Patrick Durrant | Sydney
XTEK has been providing equipment, training and support services to Federal and State Government Departments and Police Forces responsible for Australia’s national security for almost 40 years. While acknowledging the importance of the company’s agency business, Odouard, who took over at XTEK in August 2016, is always on the lookout for ways to import, refine, develop and engineer solutions to provide protective security and tactical solutions that are a step above what the competition is offering – and usually at a fraction of the price.
“What I bring to a large extent is the mindset associated with commercialising these products for sale on the world market,” he said.
A case in point is one of the company’s most successful products, the XTEK Tac 2 .338/NATO 7.62 calibre sniper rifle. The rifle is a derivation of the German Blaser Tactical 2 which XTEK has been supplying to the ADF.
“As we’ve progressed this relationship we have redesigned most of the product,” Odouard said.
The original did not come equipped with a folding butt, so XTEK designed and developed one. They’ve also swapped out a number of parts and replaced them with lighter composite carbon substitutes.
Odouard has some pedigree working with such materials, notably as former MD Quickstep Holdings where he built-up the start-up company and secured landmark contracts supplying parts for the F-35, the C130J and the Thales designed Hawkei.
He explained how a lot of the improvements came about following discussions with operators. In fact XTEK has modified so much of the original rifle they are now making about 190 of the 200-odd parts and Blaser is content (pending final agreement) for them to globally distribute the modified version.
It’s a classic case of XTEK’s point of difference and as Odouard told ADM: “Having started from an agency position, where we would merely supply such weapons to our customers, we now, through development, have a better weapon that we have the rights to and can export to the rest of the world.”
UAVs form a key part of the company’s agency business and in April last year XTEK was announced as the preferred supplier for Project Land 129 Phase 4 (Small Unmanned Aerial System capability [SUAS]) with Aerovironment's Wasp; second pass approval was expected as ADM went to press and Odouard anticipated the company would sign a contract (valued at up to $40 million) sometime in May.
XTEK is seeking to exploit what Odouard sees as an untapped market with synergies to the SUAS capability – the processing, exploitation and dissemination (PED) of SUAS video streams to create Common Operational Pictures (COPs).
The XTatlas software takes multiple video frames from the electro-optical camera on the SUAS, and creates geospatially accurate contextual video and a new mosaic map. Video streams from other platforms can be added with the resulting COP then disseminated to commanders, allowing them to quickly understand the tactical picture on the ground.
”So a map is created in near real-time allowing the war fighter to develop a very accurate picture of an area for a very low cost, as opposed to relying on a satellite that may not pass for some time, or a larger UAV that may not be available when you need it.”
The applications extend beyond defence and Odouard cites the example of disaster response teams attempting to establish the tactical picture on the ground in the wake of a natural disaster. Fire brigades tackling large-scale fires would also benefit from such technology.
“Presently they are limited to a tactical picture that is developed via radio transmissions sent to the command point – they don’t have a picture that is up to date at any time,” he said.
Other key areas the company is focusing on are Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs), particularly with respect to explosive ordnance disposal (EOD). According to Odouard, these systems are now seeing improvements in safety for the operators, with digital communication interfaces allowing them to remain at safe distance while controlling the UGV during EOD operations. The interfaces also facilitate the rapid dissemination of digital information such as a video stream to command teams allowing them to coordinate the response more effectively and swiftly.
XTEK has also developed composite body plate armour that, according to Odouard, can offer up to a 30 per cent weight reduction and has generated substantial interest in the US.
“We’ve demonstrated it can stop a 7.62 mild steel round which is considerable and we’ve achieved a weight one third lighter than what is presently available.”
Once again, XTEK is able to offer product differentiation, having an understanding of both the measure and the countermeasure (or in this case, the bullet and the armour plate).
“We’re really quite excited by this prospect and I’ll be going to the US shortly to progress this further.”
Odouard is encouraged by recent Government efforts to reset the Defence-Industry relationship.
"For us it’s a very positive environment as we operate very much in accordance with the priorities the Government has outlined for industry," he said. "Rather than simply buying capability off the shelf as was the habit of the past, Defence is sending out the signal that they are prepared to take some risk in investing in and developing sovereign capability."
He regards recent examples of the Government having mandated inclusion of Australian innovations for major projects as revolutionary.
“In all my experience, it’s the first time I’ve seen a very serious industry policy that actually is serving Defence on one side and industry on the other, as well as fostering innovation.”
XTEK will continue doing what it does best – bringing solutions to Defence that are probably nearly as powerful as some of the very expensive alternatives, for a fraction of the cost.
From his experience working at primes, Odouard has seen how difficult it is to retain the technological edge when, for example, the cost of componentry goes down dramatically in large systems.
"You can very quickly become irrelevant. Conversely, if you come from the smaller end and you can provide similar performance compared to the high end at a fraction of the cost, then you’re on a winner."
This article first appeared in the June 2017 edition of ADM.