BlogInnovation - DEF Australia

Information – DEF Aus: What You Need to Know

Photo courtesy of Australian Army
Photo courtesy of Australian Army

Short of time and can’t read the whole post? BLUF:

Aim of this post

  • Answer your questions about DEF Aus
  • Provide practical information about the DEF Aus activities in 2016

What is DEF?

DEF was founded in the United States in 2013 with expansion to the United Kingdom in 2015. DEF is an independent group of emerging defence leaders who strive to solve national security problems from the bottom-up. The main focus of DEF is to build a cadre of creative leaders who foster adaptation and innovation through professional networks.

What is DEF Australia?

In 2016, DEF agreed to the creation of subsidiary activities in Australia under their DEF banner. There are so many abbreviations – what do they mean?

  • DEF: if you see ‘DEF’ we are talking about the international DEF community with the parent body in the United States
  • DEF Aus: the Australian subsidiary activities
  • DEF[X] Aus: the forum that will be held on 08-09 December 2016 at the Australian Defence College in Canberra

So DEF Aus is bigger than the military community in Australia – we are part of an international DEF community. This brings strength to the network of innovative minds as we share the challenges of future war and warfare.

What is the aim of DEF Aus?

DEF Aus aims to empower innovative military minds, build a network of leaders and invest in junior commanders in order to enhance intellectual capability for future war.

How does DEF Aus fit into our military hierarchical structure?

Think of DEF Aus like a Defence Sporting Association. DEF Aus is an independent association being generated by serving personnel from the bottom-up. This means that DEF Aus sits outside the chain-of-command but has chain-of-command approval. DEF Aus networks the ‘smart and innovative minds’ of our military, regardless of where they sit in the rank structure. Much in the same way that the Army Rugby Association networks and trains the great (and not-so-great but keen) rugby players throughout the Army – building a team of serving personnel interested in rugby while remaining outside the chain-of-command but with support from the chain-of-command. Like our sporting associations, DEF Aus is a supporting effort to enhance our service in the military by networking people who have a common interest, and then feeding these skills and ideas back into our service.

There are so many innovation initiatives, how is DEF Aus different and not just another buzzword?

Firstly, DEF Aus is not different – we are a supporting effort to the number of defence initiatives both within and outside the chain-of-command. Military innovation to win future war and warfare must be a multi-layered team approach and account for the internal as much as the external innovators, the formal innovation through the military chain-of-command and innovation through networks of informal disruptive thinkers. It is the ‘network’ of innovation initiatives that will make ‘military innovation’ successful and DEF Aus is one strand to this network.  The innovation strands that DEF Aus strengthens are: conceptual innovation and emerging leaders.

  • Conceptual innovation. This means that DEF Aus accommodates conceptual innovation not just innovation linked to technology. What is conceptual innovation? A number of things really but a good test is that you may not need a ‘thing’ (technology) to make your idea happen. Conceptual innovation looks like the idea for the next Plan Beersheba or an idea about how we integrate cyber concepts down to the Platoon Commander or how we can better train officers using new education models. That said, we are also keen to hear your technology ideas and innovation that needs ‘means’ or ‘money’ to work. DEF Aus has the ability to act as the link to the other innovation initiatives in our military community so if you don’t know which innovation initiative to contact, then you can contact DEF Aus and we’ll make sure you are directed to the right place.
  • Emerging leaders. Junior commanders (CPL-MAJ) get a first-row seat in seeing our military from the ground-up. This is a viewpoint that will help our military see further into solutions for the challenges of our future. Your chain-of-command remains the most important means to share your ideas – DEF Aus acts in support as a means for junior commanders to share their ideas with a wider military audience. In doing this, DEF Aus aims to enhance the innovation culture of junior leaders and help drive ideas-to-action through a pragmatic understanding of innovation. Junior commanders are repeatedly told that ‘their ideas matter’ – DEF Aus helps change this rhetoric into a practical avenue to ‘make your ideas matter’.

Great, lots of words but what are the DEF Aus activities?

DEF Aus has a number of activities in the lead up to DEF[X] Aus in December. All of the activities are linked so no activity stands alone from the other activities. However, we are simple people so the best explanation of the DEF Aus activities is that there are three major activities: two in the lead-up to DEF[X] Aus and DEF[X] Aus is the third activity. Here are the three activities and what you can expect to see between now and the December DEF[X] Aus.

  • Idea Pitches. If you have an idea then this is the activity to change your idea into a tangible action. Read about the Innovation Process for the Idea Pitches in the DEF Aus Information Pack. We are currently pairing Idea Pitchers to Idea Sponsors so that junior leaders have help to strengthen their ideas before they pitch at DEF[X] Aus. This activity is being led by Wade Cooper (RAA) and Scott Holmes (RAINF).
  • Future Thinking. DEF Aus is not focused on innovation for today’s challenges. We would like you to think about the challenges for the future operating environment. To help with this, DEF Aus will be publishing a series of online resources around selected ‘Future Thinking’ themes. The ‘Future Thinking’ themes will then transition to become the DEF[X] Workshop topics. Future Thinking is being led by Tom McDermott (RAAC).
  • DEF[X] Aus. The two lead-up activities culminate in a DEF[X] – a two-day solutions-based forum from 08-09 Dec 16 at the Australian Defence College in Canberra. The general structure for the DEF[X] is keynote addresses, sessions, workshops and the Idea Pitches. We actually believe that the structure of DEF[X] Aus will be trumped by the conversations and informal networks generated through gathering emerging military leaders and thinkers in the one venue. This activity is being led by Anthony Lias (RASigs) with some incredible support from Jasmin Diab (RAE), Mick Cook (RAA), Jules Pearce (RAAOC), Jimmy Keam (RASigs), Steven Young (RAAOC) and Jimmy Groves (RAA). Register for DEF[X] Aus here.

DEF Aus does not end with DEF[X] Aus, so you will see activities continue after the completion of DEF[X] Aus. Innovation must keep pace with the changing character of war, so your ideas and military professionalism are linked to an endless pursuit of finding solutions for a future that constantly changes the goal-posts, and sometimes even puts those goal-posts on a different sporting field to the one we started training on.

Some practicalities for you and your boss

DEF[X] Aus is not a course or conference where your boss selects you to go or you are ‘made to attend’. You can self-register. We are interested in people who genuinely want to share their ideas or just want to be part of the conversation. That said, DEF Aus remains professionally respectful of our chain-of-command at all times so you need to ensure your chain-of-command is aware of your registration to attend DEF[X] Aus and then approves your attendance. This is again where DEF Aus is similar to a Defence Sporting Association – sometimes you need to self-fund your attendance to a sporting carnival, sometimes your unit will fund this travel and the corresponding incidentals. You need to have a conversation with your boss about whether your unit can fund your travel to Canberra or whether you need to self-fund your attendance. We understand that not everyone will have funds available so personnel who cannot make the DEF[X] Aus in person will have the opportunity to tune in through our live-streaming. Confused? Email us your questions to so we can help you navigate this space.

Is this just for Army?

DEF Aus is primarily an Australian Army activity in 2016; however, personnel from all services, APS, the defence community and foreign military forces are welcome to participate. The focus is on junior commanders therefore if seats fill up, priority for attendance will be allocated to CPL-WO2 and LT-MAJ (and equivalents across the services).

I’m a junior commander and it’s daunting to be told to ‘be innovative’ and have an ‘idea’ … 

We agree. So if you don’t have an idea but are interested in joining a conversation about our military profession and how we can better face the challenges of future war and warfare, then register for DEF[X] Aus. To be personal – I attended the US DEF in 2013 and felt like a fly-on-the-wall, I had no ideas and contributed little … but then three years later I finally figured out how to contribute and convinced my mates to help. We encourage junior leaders who are ‘flys-on-the wall’ to register for DEF[X] Aus – you will find a home in DEF Aus.


I’m seeing some different logos, who do the logos belong to?




DEF Australia - Yellow


DEF Aus already has 11 ideas being developed to be pitched at DEF[X] Aus. Ideas range from future hypersonic flight capability to conceptual innovation for the employment of Brigade ISTAR. So if you have an idea burning in your back-pocket that you would like to share with our wider military community, then get in touch with us at

Overall, DEF Aus is a relatively small endeavour but we think DEF Aus will form a strong link into the greater network of military innovation initiatives. We hope you will join the DEF Aus network of military leaders and thinkers. Being part of the DEF Aus initiative is as simple as starting a conversation with your peers, commenting on the Future Thinking posts, pitching an idea at DEF[X] Aus, attending DEF[X] Aus or listening in to DEF[X] Aus through the live-stream in December.

Lastly, DEF Aus is an idea in itself and we are constantly challenging ourselves to be better, so if you have a thought on how we can strengthen the DEF Aus initiative, then drop us a line at Military life is incredibly busy so thanks for your time in reading this post and we hope to see you at DEF[X] Aus in December 2016.

About the author

Clare O’Neill is a Royal Australian Engineer and in 2013 was the Fulbright Professional Scholar in Australia-U.S. Alliance Studies. Clare is the Executive Director of DEF Australia and runs Grounded Curiosity as a part-time passion.