Home' Defence Technology Review : DTR MAR 2017 Contents INNOVATIONS
DEFENCE TECHNOLOGY REVIEW | ISSUE 29 | MAR 2016
On 9 October last year, Houthi rebels fired at least two
anti-ship missiles (ASM) at the US Navy’s guided-missile
destroyer (DDG), USS Mason. The ship was 20km offshore.
The attacking missiles splashed into the sea. Although no
official statement has been made, it is probable that the
attack failed because of an Australian invention, the Nulka
active missile decoy.
Project Nulka – is this what the Government
means by defence innovation?
Nulka and the
lessons it might
offer for the
Canberra is now
This was a spectacular achievement. In another era or
another country, it would have been celebrated. The leading
scientists and engineers might have become household
names. Instead, they are anonymous. Most Australians have
little faith in their country’s ability to design, develop and
manufacture world beating technology. As a nation, we seem
to have accepted that these are things other countries do.
This is a pity because there are numerous examples of world
beating Australian technology about which most Australians
This state of affairs might be about to change.
With the end of the mining boom, the closure of the car
industry and in the long shadow of the Global Financial
Crisis, the Federal Government has been touting a new
golden age for Australia’s defence industry. The plan was
outlined in last year’s Defence White Paper and enumerated
in the Defence Integrated Investment Plan.
The Government has staked much on a new “export-
orientated and innovation-led” relationship with Australia’s
defence industry. Indeed, there are good reasons for the
Government to expect a bigger contribution from the defence
industry. Australia currently has the 11th largest defence
budget in the world and the 13th largest economy (nominal
gross domestic product). For at least a decade, it has
been the second or third largest purchaser of US military
The future now looks even brighter. The Government has
forecast a total defence expenditure of AUD$195 billion over
the next 10 years. It has also officially recognised industry as
a fundamental input to capability. This is obviously a major
opportunity for many companies, not just defence companies
and the new buzzword is ‘innovation’. No military conference
is now complete without it.
The question though is, what does innovation look like?
More importantly, would we recognise it if we saw it? Or,
to quote the Government, what does an “export-orientated
and innovation-led” relationship with defence industry look
like? Does it look like Silicon Valley with a hundred start-ups
a week, angel investors and the odd unicorn (billion dollar
valuation)? Or does it look like government-funded Cold
War research and development with secretive experiments
conducted deep in forests and underground by scores of
people in white coats?
A SUCCESS STORY UNSUNG
One of the best examples of defence innovation in Australia
in the last 50 years is Project Nulka. Forty years after its
inception, it is still Australia’s largest defence export (upwards
of AUD$1 billion) and yet most people on the street know
nothing of it. If Australians were asked to guess what our
largest defence export was and how it started they might
imagine that it sprang from a defence project requirement
(it didn’t), that it was initiated by one of our partners such as
the UK or US (it wasn’t), that it received lots of government
funding from the outset (it didn’t) and that it was a success
from start to finish (it was nearly cancelled several times).
There have been many factors in the success of Project
Nulka and these provide clues to the sort of steps that
Australia might take now to replicate its success. These are
worth examining one at a time.
The first factor in Project Nulka’s success was that it
exploited some of Australia’s natural advantages. There were
many of them. The DST Group’s main buildings in Salisbury,
South Australia were originally designed as a munitions
factory for Scotland during World War Two. They were
built in Australia instead of Scotland because of concerns
about German bombing and they continued to operate as
a munitions factory until 1946. By virtue of their location,
OPPOSITE PAGE: A Nulka round is fired from the Mk 53 launcher
on board the amphibious assault ship USS America in April 2015.
Nulka is the world’s leading active offboard ASM decoy. It is
currently integrated with more than 150 surface ships including
Arleigh Burke-class DDG, Ticonderoga-class guided missile
cruisers, Oliver Hazard Perry/Adelaide-class frigates, ANZAC-
class frigates, Iroquois-class DDG, America-class landing
helicopter amphibious, San Antonio and Whidbey Island classes
of landing platform dock and the US Coast Guard cutter Bertholf.
Future installations are planned for the Royal Australian Navy’s
Canberra-class landing helicopter dock amphibious assault
ships and the new Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyer.
Images: US Navy
ABOVE: A Nulka round in flight . The 102,000 tonne aircraft
carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower successfully conducted the
first successful carrier launch of Nulka on 16 December 2015.
BAE Systems Australia is the Nulka prime contractor and system
design agent, whilst Lockheed Martin is the design agent for
the electronic warfare payload and Aerojet the manufacturer of
the rocket motor. BAE Systems manufactures the flight control
hardware at its Edinburgh Parks facility near Adelaide and
assembles and tests the completed Nulka round at a specialised
facility in Mulwala, New South Wales.
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