Warren King

Defence Material Organisation chief executive Warren King. Photo: Stuart Walmsley

Defence Materiel Organisation chief executive Warren King has come out fighting against criticisms of his $9.5 billion-a-year agency and has defended his 6500 public servants.

As his organisation faces a landmark review into how it will operate in the future and the Australian government tightens the budgets of the federal bureaucracy, Mr King said: "My staff do a much better job than they get credit for.

"There's a chattering class out there that have this Goldilocks syndrome. A lot of things are being said about DMO performance, which are just not accurate.

"I'd like the debate about the challenges ahead to come from some sort of sensible foundation."

The Goldilocks syndrome refers to sections of the community with differing and sometimes conflicting opinions about the way his organisation - which buys everything from $100 million jets to the black silk underpants worn by soldiers to protect them from bomb blasts in Afghanistan - should be run.

He said detractors often did not realise the complexity of DMO projects, which were more specialised than private industry programs, and so it faced constant allegations of cost blowouts, inefficiency and high operating costs.

His comments follow the Australian Industry Group's Defence Council submission to the Commission of Audit, which reportedly said the DMO's workforce had unjustifiably doubled in the past decade. It called for thousands of job cuts.

Mr King said DMO had 6500 workers, the same number it had in 2005 and did ''17 per cent more business these days''.

Staff had been shed, including about 450 in the past year, to get the figure down to the present level.

"Private industry generally runs about 25 per cent over budget on comparable projects," he said.

"Our operating costs are 9 per cent of the budget and in the last three years we've finalised 61 projects of a total value of $7.74 billion with a total saving of $389 million.

"We have something between 150 and 180 projects, which average at $427 million per project, and the average project team is 12 [people].

"I'll put that figure up against anybody in the world.

"On average we have two people managing our minor projects, which are under $10 million.''

Mr King's message to DMO employees is to get behind the first-principles review into the defence bureaucracy's staffing and structure and the way it deals with private industry, which has not yet been done but will look at how faster and more cost-effective decisions can be made.

He said there were always improvements to be found and stressed the review would be free of preconceived ideas.

The Abbott government has pledged to increase defence spending to 2 per cent of gross domestic product within a decade but at the same time has suggested it will trim the bureaucracy.

Mr King said there would be change. "We've got to get the right information to these people. We're taxpayers, too. We want our taxes to be low," he said.

Mr King, 63, acknowledged the DMO did have a problem getting projects completed on time, an aspect he said had improved.

He started his career as a sailor at age 17 and eventually rose to the elite ranks of the public service despite a diagnosis of a life-threatening health problem just before he accepted DMO's top job almost three years ago.