The arrival of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) fleet at Williamtown RAAF Base has thrown an international spotlight on the Hunter’s industry capability that will boost our reputation as a Defence Ready region, an audience of industry stakeholders heard in Newcastle today. Hunter Defence Chair Tim Owen told the inaugural Hunter Defence industry lunch at Merewether Surfhouse that the selection of Williamtown as the Asia-Pacific sustainment hub for the F-35 program had created enormous opportunities for local SMEs and would position the Hunter as a Defence stronghold. The audience also heard from guest speakers Major General Andrew Bottrell, Head of the Land Systems Division with the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), and the NSW Defence Advocate, Air Marshal John Harvey (retired). They spoke about global supply chain opportunities for SMEs and the support the NSW Government can offer aspiring industry players. The Hunter Defence taskforce was formed late last year to promote the Hunter’s Defence industry capability and drive more Defence contracts and investment to the region. Started with seed funding from the Hunter Business Chamber, RDA Hunter and HunterNet, it represents a diverse group of industry, including manufacturing and supply firms, industry networks, specialist consultants, advisors and government. Growing local capability is one of the taskforce’s key objectives and Mr Owen said they had drawn on the substantial expertise within the group to develop a targeted training program for SMEs that would be offered to firms in the region during the second half of this year. “We want to encourage more SMEs to acquire advanced Defence capability by facilitating education, training and advice,” Mr Owen said. “There is great potential for locally based firms to diversify into Defence or, for those who are already participating the industry, to increase their market share.” Hunter Defence will host a conference in the Hunter Valley on 22-23 August featuring presentations by industry, armed forces and government leaders. The event will include the Hunter Defence Industry Showcase, featuring case studies from the CEOs of seven Hunter firms that have successfully grown their capability and transitioned into the Defence industry.