The Industry Innovation Awards program announced by AMDSFA in 2012 and implemented from Avalon 2013, the Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition, has addressed directly the operational and sustainment needs of the ADF as well as the civil and commercial aviation and maritime communities.
Since 2013 no less than 130 entries have been received and some $230,000-worth of SME Innovation Grants and Young Innovator Scholarships has been awarded at Avalon and its sister events, the Pacific International Maritime Exposition and the Land Forces International Exposition.
To illustrate the relevance of the Awards and the contribution that Australian innovators can make to ADF operational capability, consider a single, imaginary operation undertaken by the ADF as part of a wider portfolio of routine surveillance, intercept, boarding and rescue tasks in peacetime, both in our waters and further afield.
Imagine a large area of open sea that’s under constant surveillance by the RAN and RAAF. They’re searching for submarines, ships, aircraft and small vessels that might be carrying terrorists, illicit narcotics, other contraband goods or illegal immigrants.
Frigates and submarines are searching the water column for other submarines and surface vessels using sonar systems that employ single-crystal ceramic transducers manufactured, for the first time, in Australia (Peter Kabakov, ANSTO, Young Innovator Scholarship, Pacific 2017). They use passive ESM and COMINT receivers to listen for radar and radio transmissions from suspected illegal or hostile vessels (Daronmont Technologies, National Innovation Award (Highly Commended), Pacific 2013). Alongside these manned assets the OCIUS Technology Bluebottle autonomous Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) moves silently through the water, using a variety of sensors to search for surface and sub-surface intruders and communicating its findings to a shore-based headquarters using its on-board communications links (OCIUS Technology Bluebottle, SME Innovation Grant, Pacific 2017).
In the air, manned and unmanned aircraft sweep the ocean, using radar and optical sensors to detect potential targets and identify them (Sentient Vision Systems, Kestrel imagery analysis system, SME Innovation Grant, Pacific 2015). Down on the ground intelligence analysts sift through current and previous video tapes to identify targets and new patterns of behavior, helped by an innovative video search system (General Dynamics MediaWare D-VEX video search system, National Innovation Award (Highly Commended) Avalon 2013.
When the mission comes to an end an unmanned aircraft may need to recover to an unsurveyed airfield and land in a GPS-denied operating environment (BAE Systems Australia, UAS Intelligent Recovery System, National Innovation Award, Avalon 2013).
A target has been sighted! Immediately surface and air assets are dispatched to intercept it.
The availability, readiness and sustainability of both ships and aircraft are supported by a range of Australian innovations: maintenance management, and therefore platform availability, is enhanced by the MADe maintenance management software (PHM Technology, SME Innovation Grant, Pacific 2013); structural integrity and speed through the water are helped by an Australian-developed, highly innovative and environmentally friendly marine growth removal system (Commercial Diving Services and Thomas & Coffey, National Civil Innovation Award, Pacific 2013); hull integrity is assured by the new T-GMAW welding system for large structures fabricated from specialty steels (DMTC, National Defence Innovation Award, Pacific 2015); the service life of hulls, pipework and key machinery are extended by Australian research into microbiological corrosion (DMTC National Defence Innovation Award (Highly Commended) Pacific 2017), by research into extending the life of Nickel Aluminium Bronze components above and below the water line (Mr Cameron Barr, Young Innovator Scholarship, Pacific 2013), and by robotic inspection of inaccessible compartments in submarines and ships (Mr Andrew Short, Young Innovator Scholarship, Pacific 2017).
While bridge watch keepers employ navigation skills honed using an Australian-developed ECDIS simulation system (Pivot Maritime International, Civil SME Innovation Grant, Pacific 2015), further aft the ship’s flight is preparing for its role. The availability, structural integrity and flight safety of helicopters operating in a hostile and unforgiving environment are enhanced by more Australian innovations: profluorescent nitroxide sensors for corrosion detection (Ms Vanessa Claire Lussini, QUT, Young Innovator Scholarship, Avalon 2015), the EDMAP integrated corrosion management system (BAE Systems Australia, National Defence Innovation Award, Avalon 2017), and by expertise in delamination and deterioration of carbon fibre composite airframe components (Mr Jarrod Hayes-Griss, Young Innovator Scholarship, Avalon 2017).
Aircraft and RPASs are maintained and pre-flighted, both at sea and ashore, by expert maintainers assisted by the FOUNTX wearable computer system (TAE Gas Turbines, National Civil Innovation Award, Avalon 2017).
Ashore, a crew prepares to launch a high-speed RIB to intercept the contact; the RIB has been berthed high and dry, protected from marine fouling and corrosion by a floating boat lift at the unit’s jetty (AirBerth Marketing, National Civil Innovation Award, Pacific 2015).
Despite worsening weather, a helicopter is launched from the frigate’s flight deck; later it will recover safely in foul weather thanks to the ship’s HeliSAFE flight management system (PRISM Defence, Defence SME Innovation Grant (Highly Commended) Pacific 2017). If the worst should happen and the aircraft ditches, its occupants will have a massively increased chance of survival thanks to its Pegasus Aircraft Buoyancy System (One Atmosphere, National Defence Innovation Award, Pacific 2013). And its embarked landing party won’t be trapped aboard even if they’re unconscious or injured – on first contact with salt water their HERO-equipped safety harnesses will automatically release themselves (Tricon Defence, SME Innovation Grant, Avalon 2013).
On the surface a RIB is moving fast through high seas and a considerable swell. The sea conditions don’t worry the cox’n and the embarked landing party thanks to the unique, Australian-designed articulated suspension system that smooths out the slamming and heave effects of pushing a high-speed hull through choppy water (Nauti-Craft, Civil SME Innovation Grant, Pacific 2017).
The plan for this multi-national intercept and boarding operation has been developed using an Australian-developed suite of planning tools known as the Mission Secret Network (Land Network Integration Centre, Army HQ, National Defence Innovation Award (Highly Commended) Land Forces 2016).
The boarding party itself remains in permanent contact with mission commanders, streaming real-time voice and video back to the mother ship and ashore using the Australian-developed Stingrae communications management system (Thales Australia, National Defence Innovation Award, Pacific 2017). The critical power supply for the boarding party’s individual communications, night vision and weapon sighting systems is massively simplified and lightened by an Australian innovation, the BANTAM wearable power management system (Tectonica Australia, SME Innovation Grant and Forces 2014)
The troops and sailors making up the boarding party have undergone realistic tactical training ashore using an Australian-made robotic small-arms training system (Marathon Targets, SME Innovation Grant, Land Forces 2016); they are protected by some of the best boron carbide and poly-ceramic body armour available anywhere in the world, designed, tested and manufactured in Australia (DMTC Boron Carbide body armour, National Innovation Award, Land Forces 2014, and Mr Tristan Alexander, Deakin University, Poly-Ceramic armour manufacturing research, Young Innovator Scholarship, Land Forces 2014).
4. Recovery and Medevac
The intercept and boarding operation have proved successful, but the boarding party has discovered a casualty aboard the target vessel, a diver who is suffering from the ‘bends’. He is loaded onto a stretcher specially designed for aeromedical evacuation and for the cramped spaces aboard a ship (Aero-Medical Integration, National Defence Innovation Award (Highly Commended), Pacific 2015), and will be flown immediately by helicopter to a ship or shore establishment equipped with the new SERS Hyperbaric Suite (HI Fraser, Defence SME Innovation Grant, Pacific 2017).
Once the operation is concluded all players, human, maritime, airborne and land-based undertake an after-action review using the VADAAR integrated recording and playback system (Immersaview, SME Innovation Grant (Highly Commended), Land Forces 2016).
Note: Gregor Ferguson is the Executive Manager Industry Development of AMDSFA.