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Brandon How

Aust-Japan launch undersea warfare project

Australia and Japan will work together to develop capabilities in robotic and autonomous systems for undersea warfare as part of a new research agreement.

The research project, focused on “strategic capabilities in undersea communication and interoperability” between the two nations, is the first under a bilateral research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) arrangement.

The arrangement was signed by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) and Japan’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) in June 2023, Defence announced on Tuesday.

DSTG chief science strategic planning and engagement Dr David Kershaw and ATLA director general for technology strategy Matsumoto Kyosuke. Image: Defence/Ben Winkler

The new project complements work under AUKUS pillar two, which focuses on joint development of advanced capabilities. This includes the AUKUS Undersea Robotics Autonomous Systems project.

While Japan is not an AUKUS partner, the Prime Ministers of Australia and Japan signed a joint declaration on security cooperation in 2022, promising expanded collaboration on advanced defence science and technology, defence industry and high-end capabilities.

But when Australia and the United States declared innovation as the fourth pillar of its bilateral alliance in October 2023, the nations’ leaders announced their “intention to explore trilateral cooperation with Japan on Unmanned Aerial Systems”.

Chief defence scientist Professor Tanya Monro said it is vital to maintain a “technological edge in our rapidly changing strategic environment”.

“This is the first collaborative research project to be conducted as part of the bilateral research, development, test and evaluation arrangement I signed with my Japanese counterpart last year,” Professor Monro said.

“It illustrates the increasingly strong defence science and technology relationship shared by Australia and Japan. By partnering we deliver science and technology outcomes that we cannot achieve alone.

“This project will build a foundation for future joint research on robotic and collaborative autonomy, aiming to deliver advanced capabilities to support asymmetric advantage.”

Both crewed and uncrewed undersea warfare capabilities are also development priorities under the Defence Strategic Review released in early 2023.

The DSTG ran its own innovation challenge for local industry developing uncrewed aerial systems through a request for information run in August 2023.

Another undersea drone initiative at the Department of Defence is the $140 million Ghost Shark program being led by Anduril Australia. Defence is co-funding the development of three extra large autonomous undersea vehicles up to 30 metres in length.

The Australian subsidiary of United States-based Anduril is expecting to manufacture the vessels locally with the support of local defence industry firms.

Defence is also co-funding the development of Melbourne-based C2 Robotics’ Speartooth large uncrewed underwater vessel, which is around three times smaller than the Ghost Shark.

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