In July, Adelaide-based small to medium enterprise Silentium Defence announced it had won a $7.4 million contract to deliver its ground-breaking Maverick M-series passive radar system to the Australian Army.
The man-portable system will be used by the Army under a two-year contract to develop and evaluate the Maverick M-series’ capabilities to enhance situational awareness in the Land domain and is especially tailored for deployable forces. In the wake of the announcement, ADM recently spoke with Silentium Defence CEO James Palmer.
Palmer says that as the modern battlespace continues to evolve, greater penetrations of new threats, such as small unmanned aerial systems, are placing greater emphasis on new and emerging technologies to keep troops out of harm’s way.
“Comprehensive situational awareness with sufficient time to act has never been more critical,” Palmer says. “The Maverick M-series passive radar system was designed in collaboration with Defence and provides that awareness without compromise.”
Headquartered in Wingfield, SA, Silentium Defence was founded in 2017 and is currently active in the defence, space and civil market sectors, employing around 30 full-time or part-time staff, together with a further ten permanent contractors.
Passive radar explained
As its name suggests, passive radar technology provides a scalable means to detect objects without the system itself emitting energy, allowing an operator to 'see without being seen' and can be used complementary to, or as a replacement for, traditional surveillance systems.
Passive radar systems use reflected energy that has already been broadcast into the atmosphere by a range of sources, including commercial FM radio and television stations. Because it leverages these pre-existing sources of RF energy in the atmosphere, it is not dependent upon clear weather like optical surveillance systems and is able to operate on a 24/7 basis as there is almost always multiple sources of broadcasting stations active at any given time.
And, because it uses the RF energy reflected off an object of interest in a similar manner to an active radar system, it provides a target location and tracking capability, without the target knowing it has been detected.
“Unlike traditional active radar systems, passive radar does not require spectrum allocation to operate, which makes it easier and cost-effective to deploy in a world where spectrum is becoming increasingly more expensive and elusive to secure,” Palmer adds.
Maverick M-series is one of a family of passive radar systems being developed by Silentium Defence, which also includes the Maverick C-series for civil applications such as commercial airspace and drone surveillance; and the larger, strategic, Maverick S-series which is designed to detect and track even small objects in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and provide long-range air surveillance.
In the defence sector, the Maverick family has applications which range from the detection and tracking of small items such as Small UAS’ (SUAS), to Australia’s contribution to Space Domain Awareness (SDA).
“The form factors for size, weight and power are tailored for the different operational uses cases across all three Maverick series systems and takes in everything from tactical situational awareness with the M-series, designed to obtain enough information about what’s happening in the local environment, all the way to LEO,” Palmer explains.
“In terms of the product offering, it shows we have a far more cost-effective scalable detection and tracking solution that applies across objects which are small and close, through to objects which are still quite small, but a long way away.”
From a Defence acquisition standpoint, the applicability of the Maverick family spans, but is not necessarily limited to, projects such as Land 19/7B (Short Range Ground Based Air Defence), Air 6500 (Joint Battle Management and Integrated Air and Missile Defence System) and JP9360 (Space Domain Awareness). The company has already worked with industry primes such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin Australia, Raytheon Australia and Saab Australia on various programs across the three sectors.
Surveillance in the Land domain
The tactical Maverick M-series is an example of how locally-developed technology can be brought to maturity through the Army Innovation Day (AID) and Defence Innovation Hub (DIH) processes and, while the Australian Army is seen as the prime customer, there are also significant export opportunities on the horizon, particularly among the ‘Five Eyes’ nations.
Although the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have somewhat hindered opportunities to market the Maverick range to other customers, Palmer sees several opportunities with international customers on the horizon.
Maverick M-series was first pitched to Army at AID 2017 and has since progressed through two DIH contracts (Phases 2 and 3) to its recently announced contract with Army. “It is a natural extension to the work we have been doing through the DIH and we’ve had successful engagement with Army through the development process to date, beginning with AID 2017,” Palmer says.
“The AID and DIH process has supported us through development and engagement of Maverick M-series and of course the Australian Army is a core customer, but we are also looking at the larger market segment, because we think that this has global potential.”
Typical target sets may include the aforementioned SUAS systems, which already pose a threat to deployed operations and, as swarming technology matures; will become an ever-increasing threat into the future; as well as other airborne platforms and surface-based objects such as moving vehicles and maritime vessels.
Palmer says the system is comfortably deployable in one soldier’s backpack and can be set up and operating within minutes of arrival at the designated location. “We’re optimising it for the ability to be easily deployed so, within minutes, two operators can go from set up to maintaining full situational awareness,” he adds. “This has game-changing potential for Defence, in the sense that deployed forces can now maintain comprehensive situational awareness, fully covert and with the advantage of a small form factor that is rapidly deployable, in terms of size, weight and power requirements.
“We think it really adds to the value proposition. It is able to be used across a wide variety of applications in the defence space and it creates a lot of opportunities for Defence to consider different applications and how they may choose to employ it in different contexts.”
In terms of maturity, Palmer says the Maverick M-series is capable of being deployed for the use-cases Army has put forward to date, but Silentium Defence will continue to further develop it to add additional features or functionality, in response to feedback received from the end users. “It’s one of those cases where, what does maturity mean?” Palmer asks. “It is certainly mature right now, but it’s something we will continue to invest in as well. We’re going to continue to invest in the research and development of further enhancements that we can bring into this space with the technology and we’ll continue to broaden its regional impact.”
The sensor itself is capable of detecting any objects of interest within its field of regard, but the information received is filtered by software to present only information that is of interest to the users, which varies on a case-by-case basis. “We are building a flexible system that can be deployed in a variety of applications, it is something that is configurable to meet the user’s needs,” Palmer explains.
Space Domain Awareness
The Maverick S-series is a much larger surveillance system designed to detect and track objects in LEO, which has also been developed with assistance from the DIH process and organisations such as the Australian Space Agency (ASA). It was successfully demonstrated at the Defence Science and Technology Group’s SpaceFest at Woomera in 2019 and again in 2020.
Silentium Defence was awarded a $3.2 million contract to advance, deploy and demonstrate the capabilities of the Maverick S-series system under Phase 2 of the DIH process in May 2020.
Palmer says development of the system has continued over the last 12 months and a definitive system is now installed at Silentium Defence’s recently-completed space observatory facility. The observatory is located in the Mid-Murray Council Area, on the edge of the 3,200 square kilometre River Murray Dark Sky Reserve and around 90 minutes’ drive from Adelaide. It has been developed in partnership with Western Sydney University’s International Centre for Neuromorphic Systems (ICNS) and the Swedish Space Corporation.
“In the last 12 months we have maintained an active development program on the S-series, which is really focussed on increasing the scale of the system, and with the scale comes sensitivity; as well as building our space observatory,” Palmer says. “The progress we’ve made in the last year to today has been really gratifying from a personal standpoint and I’m very proud of the team for all the efforts they have made to achieve it.”
The Maverick S-series is one of a range of complementary capabilities being proposed under JP9360, a project which combines two earlier programs (JP9351 and JP9352) into an incremental ‘system of systems’ multi-phenomenology approach to SDA, recognising the fact that no single sensor can fulfill all requirements.
“We have responded to the Request for Proposals (RFP) and we are awaiting feedback from Defence,” Palmer concludes.