The rising tensions between the US and China has put Australia is a very awkward position. Its defence traditionally relied on the US which is now challanged by China. United States Defence Secretary General James Mattis released the National Defense Strategy Commission’s assessment of the Pentagon’s defence strategy, warned that the global security environment was at its most dangerous “in decades” and America’s military superiority had “eroded to a dangerous degree”.
You’ve got the rise of an assertive China that is challenging US strategic primacy in Asia [and] the US is not going to give up its status easily” Dr Malcolm Davis from Canberra think tank the Australian Strategic Policy Institute told SBS News. “So you’re seeing the stage set for major power competition between a rising China and established US that could intensify in coming years in Australia’s neighbourhood.”
The nature of warfare is also changing along with enhanced lethality of future combat according to the Australian Army’s new chief, Lieutenant General Rick Burr who termed it as “accelerated warfare” and the need it brings to prepare troops and equipment to ensure the army’s sustained readiness for war. “The threats against us are accelerating in terms of the speed of cyber, the lethality of the weaponry, and the way in which information space is being exploited, and therefore we need to accelerate our response to these threats,’’ Burr says. “We can’t just continue along the way we’ve always done business.” Adapting in time to the threats likely to emerge over the next 10 to 20 years is the biggest challenge the Australian Defence Force faces, Burr says.
Major General Gus McLachlan, Commander Forces Command has helped to shape the ever-evolving nature of the Army, the doctrine and technology now transforming Australia’s Army and its role as part of the ‘joint force’ concept of the ADF. “Let’s keep abreast of our adversary.” The Accelerated Warfare, I think, is starting off with describing this world that he wants us to be a more agile and adaptable Army. Bcause I think we had a vision of where this digital connected Army could be in terms of increasing our tempo of decision making, being more precise with the application of our force.The future now is to create that so called internet of things, that connected deployed land combat system, so that new systems can be acquired and plug into that relatively seamlessly. And then the big question for us is then how do we plug into the joint environment and leverage the huge power of the F-35, the AEW&C (airborne early warning and control), and the air warfare destroyer?
At present though, Australia’s small defence force relies on technology for its regional combat and deterrent edge. Yet the challenge for Australia is the new technologies are already challenging the traditional superiority of conventional defence assets and the West does not necessarily have a lead in developing and exploiting them. Dr Marcus Hellyer of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute says, but “once you start injecting new things like cyber or stealth or artificial intelligence, or things like that, it’s much harder to understand the calculus there, and the outcomes. So, it increases the uncertainty.” The first corollary to this is that advantage accrues to the defence force that adopts capabilities based on these new technologies fastest. So, procurement agencies are re-examining their acquisition processes to exploit the fruits of industrial research and innovation more quickly.
The second corollary is that traditional, “high-tech inhabited platforms such as ships and combat aircraft, while not obsolete, are increasingly vulnerable to a range of new threats,” Hellyer says. Hence Australia’s keen interest in anything that reduces threats or provides an asymmetric advantage: quantum computing, for example, or electronic warfare, directed energy weapons or hypersonic missiles. These are some of Australia’s technology research priorities under the new Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF).
Defence’s approach to innovation complements the Government’s broader strategy. The increasing pace of geopolitical, economic and technological change means it is critical that Defence ensures it has continued access to the best innovation Australia has to offer. Investment in innovation helps to ensure Defence remains resilient to emerging threats, including the possible use of disruptive technologies by adversaries. It also enables us to take advantage of new or developing areas of technology that have the potential to provide a capability edge for Australia’s relatively small force.
A big focus is robotics and autonomous systems, and how soldiers partner with them. “With manned and unmanned teaming, we can generate more capacity to do more things at scale and, where possible, we can reduce risk and be safer in the way we prosecute our operations.”
Boeing is partnering with Australia’s Trusted Autonomous Systems Defence Cooperative Research Centre (DCRC) to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to create unmanned systems for global forces. Boeing Australia’s first innovation project with the DCRC will examine an unmanned system’s route planning, location, and identification of objects and the platform’s subsequent behavioral response. Boeing will work with Australian university partners and Brisbane-based supplier RF Designs to flight-test and evaluate the capability with autonomous high-performance jets.
The DCRC for Trusted Autonomous Systems, announced by the Australian Government in 2017, was to support the rapid creation and transition of industry-led trustworthy smart-machine technologies through the innovation ecosystem to the Australian Defence Force.
Australian defence companies have pitched ideas related to network assurance to the Australian Army at the sixth Innovation Day. Australia Defence Industry Minster Melissa Price stated that Army Innovation Day presents an opportunity for companies to propose novel capability options to tackle challenges in the land combat environment. Melissa Price said: “This year’s theme, network assurance, will ensure the army’s communication networks are more resilient, agile and protected against adversaries. The objective is to find solutions capable of advancing ‘army’s network resilience, boost network defences or deceive adversaries about the disposition and characteristics of land networks’.
The new approach to Defence innovation
Australian small to medium enterprises have often found it difficult to engage with Defence due to the fragmented nature of innovation programs and complex entry processes. The Australian Government is implementing a new approach to Defence innovation that will address these barriers and more effectively access the potential of Australian defence industry to innovate.This new approach will provide greater transparency of Defence needs, seed and nurture innovative technologies and the companies developing them, and develop regulatory and cultural processes to facilitate innovation.
Defence’s new approach to innovation will comprise four key initiatives:
1. Next Generation Technologies Fund— The Next Gen Tech Fund, managed by the Department of Defence: Science and Technology (DST), is set to invest $730 million by 2026 in strategic next generation technologies that have the potential to deliver game-changing capabilities. The Next Gen Tech Fund focuses on research and development in emerging and future technologies for the “future defence force after next”. To enable this, the Department of Defence (DoD) has established the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC). The CDIC creates an interface between the DoD and businesses, creating opportunities to engage with prime contractors or directly with the DoD.
2. Defence Innovation Hub— The Department of Defence has also initiated the Innovation Hub, where Australian and New Zealand companies, businesses, and academic and research organisations can collaborate and determine the potential for real-world applications for their innovative technologies. Around $640 million (over the decade to FY 2025–26) will be invested in a new virtual Defence Innovation Hub to enable industry and Defence to undertake collaborative innovation activities throughout the Defence capability life cycle from initial concept, through prototyping and testing to introduction into service.
3. Defence Innovation Portal—as part of the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC), the Portal will facilitate engagement between Defence and innovation activities across Australia. The Portal will provide vital connections between small to medium enterprises and Defence, helping companies understand Defence capability needs and supporting their ability to contribute to Defence innovation requirements.
4. Changed culture and processes—Defence will change its culture and business processes to systematically remove barriers to innovation. The first step will be to develop new contracting and intellectual property policies that
encourage investment in Australia’s good ideas, keep profits in country, and provide incentives for larger companies to innovate in Australia.
Next Generation Technology Fund (NGTF) to boost innovation in defence sector.
It has launched Defence Innovation Hub, focused on late-stage technology development, and the Next Generation Technology Fund (NGTF), focused on defence-related research. The Defence Innovation Hub, managed by the Defence Industry Policy Division, has responsibilities for facilitating research efforts “from concept exploration and technology demonstration, through to prototyping and integrated capability demonstration and evaluation”.
It has a nominal funding allocation of AU$640 million over ten years. The second tranche of Defence Innovation Hub investments worth $12.3 million has been announced today by Minister for Defence Industry, the Hon Christopher Pyne MP, ensuring Defence has access to ground-breaking technology. The Defence Innovation Hub was established in December last year as a robust program to facilitate and nurture the development of innovative technology and ideas in support of Defence capability,” Hon Christopher Pyne MP said. “The Government has invested $1.6 billion to develop Defence capability through growth in the capacity and capability of Australia’s defence industry and innovation sector.
The NGTF is overseen by DSTG and has been allocated AU$730 million over the same period. Sitting alongside these programs is the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC), which “provides advice to the Australian defence industry, supports industry growth, and facilitates innovation”.
The “innovation priorities” that set overarching guidance for both the Defence Innovation Hub and NGTF identify six streams according to the Force Structure Review: intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, electronic warfare, space and cyber; key enablers; land combat and amphibious warfare; strike and air combat; maritime and anti-submarine warfare; air and sea lift. The “strategic priorities” of the NGTF has emphasis on: directed energy weapons; intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance; cyber and space.
Capability Technology Demonstrator (CTD) program
It had launched the CTD program that aims to show Australian Defence Force (ADF) users how leading edge technology can be integrated quickly into existing, new, enhanced or replacement high-priority capabilities. The CTD program is organisationally located within DST Group. DST provides a management office for the CTD Program and contract management for most of the CTD projects.
The CTD program is not a grants program; rather it is a collaborative activity conducted under contract between Defence and industry, or research organisations, to deliver a demonstration of the capability potential of new technology. The program’s emphasis is on technology in Australian / New Zealand industry that is going to provide capability advantages for Defence and allow Australian / New Zealand industry to position itself to provide in-service capabilities and through-life-support.
A Capability Technology Demonstrator (CTD) program was raised in 2001 under Project AIR 5425 to demonstrate that the DSTO wingkit could extend the range of the 500lb class GBU-38 JDAM weapon .The addition of the DSTO wingkit to the JDAM represents a significant improvement in capability; by greatly enhancing the range of the standard JDAM it will allow the RAAF to engage their targets from beyond the range of enemy air defences.
Defence Priority Areas
CTD proposals may address any of the following Defence capability area: Communications in the Sea and Land Domains, Communications in the Information Domain, Battlespace Awareness in the Sea and Land Domains, Battlespace Awareness in Information Domain, Force Protection in the Land Domain, Force Protection in the Cyberspace Domain, Logistics in the Sea, Land and Air Domain and National Support in the Sea, Land and Air Domains
Australian Defence showcases innovative technologies developed under Capability and Technology Demonstrator program
The Australian Department of Defence has showcased a number of innovative technologies designed to support the Australian Defence Force, or ADF, as its participation in National Science Week. Among the technologies showcased were the low-cost, lightweight force protection systems for soldiers under the Redwing programme of the department.
Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinsky said the event highlights the diverse range of technologies developed by Defence scientists and manufactured by the Australian industry under the Capability and Technology Demonstrator, or CTD, Programme.
Non-Rigid Electromechanical Exoskeleton was part of the technologies designed for the modern soldiers. The exoskeleton technology takes the weight off a soldier’s back while carrying heavy backpacks, and transfers the weight load to the ground to reduce fatigue, pain and injury when walking over long distances.
The technology uses the Soldier Integrated Power System, which is a kit of flexible, lightweight solar cells, and power-generating electronic textiles that can reduce the weight of batteries carried by soldiers. The technology was developed by the Australian company Tectonica under the CTD programme, and has been successfully demonstrated.
Defence scientists are exploring a novel energy-harvesting approach that uses power from the structural vibrations of vehicles. The approach converts the vibrations into electrical power for embedded diagnostic sensors and devices.
Defence scientists have developed a unique computer security device called Digital Video Guard that provides protection against cyber intrusion. And the scientists have won an innovation award for the development of the device.
“Wing kit” for the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM.
Another successful technology developed by the scientists was the “wing kit” for the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM. Zelinsky said the successful technology demonstrates the value that science and technology adds to Defence capability.
“The wing kit, developed by our scientists, enables the standard JDAM weapon to more accurately find longer range targets, giving the launch aircraft a fire-and-forget capability at a safe standoff distance,” he said. The first wing kits, manufactured by the Australian company Ferra Engineering, were recently delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force.
“The technology examples highlighted demonstrate the close partnerships between Defence, industry and universities,” Zelinsky said.
Haptically-Enabled Robotic Vehicle
The Centre for Intelligent Systems Research at Deakin University has developed a mobile platform with a controllable arm that gives operators a sense of the weight and solidity of an object being manipulated.
This technology improves the ability of operators working at a safe distance to identify and manipulate hazards such as improvised explosive devices by providing a sense of how the object feels. The robotic arm is fitted with strain gauges that meter the force being applied to manipulate the object. This force is reproduced via actuators mounted in the hand controls that push back on the operator’s hands according to the force being applied by the arm, thereby producing the sense of feel. Stereo camera vision gives the operator depth perception that improves the accuracy of arm control and also enhances the realistic sense for the operator of being right at the scene
Kestral Aerial Surveillance System
Kestrel is a video motion target indication technology produced by Sentient.
It enables real-time video-based target identification operations to be conducted over sea and land with unmanned aerial vehicles and manned surveillance aircraft. The system operates by comparing pixels in frames of video footage of a particular scene. If any differences are found between frames, the system alerts an operator to the point in the scene where something has moved or is moving, this possibly being indicative of enemy activity.
Naval Automated Personnel Tracking
This tracking system, developed by Blue Glue, ensures the whereabouts of all personnel aboard a vessel can be known at all times through use of wearable radio transmitter tags.
Every 1.5 seconds, the tag emits a pulse of data that identifies the tag wearer. Radio receivers fitted around the ship detect this signal, and based on the strength of signal received, the system can determine where on board the person is. Every tag is programmed to transmit at a unique time so that transmissions do not mask each other. The system also features the use of laser and infrared beams as hazard zone entry alert devices. If a person steps through the beam and interupts light transmission to a receptor, the system is alerted.
Fibre Laser Sensor Array
The Fibre Laser Sensor array, jointly developed by DSTO and Thales Australia, is a sea-bed surveillance array that detects sound with extreme sensitivity using micro-sized lasers embedded in the core of optic fibres. The system is very robust, lightweight and ultra-thin and uses minimal electric power compared to the previous electronics-based kinds. It can be rapidly deployed from a rigid hull inflatable boat and brought into operation almost immediately.
During trials in the West Australian Exercise and in Jervis Bay, it successfully detected the sound emissions of vessels of different sizes and sonar signature types, and even detected the presence of Navy divers as well. Throughout its history the CTD program has proven to be highly successful in its goal of bringing together Defence, research organisations and industry (large and small) to work on developing new technologies to the demonstrator level.