Career Spotlight: Reg Carruthers – Director of Aerospace and Space at Defence SA/ SASIC

In our first Career Spotlight of 2020, we have the pleasure of talking to Reg Carruthers, Director of Aerospace at Defence SA, about his unique career in the fields of defence and aerospace.

Reg Carruthers is the Director of Aerospace at Defence SA. He also commenced working with the South Australian Space Industry Centre (within Defence SA) as Director in 2017.

Reg joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in 1981, graduating from the RAAF Academy in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science. After graduating as a Navigator, he flew the P3C Orion completing numerous operations and exercises nationally and internationally. He completed a three-year exchange program flying the CP140 Aurora in Canada, and completed numerous commands including 28 active reserve squadron, the 92 Wing detachment in Butterworth Malaysia, 10 Squadron RAAF Edinburgh and the AP3C Operational Task Group on active duty in the Middle East Area of Operations.

Reg’s last military command was as Commander of the Aerospace Operational Support Group (now Air Warfare Centre) responsible for electronic warfare, cyber, intelligence, aviation medicine, aviation publications and flight test, weapons and engineering squadrons, as well as the Woomera Test Range. Reg was also the Director of the Woomera Test Range for four years, overseeing the upgrade of the range systems and creating a new RAAF Base and organisational structure.

Reg is a graduate of the Australian Staff Course and a Distinguished Graduate from the US National War College conducted in Washington DC, and has Masters Degrees in Defence and Strategic Studies and International Relations.

Going back to the beginning of your career, you studied international studies at university. What did you want to do after you finished? Did you have a set plan for your career trajectory after graduation?

I didn’t realise until quite late in my career how lucky I was knowing what I wanted to be from a young age. After attending a small airshow in England aged about 10, I decided that I was going to be an Air Force pilot. After emigrating to Western Australia in 1975, Defence recruiting provided me details of what subjects I needed to study to get into the air force academy in Melbourne where there was no choice in what degree I studied, all I needed to do was get good grades!!! My degree through Melbourne University (conducted at RAAF Base Point Cook) was a BSc double major Maths/Physics.

To be honest, in terms of career trajectory all I knew was that I wanted to be a pilot! As it turned out, I failed pilots course, trained as a Navigator, and became a weapons and computer specialist on the AP3C Orion aircraft. I loved being a navigator and realised it was what I should be doing, the lesson – you can't always determine what you will be good at or enjoy!

The great thing about Air Force was after completing my flying tours which included postings in Canada, Malaysia and USA I was able to focus more on the strategic environment including working closely with our strategic allies and regional nations in all things from defence, space, cyber and training.

Looking back, what I would observe is few people can tell you what they will do through their career, and what opportunities will present themselves during their life. The trick is to be constantly curious, work out what interests you and accept opportunities that broaden your experience and value.

Tell us about your current role as Director of Aerospace at Defence SA. What does your role entail?

After 35 years in Defence I accepted a position working with the SA State Government as Director of Aerospace. I had a strong interest in cybersecurity from my RAAF time, and appointed as a director in the SA space industry centre. Defence is a national responsibility, but States remain responsible for a lot of the things required to actually build and support defence and space capabilities, including skilling, training and supporting local industries. Our job is to create the environment that allows defence/space industry to flourish to support the national projects. As an example, SA didn’t decide what ships, submarines and aircraft Australian Defence needs or acquires, but once decided, we ensure that the industrial base, training, skilling, and research and development are in place in South Australia to ensure that the ADF has the equipment and people it needs to fulfil its national requirements.

You’ve had a fascinating career working in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), and now at the Defence SA. Was transitioning from the RAAF to your current role an adjustment?

I have been so fortunate during my career with the variety of jobs I had within RAAF from flying on operations all around the world, postings with my family living overseas, running the worlds largest weapons and rocket testing range, world-class training and education and working with motivated and like-minded people. Transitioning to SA government was a bit daunting as I had effectively been with the same employer (in multiple roles) for 35 years. When I applied for the position, it was only my second formal job application! The actual transition was quite easy, and state government is actually more agile than Defence and very focussed on delivering to the people of SA. Building new networks, understanding the difference between federal and state responsibilities and in particular understanding business challenges were the steepest learning curves for me personally. The experiences during my defence career equipped me well to transition to state government, in particular the leadership and communication skills, project management and strategic thinking. Any job comes with administrative and governance expectations, these vary position to position and just have to be learned and endured!

What was unexpected and exciting was working with small companies, universities, schools, start-up companies and understanding what incredible capabilities there are in Australia, so many more than I ever understood in the safe enclave of Defence! I was surprised to find out how much direct international relations State government engages in, in particular in trade missions and industry support. In three years, I have travelled to Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, UK, Germany and USA!

I have also been able to work directly with students through mentoring programs and youth aerospace association, space collaboration centre and of course YAIA which have been some of the most rewarding times and gives me great confidence in the future of this country.

What has been your greatest professional achievement so far?

This is a tough question! I will answer in terms of the one that probably is most rewarding and required all of my international relations contacts and skills developed over my career. It is also important to realise that no great things are done by any individual but being part of a great team of like-minded professionals.

I think that securing the upgrade and future of the Woomera test range is the most rewarding single project. When appointed director in 2012, the range was in a poor state of disrepair. Equipment was old and unreliable, the town was falling apart and morale in the range staff was poor. For Defence it was a case of use it or lose it!

Through a series of visits from key Australian, US and UK defence executives, we were able to re-energise the interest in the largest land-based test range in the western world! We got approval to spend $300m on new equipment, created a new RAAF Base Woomera (not many people get to create a new base!) and the village is about to get new facilities, accommodation and infrastructure, making it a better place for residents and visitors. We engaged indigenous groups and elders, pastoralists, mining companies and executives, tourist groups, police, rail operators and a whole range of people with interests in the range.

The range is now well and truly saved, trials planned for years to come and exciting activities like the recovery of another Japanese spacecraft after landing on an asteroid! The strategic value of the range with our key defence allies cannot be overstated, and the interest and passion for Woomera as a key testing and training range assured for decades to come. Plus it really was rewarding and a lot of fun!!

Finally, what advice would you give to students and young Australians looking to pursue a career in international affairs?

Stick with it! The future of the world remains global and Australia will increasingly need professional, motivated and articulate advocates for our national interests in a global context. The pathway to a career in international affairs may not always seem clear, and I suggest this is because there is no one pathway! Keep your eyes on the long-term strategic goal of what you would like to achieve and you will find there are multiple paths to achieving your goals which may not seem obvious at the start.

Working with a defence company may well take you overseas, negotiating with foreign officials and embassy staff, which can lead anywhere! DFAT is not the only pathway! Keep your mind open to opportunities and approach every job with passion and dedication, people love enthusiasm and professionalism.

  • NEVER stop learning, be constantly curious, none of us will ever know everything.

  • Read widely but WELL; time is too short to read poorly researched or written works.

  • Question EVERYTHING! International affairs is an art, not a science, there is rarely an ‘answer’ just a well-considered way ahead which will need to be monitored and reviewed constantly.

  • Read a wide range of opinions, from Chomsky to Nixon, Thucydides to ASPI, only reading things that reinforce a long-held opinion can seem satisfying but adds little to the debate.

  • Consider people’s views and opinions, analyse them and make your own judgements, unless you just want to become a book reviewer!

  • Social media is good for dog pics, it should not be your only source of information!

  • Read history lest we repeat our mistakes of the past, there is not much new on earth!

Lastly and critically, studying the theory of international relations (or any subject) provides you the knowledge and tools to START your career. International relations is more about interpersonal relationships, genuine connections, communication and leadership. Make sure you develop these skills as well as the academic skills. Wars have been prevented by personal contacts being able to connect and resolve seemingly intractable issues based on a long-standing trust and friendship.

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