Defence co-funds undersea drones with American tech firm

Brandon How

Defence Minister Peter Dutton has announced that the federal government will co-fund a three-year $140 million unmanned undersea vehicle development program with military tech firm Anduril.

Three Extra Large Autonomous Undersea Vehicles (XL-AUV) prototypes are to be produced by the US firm’s Australian subsidiary in collaboration with the Royal Australian Navy and the Defence Science and Technology Group. This should lead to the creation of a manufacture ready XL-AUV in three years’ time, which Anduril described as “an incredibly ambitious delivery schedule”.

The project would be designed, developed and manufactured entirely in Australia. Anduril said almost all parts of the supply chain for this program would be fulfilled in partnership with Australian small to medium sized enterprises and the research and technology communities.

A render of a XL-AUV Image:

XL-AUVs are generally 10-30 metres long and are designed to have a multi-role undersea capability over a long distance. Anduril’s current AUV offering is the DIVE-LD which can be fitted to provide surveillance and reconnaissance, mine counter-warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and seafloor mapping among other things.

Anduril established its Australian subsidiary in March this year and is led by chairman and chief executive David Goodrich, who has also spent the last two and a half years on an advisory board to Gilmour Space Technologies.

Taking to LinkedIn, Mr Goodrich described the announcement as a game-changer for Australia’s undersea capability.

“The Anduril XL-AUV will be designed, developed, and manufactured in Australia, for export to our allies around the world, with significant Australian SME input. It will give the Australian Defence Force (ADF) multiple innovative mission options and present a disruptive and difficult problem for any adversary,” Mr Goodrich said.

“As Anduril’s chief engineer Dr Shane Arnott said today, the XL-AUV will deliver affordable undersea-based effects at extended ranges, at scale, enabling new concepts of operations not currently imagined.”

Mr Dutton’s office said the announcement builds on the federal government’s Robotics, Autonomous Systems, and Artificial Intelligence Sovereign Industrial Capability Priority announced in August 2021. When a sector is made a capability priority, businesses can receive grants through the the Next Generation Technologies Fund, and the Defence Innovation Hub.

In the five years since it was founded, Anduril has increased its value to more than $6.3 billion through contracts with the United States Department of Defence and the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence. Most recently, it was awarded almost US$1 billion to deliver counter drone capabilities to the US Special Operations Command.

Potentially integrating unmanned underwater vehicles into the Royal Australian Navy fleet has been an ongoing conversation since at least 2017.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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