Defence calls for high volume local drone production


By Peter Roberts

The Department of Defence has called for information and ideas leading to the development of a small, capable and genuinely sovereign drone system to be developed and manufactured in Australia.

The Department issued a Request For Information (RFI) which is an ‘industry engagement activity’ for the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator (ASCA)’s first innovation challenge.

The ASCA replaced the former government’s defence innovation scheme the Defence Innovation Hub which was seen as isolated from the procurement function, with innovations funded by defence not leading to actual purchasing.

According to the tender: “ASCA is seeking information to support an Australian sovereign uncrewed aerial system (UAS) and trusted autonomy industrial capability.

“In particular (this is) for small, general-purpose systems that can be produced at greater scale than is currently possible to service a wide range of applications, but without the security limitations and supply chain vulnerability of current commercial suppliers.

“Responses to this RFI may also support planning for developing innovative applications of existing uncrewed aerial systems, including applications involving increased autonomy.”

The tender is a belated response to the fact that Australia has very little genuine local capacity to manufacture drones of the types and at the scale shown to be necessary by the conflict in Ukraine.

The sort of small drones you might expect to buy at a retail store have proved vital, yet many thousands are needed are they are imported.

Should we make such cheap and cheery systems the supply chain also needs to be developed for things such as small electric motors and batteries and there needs to be the software and hardware to control them.

While Australia does have considerable drone expertise in companies such as Carbonix (pictured) BAE Systems Australia and Quickstep, they make large systems with high capabilities – we simply do not make small drones in very large volumes.

The reference to security issues refers to guaranteeing sovereign control of technology systems such as navigation systems and object recognition.

In the past during conflicts Australia has been denied technology from supplier countries such as Switzerland, so in this case Defence is looking for genuinely Australian technology unencumbered by any third party export controls.

Despite weak current supply chains, Ukraine’s rapid progress in this area suggests the drone challenge for industry should spark a fascinating array of proposals – watch this space.

Further reading:
Shake up continues of defence innovation

Picture: Carbonix

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