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Brandon How

Local firms partner on $140m Ghost Shark project

10 local defence industry firms will take part in a $140 million project being led by American company Anduril to build extra-large unmanned underwater drones for Australia’s Department of Defence.

Known as Ghost Shark, the prototype vessel represents a new undersea warfare capability for the Navy. It will be up to 30 metres in length, making them larger than the Speartooth drones being developed for Defence by C2 Robotics.

Local firms chosen for the project are ACS Australia, Advanced Navigation, Advanced Power Drives, AMC Search, Axiom, Marand, Matrix Composites, Microelectronic Technologies, Ron Allum Deepsea Services, and Sonardyne.

All but Sonardyne, an underwater tech and engineering services firm from the United Kingdom, are headquartered in Australia, although the family-owned company has an engineering office in New South Wales.

Anduril senior vice president engineering Dr Shane Arnott provides a brief on the Dive-LD autonomous submarine to top brass at the Royal Australian Navy. Image: Dan Gosse

Three of the 10 chosen firms are based out of NSW. They are sensor and autonomous tech firm Advanced Navigation, Ron Allum Deepsea Services, motor controller manufacturer Advanced Power Drives.

Materials firm Advanced Composite Systems and precision manufacturer Marand are based in Victoria, while four firms — AMC Search, Microelectronic Technologies, Matrix Composites and Axiom — are based in Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia, and South Australia, respectively.

When the project was awarded to Anduril in May 2022, it was confirmed that three extra-large autonomous undersea vehicles (XL-AUV) would be fully designed, developed, and manufactured domestically for delivery in three years’ time.

Of the headline figure of $140 million, Anduril is footing half the bill, with the rest coming from Defence and the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG). Funding came from Defence’s Next Generation Technologies Fund, which has since been replaced by the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator.

Undersea warfare capabilities, both crewed and uncrewed, were identified as critical to the future operational success of the Australian Defence Force in the Defence Strategy Review released earlier this year.

In a statement, chief Defence scientist Professor Tanya Monro stressed that the Defence Strategic Review also “emphasises the need for speed – capabilities need to get into the hands of the warfighter faster”.

“DSTG has enriched the Ghost Shark program through integrating its own pathfinding technologies into this powerful capability. DSTG is providing expertise for the design and development of key systems and payloads, with embedded subject matter experts as part of the team,” Professor Monro said.

“We’re also helping bridge the gap between Australian industry innovation and Defence needs. We’re working side by side on a daily battle rhythm to get cutting edge technology as fast as possible into the hands of the warfighter.

“Building an Australian supply chain, partnering with local manufacturers is central to the project’s speed and success”.

Anduril Australia chair and chief executive David Goodrich said the intention of the firm is to manufacture the Ghost Shark in Australia at scale.

“Australian suppliers are fundamental to the project. Anduril has talked with 50 different suppliers across the country to understand their capabilities and how they could scale their manufacturing and is delighted to announce ten crucial partnerships today,” Mr Goodrich said.

Defence recently completed its two-week annual Exercise Autonomous Warrior at the coastal NSW town of Jervis Bay. The exercise involves the testing and evaluation of undersea and ocean surface autonomous technologies.

On Monday, the South Australian government announced that Flinders University had entered into a collaborative research agreement with the United States Navy’s Naval Undersea Warfare Centre Division to develop undersea technology.

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