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Defence tech



In these pensive days, where a backpacker on a bus could pose more of a threat than a cave-dwelling Taliban, Governments and corporations are hungry for technology that will help secure their people and resources. It has fed a boom in the defence tech sector; a world of cutting-edge machinery and multi-million dollar contracts, and home to some of the world’s keenest strategic and technical minds. Several Australian companies are emerging as genuine players in this highly competitive space. Liz Heynes and Catherine Kerstjens take a look at six on this new front line.


By Catherine Kerstjens

From where Combat Clothing Australia Pty Ltd (CCA) stands, camouflaged army greens are definitely the ‘new black’.

The Adelaide based, privately owned company is leading the pack when it comes to the design and manufacture of military and paramilitary products in Australia.

“Our products are developed and tested by professionals who have significant combat experience”, says Stuart Bruce, Managing Director of CCA.

“Therefore the wearer can be assured of the quality and intuitive design of the item.”

CCA’s product range includes body armour, bomb suits and load bearing vests. Their products are all designed and manufactured in Australia with three main principles in mind. Foremost is the personal comfort and protection of the wearer, but the item is also tested for climatic durability and importantly the product doesn’t impede their performance – instead offering superior strength and mobility to the user.

From humble beginnings in 1982, when the company’s focus was on manufacturing clothing and equipment for sports shooters and fishermen, CCA product line and client base has grown exponentially.

They are not incognito overseas either – instead capitalising on the response from customers around Australia to establish a substantial export market into Asia and the Middle East. Key to the company’s position at the cutting edge of innovation in their field is their working partnerships with military, police and security personnel.

“Research and Development is vital to our growth and is a key component of our day-to-day operations,” says Bruce. “It is through this ongoing R&D that we remain at the forefront of the ballistic garment, vehicle and aircraft armour and military equipment manufacturing.”

They might deal in camouflage, but Combat Clothing Australia is certainly turning heads in the marketplace.



By Pi James

Shooting a high-powered gun as effortlessly as James Bond may become reality with a new technology developed by small Melbourne-based company Recoilless Technology International (RTI) that revolutionises ballistic recoil.

Ballistic recoil, or the ‘kickback’ delivered by a gun when fired, has always been a major drawback in defence and commercial systems, according to Richard Giza, RTI executive chairman and chief technology architect.

But not for much longer, as RTI has developed technology and built a working prototype that provides a cost-effective and practical way to eliminate recoil, while minimising adverse effects on range, accuracy and penetration.

Established in March 2000, RTI is a weapons research and development company possessing exclusive rights to develop and commercialise this technology.

RTI believes their design concepts can dramatically alter the velocities of current projectiles. This technology, combined with the recoil control technology, carries the potential to significantly alter the capability of all ballistic platforms.

Mr Giza says these groundbreaking developments will catapult Australian defence technology onto the world stage.

“Because of our Recoilless Technology, the eyes of the world will be on Australia. It represents an unprecedented opportunity to deliver improvements to ballistic weapons of a type not seen in over 700 years. Other technologies have attempted to compensate and reduce the effects of recoil, but the patented and independently tested Recoilless Technology is the first of its kind to fully eliminate and control recoil.”

Early applications of this new technology are expected to include pistols, rifles and several types of field artillery and naval guns.

However, the technology’s potential is not limited to ballistic weapons. It also has direct applicability to high-powered industrial tools and a range of commercial equipment.

Professor Ross Babbage, a leading Australian defence expert, believes the recoilless technology has the capability to make many weapons systems more “accurate, lighter, faster and far more effective in the field”.

“(This) should provide Australia and its closest allies with a considerable battlefield advantage,” says Professor Babbage.

An advantage that RTI will not recoil from.



By Liz Heynes

Although you might think to look for a Blue Owl in the nocturnal house of a zoo, it is in fact a new development in electronic surveillance in the defence sector, developed by Australian-owned Daronmont Technologies.

Blue Owl and SECAR, a high-frequency radar, are two products that are earning this Melbourne-based SME a reputation as one of the region’s leading engineering problem-solvers for large corporate, defence and government clients.

Blue Owl uses commercial off-the-shelf hardware combined with Daronmont’s signal-processing software and custom developed hardware systems for electronic surveillance. SECAR (an acronym for Surface-wave Extended Coastal Area Radar) is a high-frequency surface-wave radar for wide-area surveillance, which can detect surface and air targets 300km away.

Daronmont started life as a provider of general professional consultancy services in 1991, but soon developed into a one-stop shop for systems engineering and integration. The company has a surprising breadth and diversity of skills, from radiofrequency engineering to signal-processing software.

Typically, Daronmont’s role is to integrate overseas products with locally developed ones or to adapt them to meet the particular needs of the local environment and operational application.

In this specialised and complex field, Daronmont has accumulated a list of blue-chip clients at home including Telstra, Boeing Australia, Defence Materiel Organisation and the Defence Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO).

Further afield, the company has working relationships with some specialist high-technology companies whose products are used by the Australian Defence Force (ADF), like US-based defence giant Northrop Grumman. Over the next few years, Daronmont’s research is likely to be aimed at developing the engineering solutions needed by the US company in adapting or enhancing its products for the ADF.

“We have leading edge technology in SECAR and Blue Owl and the worldwide potential is tremendous,” says Daronmont’s General Manager, Laurie Baldwin.

“However, the hardest part of getting export sales is selling domestically first. For many good (and bad) reasons, and ones that our foreign customers don’t always understand, it’s difficult to penetrate the local market. Sadly, SMEs like Daronmont have a very short life span in which to achieve success. Without a strong supportive domestic customer, innovations and capabilities are very likely to disappear. But that is the sort of challenge many SMEs thrive on.”

It’s a challenge that Daronmont is eager to accept.



By Liz Heynes

Buoys usually work best when you can see them floating on the water’s surface. But an invention from Tasmanian company Fiomarine Industries is doing its job even when you can’t see it at all.

John Fiotakis invented Fiobuoy in the mid 1990s as an aide to Australia’s fishing industry. As it’s totally submersible, Fiobuoy doesn’t become a hazard by catching on boat propellers like traditional buoys.

However, the deep-diving Fiobuoy has really found its niche in the defence sector. Its ability to conceal sensitive equipment underwater without a tell-tale surface marker was immediately appealing to the Royal Australian Navy. The navy uses Fiobuoy for retrieving assets from the sea, with reductions in costs and time for retrievals.

Technical Director of Fiomarine, Mike Shegog, explains that the Defence Science & Technology Organisation (DSTO) first showed interest in the product when it was only a prototype: “We worked with DSTO to manufacture Fiobuoy to a standard that was acceptable for defence activities.

It’s now routinely used by the Royal Australian Navy and other defence departments worldwide, including the US, Singapore and Japan.”

Shegog describes Fiobuoy as “basically a floating yo-yo”, controlled by an onboard computer built into the buoy. The Fiobuoy’s best feature is its simplicity for users. It can be operated repeatedly with no rework or part replacement required between deployments. Another advantage is Fiobuoy’s ‘zero leaks’ philosophy, which helps the buoy cope with the harsh marine environment. In addition, Fiobuoy spends most of its life in ‘sleep’ mode, extending battery life considerably.

John Fiotakis, Fiomarine’s Marketing Director explains that R&D is high on the company’s agenda. “Working with DSTO and other organisations, we’ve developed prototypes for very specific military applications, with the aim that they might one day form part of the navy’s standard operating procedures.”

As the only all-in-one retrieval system on the market internationally, Fiobuoy is certainly making waves.



By Liz Heynes

If you think of them at all, you may think of MPEG files as something to do with digital video. Very few of us have any idea that the kind of technology used to watch a video file on your mobile phone could also be applied to surveillance and warfare imagery in the defence and intelligence sectors.

But it’s not a foreign idea to the team at Mediaware, an Australian company that has become one of the world’s leading developers of compressed digital video systems and solutions for the defence and broadcast industries. Impressively, it is also one of our leading technology exporters, with more than 95 percent of its sales generated in the US.

Founded by three ex-CSIRO scientists, Mediaware has developed global expertise in areas that include compressed video analysis and navigation, super-resolution image processing and live-stream processing. Its client list includes big guns like CNN, ABC and SBS in the broadcast industry, and the Australian Defence Force, Lockheed Martin and the US Air Force in the defence sector.

But what does all this mean on the battlefield? As Mediaware CEO Chris Newell explains, “Mediaware’s defence systems, like D-VEX (Digital Video Exploitation System), allow war-fighter and imagery analysts to exploit video faster than ever, for rapid and accurate decision-making in battlefield environments.”

Newell sees that the defence industry is developing rapidly.

“The current buzzword in the defence sector is Network Centric Warfare (NCW), a term referring to fighting smarter through the application of advanced technologies in a networked environment.

“As we’ve seen in Iraq, capturing and exploiting video and related metadata is now a critical component of how armies fight wars, and we’re really only now beginning to take full advantage the benefits video has to offer.”

And Mediaware, now in its eighth year of consecutive growth, is concentrating on being at the front line of developments.



By Catherine Kerstjens

The walkie-talkie has grown up, but the classic line ‘Do you read me?’ still comes to mind when considering the radio/intercom simulator developed by Perth-based company Calytrix Technologies.

“Combat Net Radio Simulator (CNR-Sim) is an affordable, easy to use, cross-platform tool that allows communication across a local area network using well established Defence simulation standards,” says Shawn Parr, Managing Director of Calytrix Technologies Australia.

Originally developed by Calytrix Technologies as a component within the Defence Synthetic Environment (DSE) made for the New Zealand Army, CNR-Sim has been evaluated and acquired by a number of training and research groups since its 2005 launch.

Central to its appeal is that the system is software-only, meaning that there is no need for users to invest in expensive hardware to accommodate the technology. Running on a Windows or Linux platform, CNR-Sim is compatible with any headset or microphone.

With a simple ‘push-to-talk’ interface that is easily customised, the software allows users to incorporate any number of communication channels and team names to suit their training purpose. Its playback feature allows for communications made using CNR-Sim to be recorded and synchronised with events from other simulation applications.

“CNR-Sim has been successfully utilised within the DSE in a number of real training exercises at the New Zealand Army Simulation Centre at Linton,” says Parr.

“In each of these Command Post Exercises, up to 30 operators used over a dozen CNR-Sim channels to enable live communication between the various teams.”

Since its beginnings in 2001, Calytrix Technologies has launched itself onto the world stage, providing specialist services to defence industries. With an office in the US, Calytrix Technologies’ customer base now spans all corners of the globe, with major clients including Australian Defence, BAE Systems, and the US Army. CNR-Sim is just one of a number of simulation tools that they have marketed commercially.

The company is now looking to expand its product and service offerings to deliver a unique all-in-one training solution for the global defence market.

And judging by the reception of CNR-Sim, that intention is being heard loud and clear.



By Catherine Kerstjens

The cry ‘man over board’ could leave even the most seasoned sailor immobilised. Western Australian company Mobilarm is answering that SOS call with their MOBi-lert range of automatic, ‘failsafe’ man overboard (MOB) products. “MOBi-lert is a crew-monitoring system dedicated to preventing the loss of life at sea,” says David Ward, Engineering Manager of Mobilarm Limited. “It is designed to enable a quick rescue in a man-overboard emergency.”

A parent’s worst nightmare – a sleepwalking child falling overboard – was the motivation behind the invention of Mobilarm’s original MOB alert devices back in 2002. With the incident going unnoticed for several hours, it became clear that there was nothing suitable available on the market. Nothing that would provide the certainty and sense of security that would allow this family to go back on the water with peace of mind.

Launched onto the market in late 2004, MOBi-lert is an ever-increasing range of products, adapting to the needs of its customers and utilising the latest in technologies available.

An automatic crew tracking system, MOBi-lert uses GPS to capture the position of the person overboard. Essential to the system are the rechargeable and waterproof personal transmitters that every person onboard wears. In this way, the central Display Console unit on the boat is able to maintain a constant link with each and every passenger.

“The instant one of your crew is in the water, an automatic alarm is sounded and the vessel’s position is logged,” says Ward. “A graphic track-back screen immediately appears on the display console, guiding you back to the exact point where your crew member was lost. The system can also automatically release a dan buoy or cut the engine when the MOB occurs.”

Additional products in this range build on these features. The Repeater extends the coverage of the MOBi-lert system, enabling a reliable link between out of range crewmembers and the Display Console unit.

Since launching onto the market in late 2004, Mobilarm has achieved considerable success. It was the first Australian product set to receive the prestigious Safety at Sea Award at the 2005 Seatrade Awards. Prominent crews, such as that aboard the Alfa Romeo yacht, have used MOBi-lert in their recent Sydney to Hobart efforts.

This year’s 2006 Sanctuary Cove International Boat Show will see them release their newest product, CrewLink, to the public. Set to retail at $895, Mobilarm says the product will represent the best value for money MOB system available on the market.

Having successfully developed and marketed their products to the retail recreational marine market, Mobilarm is now turning its sights to the commercial, military and oil and gas sectors. Through enhancement and development of their existing devices, Mobilarm hopes to release a product that will suit the safety needs of these big industries.

While they can’t promise calmer seas ahead, Mobilarm is guiding crews as surely as a lighthouse.