Building an Arsenal of Democracy in the 21st Century: The Perspective Penten’s CEO Matthew Wilson


By Robbin Laird

During my September trip to Australia, I had a chance to sit down with the CEO of Penten, Matthew Wilson, along with my colleague John Blackburn, to discuss the role of Australia defence industry in direct defence of Australia.

According to their website:

“Penten is an Australian owned, multi-award winning, cyber technology business.

“We offer unique, sovereign capability to deliver new defence and security technologies for the future fight. Our advanced hardware and software products and services support government and defence clients with Secure Mobility, Applied AI and Tactical Communications Security solutions.

“Our aim is to deliver world-leading security technologies to realise digital advantage for the nation Our work is dedicated to enabling the modern warfighter and policy maker with information to deliver advantage.”

The interview focused largely on his assessment of the digital defence and security domain because logically that is where is business operates.

We started with a discussion of the core book which analyzed the contribution of U.S. industry in win winning World War II.  Freedom’s Forge by Arthur Herman laid the conditions under which the government worked with industry to create an arsenal of democracy.

As Wilson noted: “The book provides a look at what is required to mobilize an industrial base. What financial incentives are required? What approach be government is required? If industry is to make smart investments to build and support an arsenal of democracy how to do so?”

And shaping an arsenal of democracy either starts with or includes securing the digital domain.

Here Perry argued that Australia is making strides in the right direction. “It’s taken us a little while to try and get norms of behavior established concerning what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable within the cyber realm.

“But one of the things I’m actually quite proud of from Australian perspective is that Australia – both government and industry –has accepted the need to support the policy development in that space.”

Wilson noted that such an effort is crucial to operating in the “gray zone of conflict” which Australia operates within with China and others.

“But now the challenge is changing.

“The truth of matter is, the last 20 years, we’ve been in conflicts that we haven’t needed to consider the interruption of the digital supply lines as a core defence and security challenge: it was not going to happen, and it didn’t happen.

“Now it is a core element for the defence and security of the Commonwealth.”

“And in this domain, we have to think not only about the first strike.

“It’s about what a sustained conflict looks like in the digital domain”

This falls in the domain of robust defence of national infrastructure as part of the direct defence of Australia.

But what about the defence materiel necessary for Australian defence?

Wilson assessed the challenge as follows: “When you think about cyber resilience for us it is slightly different to the way that others who would rely on their own industrial base alone to produce the material to be able to fight effectively.”

Such defence materiel will exist only in alliance team concept for Australia. “

We’re on a team, and you need to make a contribution to the team; you’ve got to pick your places we can make those types of contributions.

“My genuine belief is that this is a space where Australia can create some industrial capability that it can feed back into the allied combined effort to create an arsenal of democracy.”

Wilson felt there was a need a comprehensive approach to thinking about a way ahead for the arsenal of democracy.

“We need to think of how can mobilize industry and not just the defence industry narrowly considered.”

See the following:

Securing Mobile Networks: The Penten Approach

And an article focused on the speech where FDR introduced the concept of arsenal of democracy: