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Technology: from the laboratory to the battleground

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Date:
15 July, 2009

The Australian defence industry is innovative and robust and its researchers are amongst the most respected in the world.

A counter-improvised explosive device robot uses technology to provide tactile feedback to a remote operator, enabling them to ‘feel’ suspicious objects and interact with them from a safe
A counter-improvised explosive device robot uses technology to provide tactile feedback to a remote operator, enabling them to ‘feel’ suspicious objects and interact with them from a safe

But how can a new technology find its way out of the laboratory and into an arena where it can exhibit its potential to enhance Defence capabilities? Enter the Capability and Technology Demonstrator (CTD) Program.

The CTD Program, funded from the Defence Capability Plan and managed by the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) – is a collaboration between industry and Defence to deliver a demonstration of the capability potential of a new technology.

CTD Program Director Andrew Arnold said the Program provided the necessary funding and project management support for industry to develop promising proposals – proposals that can demonstrate how a technology can significantly enhance ADF capability.

“These demonstrations allow Defence to assess the potential advantages and risks associated with acquiring the technology and implementing it as a Defence capability,” Mr Arnold said.

Established in 1997, the CTD Program has funded more than 85 technologies proposed by universities, government bodies, small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) and larger established industry members.


Promoting industry capability

While the primary purpose of the CTD Program is to examine the technology of Australian industry, there have been some examples of significant DSTO technology being developed in partnership with industry.

An example of DSTO-developed technology successfully licensed to industry and exploited under the CTD Program for mutual benefit is the Joint Direct Attack Munition – Extended Range (JDAM–ER) project.

The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) is a tail kit that converts free-fall unguided bombs into precision-guided weapons. The tail section contains a GPS/INS guidance system that directs the JDAM bomb to the selected target.

Enabling the 500-pound JDAM-guided weapon to glide towards long-range targets is the JDAM–ER wing kit, developed by Hawker de Havilland under the auspices of the CTD Program and based on DSTO  technology.

The range of the launch aircraft’s fire-and forget capability can be extended to in excess of 55 kilometres, allowing the JDAM–ER to launch at a safe distance from the target.

“After two successful demonstrations, first under the CTD Program and then under the new CTD Extension Program, the JDAM–ER is now being considered for final development for commercial production, which will lead to an operational product,” Mr Arnold said.

“The JDAM–ER Program is an excellent example of how DSTO-sourced technology can lead to ongoing collaborative activity and the development of an effective Defence product.” Through the CTD Program, DSTO played a significant role in creating jobs, especially in the high technology and advanced engineering areas.  The Program provided good support for several high-technology companies.

The CTD process

The CTD Program runs on an annual cycle, starting around April each year. Defence announces the opening of a new round of funding and calls for initial proposals from industry. These initial proposals are evaluated by Capability Development Group (CDG), the Defence Material Organisation and DSTO against a range of assessment criteria, and promising projects are allocated a sponsor (usually a subject matter expert from CDG) to consult in the preparation of a detailed proposal.

In order to be considered for progression to contract as a demonstrator, proposals must satisfy each of the following criteria:

  • potential to provide a new or enhanced capability to Defence
  • potential to transition into service
  • demonstrated high degree of technical innovation of strategic importance to Defence
  • potential to enhance Australian Industry capabilities, and
  • awareness of project management considerations, including associated costs and risks.

Following submission of the detailed proposals, usually around November, the CTD Review Group assesses and ranks the projects.  The Defence Capability Committee later nominates the proposals that will receive funding, and makes a recommendation to the Minister for Defence to review in March. The final list of successful projects is usually announced around April or May, and proposals can expect to be contracted for demonstration and receive funding in July.  It is important to note that the CTD Program is not a grants program, nor is it a guarantee of future work or Defence acquisition. Transition to capability is influenced by several factors, including the successful demonstration of the technology in line with agreed target performance measures, the technical maturity of the demonstrated technology, and its alignment with a Defence capability need.

CTD success stories

The CTD Program has successfully helped the transition of sonar interception technology into operational service. The Low Probability of Intercept Sonar project, developed by Nautronix, has already transitioned into service with the Navy.  The technology aims to ensure that there is a low probability that sonar transmissions from naval vessels will be intercepted and/or recognised by foreign forces.

Several other CTD projects have also been selected for further development towards implementation under the new CTD Extension Program. One of these success stories is a counter-improvised explosive device robot being developed in collaboration with Deakin University.  The technology aims to provide tactile feedback to a remote operator, enabling them to ‘feel’ suspicious objects and interact with them from a safe distance.  Another new capability emerging from the CTD Program is a camera that enables soldiers to see through smoke, fog and debris, as well as other visual impairments such as camouflage. Iatia, a small Melbourne-based company, demonstrated how the camera could exploit the way light interacts with matter and produce a clearer image.

Investing in the future

“In these difficult economic times, it is important for Defence to continue to support Australian industry by investing in local small-tomedium enterprises,” Mr Arnold said.

Since its inception, the CTD Program has seen more than $220 million invested into furthering technology and innovation in Australian industry, with $1 million allocated to the successful 2009/10 Round 313 projects.  Additionally, the new CTD Extension Program will see another $10 million per year invested in fast tracking successfully demonstrated CTDs toward acquisition in high-priority areas.
“The program also has a number of funding initiatives aimed at assisting SMEs with the costs of defining their concepts and preparing detailed proposals,” Mr Arnold said.

Collectively, these initiatives help to ensure that smaller Australian industry members have a fair opportunity to participate in the Program, and retain a competitive edge in the global market.  “The CTD Program plays a crucial role in ensuring Australian industry, particularly SMEs, as well as government agencies and universities have a chance to exhibit their research in a way that best demonstrates how it can be of value to Defence.” Through the Capability and Technology Demonstrator Program, ADF users are able to see how leading edge technology can be integrated quickly into existing, new, enhanced or replacement high-priority capabilities.

The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) is part of Australia's Department of Defence. DSTO's role is to ensure the expert, impartial and innovative application of science and technology to the defence of Australia and its national interests.

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