Australia's best defence
Professor Michael Webb Decisions by the Australian Government over the past 12 months have created a wealth of new opportunities in research and education in the area of defence. As a long-time partner of the defence sector, the University of Adelaide is well-positioned to increase its involvement.
Professor Michael Webb was appointed Director of Defence and Security at the University in 2016 to help drive new collaborations with industry and government. Michael has worked in the sector for almost 30 years, 20 of those at the Defence Science and Technology Group (DST Group) – the Australian Government’s lead science and technology defence agency. He has been with the University for almost 10 years. Lumen caught up with Michael to discuss our past, present and future involvement in defence.
Where are the opportunities coming from?
The opportunities have arisen from a couple of places. In its 2016 Defence Industry Policy Statement, the Australian Government identified an approach to defence innovation that includes the Next Generation Technology Fund of $730 million and the Defence Innovation Hub of $640 million. That’s almost $1.4 billion over 10 years, a significant investment. The University has already been successful in winning project work from this funding and there is potential for more to come.
There are also the major maritime projects – the Future Submarine and Future Frigates programs and, critically, the continuous shipbuilding program in South Australia. These are all areas where the University has a role to play.
What skills and expertise do we offer?
Most people wouldn't know this, but the University of Adelaide does more work with defence than most universities in the country. I’ll mention a few examples of research to illustrate different aspects and excellence of our work. In our Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing we have developed the world’s most precise clock, a cryogenically cooled sapphire clock which loses no more than a second every 40 million years or so. This precision measurement of time is vital in many systems – navigation and radar to name two.
In our School of Medicine, a group is researching the neural physiology of the dragonfly. The dragonfly is widely considered to be nature’s most effective predator, able to capture tiny flying prey in mid-air at speeds of up to 60 km/h with an incredible hit-rate of over 95 per cent. Recently this research has been used to build an autonomous robot that can effectively and efficiently pursue targets in unstructured environments.
For almost a decade, Researchers at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Defence Communications and Information Networking (CDCIN) have been working with the Department of Defence and the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to ensure its communications remain at the cutting edge. CDCIN assists in both optimising the performance of existing ADF systems, and exploring, assessing and developing new concepts and approaches so that systems, equipment and people can interact rapidly, effectively and securely at all times.
Research conducted at the University in collaboration with DST Group has led to the development of a software performance modelling environment, called MEDEA. This technology allows mission-critical software systems in submarines, aircraft and armoured vehicles to be performance tested early in their design to highlight problems that would traditionally be found only towards the end of projects.
What is our history in defence and partnering with government and industry?
It goes back to early days. In 1948 our first full-time Vice-Chancellor was Sir Albert Percival Rowe, the Chief Scientific Officer for the British rocket program in Australia and scientific adviser to the Australian Department of Defence. If you look at any of DST Group’s history, you will find University of Adelaide scientists throughout; we’ve had a close working relationship with the group for decades.
We have members of DST Group and the defence industry on the boards of some of our Institutes. Members of our faculty, including myself and Professor Pascale Quester, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice President (Academic), sit on industry boards including Defence SA and Defence Teaming Centre.
We are also a participant in the rapid prototype development and evaluation (RPDE) program, which is run by the Department of Defence and involves a couple of hundred companies that solve short-term defence problems, often with a technology focus.
The University recently announced a partnership with other South Australian universities, TAFE SA and the Defence Teaming Centre, to form the Defence Industry Education and Skills Consortium. The Consortium will deliver a defence-ready, and especially maritime-ready, workforce to support future projects.
Past and present major partnerships
>Defence Science and Technology
Find out more about the University’s involvement in defence and security projects.
Story by Kelly Brown