Established in 1950, the organisation was initially called the Underwater Research Laboratory and was part of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR). The Laboratory’s research was mainly for the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) and focused on underwater acoustics.
In 1955, the Navy’s research transferred to the Naval Research Laboratory within the RNZN. The focus broadened to include maritime research.
The organisation was renamed the Defence Science Establishment in 1970, following the integration of defence agencies. Underwater acoustics continued to be the main area of study however, the range of projects widened and staff took part in co-operative research programmes with overseas defence scientists.
In 1997 the organisation was renamed the Defence Operational Technology Support Establishment. This signalled the organisation’s new focus – using science and technology research to support defence operations.
During the 1990’s, work on underwater acoustics reduced. The research and development changed focus to, for example, electronic warfare, propulsion engineering, mine counter measures and aircraft structures.
In 2001, the existing organisation was renamed again to what it is now – the Defence Technology Agency.