The Real-World Impact of the AMDA Foundation’s Innovation Award Winners

Gregor Ferguson, Innovation Coordinator, AMDA Foundation

The Industry Innovation Awards program announced by the AMDA Foundation Limited in 2012, was first awarded at Avalon 2013 Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition and has directly addressed the operational and sustainment needs of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) as well as the civil and commercial aviation and maritime communities. Since 2013, $585,000-worth of SME and Young Innovator Awards have been presented at Avalon and its sister events, the Indo Pacific International Maritime Exposition and Land Forces International Land Defence Exposition.

To illustrate the relevance of the Avalon Innovation Awards and the contribution that Australian innovators can make to ADF operational capability, consider a single, imaginary operation undertaken by an ADF airborne task force. This scenario features just a few of the previous Innovation Award winners.

1. Surveillance and Force Preparation

The ADF needs to deploy a joint task force into a tropical zone in our near-region to conduct a Forces-Protected Evacuation (FPE) of Australian and other nations’ civilians from a strife-torn country. The task force consists of a mix of manned and unmanned surveillance and combat aircraft and manned transport aircraft carrying Army troops and RAAF Airfield Defence Guards. The likely threats include direct intervention by hostile forces using manned aircraft and helicopters and UAVs, along with ground-based infantry with heavy weapons. It’s possible also that an opportunistic non-state player such as a terrorist group could emerge to complicate matters.

The ADF starts by conducting detailed reconnaissance of the operational area and especially the airport from which the evacuation will be mounted. This is carried out using RAAF Triton UAVs and P-8A Poseidon manned surveillance aircraft, supplemented by space-based assets and the JORN High Frequency (HF) radar system.

The surveillance aircraft use radar and optical sensors to detect and identify potential threats and targets (Sentient Vision Systems, Kestrel imagery analysis system, SME Innovation Grant, Pacific 2013). Down on the ground intelligence analysts sift through current and previous video tapes to identify targets and new patterns of behavior, helped by an innovative video search system (General Dynamics MediaWare D-VEX video search system, National Innovation Award (Highly Commended) Avalon 2013.

The force commander’s task is made easier when a small constellation of cubesats is launched rapidly from the recently commissioned Arnhem Space Centre (Equatorial Launch Australia, Avalon 2019 Innovation Awards – Short Listed). These include an innovative Space Situation Awareness System that looks outward from Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) to ensure the newly launched satellites are in orbits that don’t conflict with those of existing space hardware and, importantly, that they’re not targeted by a hostile space player (Inovor Technologies, Avalon 2019 Innovation Award for Space Operations and technology)

The ability to launch an ad hoc payload at short notice without being circumscribed unduly by weight constraints owes much to engineering work by Dr Graham Bell of Monash University, whose startup company, NextAero Pty Limited, has developed an innovative rocket nozzle whose more efficient design is made possible by additive manufacture (Avalon 2019 Young Civil Innovator Award).

While the force HQ prepares for the coming deployment, operators of key platforms such as Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARH), Hornet, Super Hornet and F-35 Lightning II fighters and ASLAV light armoured vehicles are well practiced, having trained in target identification and contact drills using a fleet of Australian-designed Tank and Reconnaissance Ground Enemy Target Systems (Gaardtech Limited, Land Forces 2018 SME Innovation Grant - Short Listed). Just as important, they have learned what not to shoot at using this technology, which helps force protection and the mutual confidence of all players.

The readiness of ADF aircraft to participate in operations at short notice is largely the result of systematic engineering management throughout their life of type, including structural analysis to determine and extend safe airframe life (DST, Hornet Outer Wing Static Test System, HOWSAT, Avalon 2019 National Innovation Award – Short Listed). It’s partly also the result of patient, often world-leading work by Australian researchers and engineers aiming to enhance protective coatings and arrest or slow the onset of airframe corrosion (BAE Systems Australia and DST, Avalon 2017 National Defence Innovation Award; Ms Vanessa Clair Lussini, DMTC Limited and Queensland University of Technology, Avalon 2015 Young Defence Innovator Award).

Applying these innovations during peace makes it possible to surge the RAAF’s capabilities during an emergency. But a few make it possible to upgrade platforms and equipment at very short notice to prepare them for a specific mission such as this.

New weapons and sensors need to be integrated rapidly onto existing platforms. The Mudbucket system makes possible a rapid, clean if sometimes ad hoc interface between new equipment and an aircraft’s Operational Flight Program (OFP) (Varley Group, Avalon 2019 Innovation Award for Training – Short Listed); the necessary hardware and fixtures are designed and built from scratch and surface coated quickly in Australia (Heat Treatment Australia, Avalon 2017 National Defence Innovation Award – Short Listed); the entire ensemble is then flight-tested and cleared for service rapidly and safely using the world-leading Non-Intrusive Flight Test Instrumentation system, NIFTI (Defence Innovations Pty Limited, Avalon 2019 Innovation Award for Aeronautics).

2. Deployment

The force emplanes in Australia and deploys to a Forward Operating Base (FOB) in the operational area, closer to the evacuation site.

At the FOB, a Joint HQ is preparing for the operation by monitoring the airborne imagery feed and integrating this with other intelligence gathered from satellites, Special Forces on the ground, UAVs and manned aircraft using the Currawong Battle Management System (BMS) (Boeing Defence Australia, Land Forces 2018 – National Innovation Award). The force commander uses this to help create a Common Operating Picture and communicate with the units under her command, other assets and the rear link to higher command using Currawong as well as the deployable Australian Army Mission Secret Network (MSN) system (Army Land Network Integration Centre, Army HQ, Land Forces 2018 National Innovation Award – Highly Commended).

As the force deploys, it is watched by the RAAF’s Jindalee Over the Horizon Radar (JORN) system which monitors the airspace for hundreds of thousands of square kilometres around the evacuation area. Its ability to detect and track suspicious targets is enhanced immeasurably by a recent upgrade that includes a phenomenally accurate Sapphire crystal clock (Cryoclock Pty Limited, Avalon 2019 SME Innovation Award for ISR).

3. Contact!

First in to the evacuation airport is advance force of airfield defence guards and logisticians who create a security cordon around the airport to protect the civilian evacuees and the aircraft they’ll be travelling on. They also conduct an initial assessment of the physical condition of the evacuees and assess any current or likely military or other threats. The troops are protected by boron carbide and polymer ceramic composite armour plates and helmets based on materials developed by Australian researchers (DMTC Limited Land Forces 2014 National Innovation Award) and Deakin University research engineer Tristan Alexander (Land Forces 2014 Young Innovator Scholarship). They deploy rapidly in Hawkei protected military vehicles (light) which provide a unique combination of high-speed mobility, protection and integrated communications and ISR (Thales Australia, Land Forces 2016 National Innovation Award, Short Listed).

They rapidly set up a network of surveillance cameras – infra-red and optical, on a radio mesh network – to monitor the approaches to the airport (Intelligent Surveillance Integration, SME Innovation Grant, CIVSEC 2018). They also deploy a team to disrupt any potentially hostile drone activity around the airport using the latest version of the DroneGun and its associated disruptor technologies (DroneShield Limited, Land Forces 2018 SME Innovation Grant and Avalon 2019 SME Innovation Grant; DroneShield’s industrial designer Angus Bean won the Land Forces 2018 Young Innovator Award).

Something else they set up quickly is a MAVERICK passive radar that uses reflected signals from local broadcast TV and radio to build up a stealthy picture of air and ground – and even space - activities without giving its location away – unlike the airport’s own radar which has been destroyed in the fighting (Silentium Defence, Land Forces 2018 SME Innovation Grant – Short Listed).

When the transports land at the evacuation airport the medical teams on board provide immediate first aid to injured civilians, helped by an innovative disease diagnostic system, Nplex, which has been configured specifically for the likely medical challenges faced in such an environment (DMTC Limited, Land Forces 2018 Innovation Award for Combat equipment and Mobility).

4. Extraction

As evacuees are processed, they fill up transport aircraft which depart in turn for the FOB. A number of evacuees require immediate repatriation to Australia for medical treatment. They are loaded onto stretchers specially designed for aeromedical evacuation (Aero-Medical Integration, National Defence Innovation Award (Highly Commended), Pacific 2015), and are transferred at the FOB from the C-130 Hercules to the C-17 Globemaster III without needing to be transferred from one stretcher to another.

The last two aircraft out of the evacuation airport contain the security force and their vital Hawkei PMV(L)s. Once they’re out of range, the RAAF’s air assets begin to stand down and return to base. However, the duration and distance of the mission means that some of the ADF’s unmanned aircraft need to recover to the unsurveyed FOB and land in a GPS-denied operating environment (BAE Systems Australia, UAS Intelligent Recovery System, National Innovation Award, Avalon 2013).

Once the operation is concluded all ADF players undertake an after-action review using the VADAAR integrated recording and playback system (Immersaview, SME Innovation Grant (Highly Commended), Land Forces 2016).


Click here to view all our previous winners and shortlisted candidates from 2013-2019.

For further information please contact:

Gregor Ferguson
Innovation Coordinator
PO Box 339

Mob: 0414 803 717