6 November 2013
From seabed mines to state of the art avionics, it appears the sky is the limit for the science and technology arm of the New Zealand Defence Force.
The Defence Technology Agency (DTA) is being kept busy with international orders from global military superpowers such as the US Navy which recently purchased six diver training systems.
The Kiwi-based technology, developed by DTA and commercialised by Air Affairs Ltd (AAL), will return significant revenue to the NZ Defence Force, according to DTA Director Dr Brian Young.
“Following on from the sales to the US Navy we can expect interest from other military organisations as well,” Dr Young said.
The diver training systems, known as METRES (Maritime EOD Training, Ranging and Evaluation System) by the US Navy, include a composite replica mine which sits on the seabed and trains divers who interact with them.
“It can be configured to the specifications of a variety of mines and carries sensors that can detect approaching divers and activates in various ways depending on how noisy or active they are around it,” Dr Young said.
Mine reactions include a light that operates when a diver is detected, to the worst case scenario of detonation at which point the diver will hear The Last Post being played through the mine’s underwater speaker.
Inquiries are also being made around DTA’s development of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) avionics, which Dr Young describes as “incredibly smart”.
“The avionics are certainly world-leading in terms of both mission capability – including sensor control – and safety systems. In the event of a system failure it has the ability to self-terminate a mission and return to base, or alternatively it can deploy a parachute to land safely,” he said.
With its sophisticated features and a fast growing market for commercial use of UAVs, Dr Young is expecting a high level of interest in the avionics, which were developed at DTA’s Devonport base.
While commercial activities are increasing for DTA, Dr Young is quick to point out that it is the scientific and technological support of the NZ Defence Force’s military capabilities and operations that remains the core focus.
This includes contributing to important projects such as the mid-life upgrade of the Royal New Zealand Navy’s ANZAC-class frigates and the development of Network Enabled Army capability.
“DTA’s input into these projects will ensure that the frigates are able to operate safely wherever they are deployed, while the Network Enabled Army capability will enhance command and control systems with NZ Defence Force and improve its ability to operate as part of a coalition force.”
The specialised unit is also working on the development of the NZ Defence Force’s self-protection systems and general safety of its aircraft, ships and land vehicles.
Along with the NZ Defence Force, Dr Young said DTA is also working with other government agencies.
“It ultimately means that the work we are doing for the NZ Defence Force can also benefit other organisations that are struggling to find the specific skills and expertise that DTA can provide.”
Organisations like NZ Customs, the National Maritime Coordination Centre, Maritime NZ, NZ Police, the Ministry of Primary Industries and others, are currently working with DTA to develop an improved system of maritime vessel tracking.
“These agencies require an improved means of monitoring New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone for a variety of reasons, including search and rescue, resource protection, and border protection, and we are providing technical assistance to achieve that goal.”
DTA employs 80 civilian scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff who mostly work from the Devonport Naval Base in Auckland, while several others are based at NZ Defence Force Headquarters in Wellington.