The Department of Defence has funded 345 cutting edge technology projects by university and industry worth $258 million over the last six years, but none appear to have made it to a procurement or export level outcome yet.
Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price has defended the “forward looking program” after low translation rates and application assessment time blow outs were revealed.
Established in 2016, Defence’s Next Generation Technologies Fund (NGTF) aimed to support an integrated Australian Defence Innovation system by investing $1.2 billion into the local industry over 14 years to 2030.
It does not accept unsolicited proposals, instead issuing calls to Defence companies and researchers, at times for technologies that “may deliver on a time horizon greater than ten years”.
Six years in, the NGTF has funded 345 projects at a cost of $258 million, including nearly two-thirds of the projects’ additional funding after establishment. About 70 of these projects have been funded in the last year at a cost of around $47 million.
Most of the total NGTF funding has gone to Cooperative Research Centres, research networks and the Defence Science and Technology Group’s ‘Grand Challenges’.
Assessment times for proposals now average nearly six months, with the longest taking 488 days after one unsuccessful applicant challenged a call for tender, with Defence then opting to undertake a revaluation of all tenders received.
Independent senator Rex Patrick, who has been scrutinising the performance of Defence’s industry programs, uncovered the funding levels and long assessment times through the Senate late last month.
He also asked Minister Price how many of the funded projects had resulted in an item of equipment or a product entering service with the Australian Defence Force or been exported to an overseas minister.
In a written response, Ms Price said: “Next Generation Technologies Fund is a forward looking program focused on research and development in emerging and future technologies. The results of the early stage research and development is being used to feed into development programs for equipment and products.”
The program and others within Australia’s Defence Innovation system were scrutinised last year as part of a Defence innovation, science and technology review by former Rio Tinto Australia managing director David Peever.
But the review, handed to government at the end of last year, has not been released.
The NGTF budget now sits at $1.2 billion over the decade to 2030, after an increase in funding was announced as part of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update.
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