ADM, the Australian Defence Magazine. And there was the happy little gathering called the Chief of Air Force Conference, or “Smaller Air Forces and the Future of Air Power.”
Going on visible plumage, or uniforms alone, those who took part in a program featuring official presentations by Air Marshall Geoff Shepherd, the Australian Chief of Air Force, and his Canadian, Singaporean and British counterparts, were high ranking officers of the tiny India Air Force, as well as the minuscule capabilities of the USAF alongside those of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
We can confirm out of uniform sightings of defence figures from China (PRC) but not Iran, North Korea, or Myanmar at this stage, since there is no rule that says they would have their interests looked after by people travelling as their own nationals.
But will Pyongyang and Tehran get word about what happened in Avalon? You bet. Most likely including words that offices in the Pentagon, the Élysée Palace or Whitehall might like them to hear too.
Notably present and active in courting (or keeping) the investments of big defence firms in Australia were Steve Bracks and Mike Rann, although the latter’s chances of finding something that might replace Mitsubishi Motors in terms of value or jobs at such short notice don’t look great.
Not seen, so far, has been Peter Beattie, who may be taking aerospace dollars for granted these days after being massively successful in scoring big deals from Boeing Australia (including the Wedgetail program at Amberley) and the huge investment by European giant EADS (owner of Airbus) in its Eurocopter helicopter assembly and R&D program in Brisbane.
Of course Bracks wins from the spook-fest in lavish defence entertainment spending in general, which segues into the tail stream of the F1 Grand Prix in terms of corporate schmoozing.
All he has to worry about now is whether or not Airbus will continue to subcontract parts of every airliner it builds (including the A380) to the 100% Boeing-owned Hawker de Havilland facilities including the crown jewel at Fisherman’s Bend.