US back at Avalon searching for novel Australian military technologies

With the United States sustaining its position as the world’s largest procurer of military equipment, and President Trump now talking of a US$50 billion boost to the US Defense budget, it might be natural to assume that all required new military capabilities would be satisfied from within the US scientific and industry base.

“Not so” says a US Air Force officer who is visiting the Avalon Airshow this week on the hunt for novel Australian military technologies.

During a specialist briefing at Avalon on Tuesday, Col Sean Bradley, Director of the Comparative Technology Office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), said that the long-standing foreign comparative technology program – which scours the globe for emerging technologies – continues to deliver significant benefits to the US armed services and its Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

The mission of the Comparative Technology Office (CTO) is to
find, assess and field world-class technologies to enhance US military capabilities and provide long-term value. Col Bradley stressed that his efforts within the CTO brief were to evaluate new technologies, not procure them. Nevertheless, technologies that did make it through the annual CTO vetting cycle did have a habit of attracting the attention of US military procurement authorities.

Col Bradley did have some good news for Australian companies looking to represent their innovations to the US. First, budgetary issues associated with the transition to the new Presidency were progressively working themselves out, and he was confidently looking to secure new funding to support a 2018 CTO evaluation round. Australian CTO engagements from previous CTO rounds currently being advanced include:

E-band (71-86 GHhz) Communications Link (2015);

Rifle Accessory Control Unit (2016);

Holographic Immersive Simulation System (2016); and

JDAM Compatible Wing Kits for Aerial Delivery Improvements of Underwater Mines (2016).

Each year the CTO looks at hundreds of technologies being generated outside of the US to find and select applications relevant to the military, and then refers these onto each of the US Army, Navy and Air Force and SOCOM. Over the last 35 years, some US$1.3 billion has been invested in this search, and has led to 273 procurements valued at $11 bn.

New developments in the CTO program have since led to a widening of the Technological Readiness Level spectrum under which potential innovations can be considered by the program, with the majority falling between TRL 6 (developmental prototype) and TRL 8-9 (qualification test). Col Bradley says TRL 7 (operational prototype) is generally “the medium” in terms of the number of activities.

Col Bradley added that it was generally the case that the CTO program would progress side-by-side comparative evaluations, which means participants in the program should be aware that more than one source of competing technologies were being investigated. The CTO program is nevertheless administered openly, and applicants are informed when competing proposals are under study.

Looking forward to 2018, the CTO program is particularly interested in technologies relating to: Asymmetric Forces Applications; Electromagnetic Spectrum Agility; Autonomous Systems; and Information Operations and Analytics.

Funding for CTO activities works to the same fiscal year as the US military (October), so the window is currently open for crafting initial military innovation proposal submissions that would be eligible for evaluation funding post-October 2017.

Col Bradley says he would prefer initial applications to use the OSD CTO Product Template available on their website, which also provides information on Intellectual Property requirements associated with the CTO program. For his own purposes, Col Bradley says “as we are not purchasing, we don’t require IP above what’s necessary to safely test the technology. It’s a different approach from the IP negotiations that need to be undertaken when the proposal goes to procurement.”

Over the life of the CTO program to date, 40 Australian-based innovations have successfully passed through the CTO evaluation process with the benefit of OSD investment support amounting US$59.6m, which has driven subsequent procurement activity of US$415.5 million.