• ScanEagle on display at Pacific 2017. Credit: ADM Philip Smart
    ScanEagle on display at Pacific 2017. Credit: ADM Philip Smart

Navy may be open to issuing a new Request For Information for Sea 129 Phase 5 when the project to acquire a maritime tactical unmanned system comes out of its two year delay.

Speaking at the Australian Association of Unmanned Systems (AAUS) maritime conference at Pacific 2017 in Sydney in October, Naval Aviation Capability Program manager Commander Philip Woodward suggested he may support a second RFI after fielding a question from the floor. Industry members were concerned that a two-year hiatus in Sea 129 Phase 5 would mean development had moved on, stressing that a second RFI would give Navy an update on the latest available technologies.

The question and answer session set the tone for the Maritime Unmanned Systems Conference. Navy updated industry on its four-phase capability roadmap, which will see progressively more complex use of unmanned systems from test to operational service through to research on the next generation of UAS applications beyond 2024. Industry detailed recent technology advances in propulsion, communications and application.

The program detailed a UAS field with customers beginning to gain a more in depth understanding of how UAS systems may assist operations, industry continuously advancing the breed, and a regulatory system that is showing signs of incorporating unmanned systems in to established frameworks in order for them to become mainstream.

Morning keynote speakers included RAN Captain Nicholas Stoker on the process to integrate unmanned systems across Australia’s armed forces, CMDR Woodward and Army’s Lieutenant Colonel Keirin Joyce, speaking on Army’s use of UAS systems in amphibious operations.

According to AAUS executive director Greg Tyrrell the debate and interplay between defence and industry defined the value of the conference, with around a third of the 165 delegates coming from armed forces or defence support organisations.

“The primary opportunity here is to give our members an opportunity to engage with defence,” he told ADM. “As we know this space is developing at a rapid pace, so nobody is on top of it totally. But Defence is really actively engaging with industry to build their knowledge of what’s out there.”

Industry presentations included Victorian company Sentient on its ViDAR “optical radar” system for unmanned systems, Saab Australia’s Derek Rogers describing the company’s process in developing an unmanned multirole vessel for the ADF, and Robert Dane from Ocious Technology, whose Bluebottle solar, wind and wave-powered long endurance unmanned surface vessel received a Maritime Australian Defence Innovation Grant on the day of the conference.

This article first appeared in the November 2017 edition of ADM

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