South Australia is fast positioning as a defence and aerospace hub, with innovative manufacturers in the state breaking new ground in the industry, and exciting new initiatives taking shape.

SA company Supashock has used its expertise in active damping control to design high-quality shock absorbers for the defence industry. Previously used in race cars, its shock absorption technology is being used to increase the safety and stability of tactical military trucks.

A well-known name in motorsport, Supashock launched its first product in Germany at the 2013 ADAC GT Masters, taking on racing royalty including BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz. The new product is being trialled by Rheinmetall Defence Australia, which has installed the shock absorbers in one of its HX series trucks. Supashock Managing Director Oscar Fiorinotto says the company’s background in motorsport dynamics was a key factor in helping it transition from race cars to mining vehicles and now military trucks.

“After Formula E we ventured into 4WDs and then progressed into mining and developed an underground system that helps to prevent back injuries,” says Fiorinotto. “It increases productivity but most importantly prevents rollovers, which is a real safety issue. In defence, rollover mitigation is a big thing as well and our passive system is extremely responsive – it enables the user to have better ride quality without the extreme damping force.”

The new shock absorbers use a unique air-spring system and active damping control that allows greater flexibility in larger vehicles. This flexibility increases the stability of loading and unloading cargo – especially on steep slopes – reducing rollover potential and decreasing load time. The military version of the damping technology is a complete retrofit and there are no modification requirements for the chassis. Fiorinotto said it was important to keep the installation process simple so a vehicle could be fitted in a day.

“We were able to tailor the system and developed an active product for the defence force,” he explains. “It has the same productivity that you’d find in our other products but with the reliability that defence needs to have.”

Fiorinotto says the company is  gearing up to expand its global network in the fields of mining and military damping technology. Supashock is also involved with Flinders University’s Nanoconnect program in the field of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) mitigation on the back of damping analysis. Nanoconnect is a government-supported program that aims to give companies access to advanced analytical equipment for research and design purposes.

Combining forces for stronger land vehicles

Rugged hardware developer APC Technology has teamed up with mission software designer Acacia Research to help develop the future of Australia’s land defence force. The two companies have won a contract to develop systems for the national LAND 400 initiative to build Australia’s next generation of armoured fighting vehicles. Scott Begbie, Managing Director of APC, says the joint effort would allow both companies to build upon each other’s strengths.

“APC has extensive experience supplying hardware solutions into the defence area, and Acacia has very efficient software that requires minimal computer resources,” says Begbie. “Therefore, combined solutions can be provided that minimise heat generation, volume and weight in systems, which are always important issues in military applications. This is an example of what can be achieved by the use of innovative Australian technology.”

The two companies will jointly develop hardware and software for the new mission systems, intended to serve all needs in terms of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR). While the system is being designed specifically for LAND 400, once complete, it will be suitable for a variety of defence projects.

“The combined solutions we develop are applicable in the C4ISR environment, and the systems can operate independently or as part of a network-centric environment,” Begbie says. “This is the culmination of independent Australian development that enables us to collectively compete with anyone in the arena.”

The combined forces approach of APC and Acacia is the newest addition to a growing number of South Australian technology partnerships. South Australian aviation services company Cobham similarly won a national contract by partnering with other local companies. In recent years, the Defence Teaming Centre (DTC), the state’s peak defence industry body, has also pushed core businesses to utilise each other’s skills to secure contracts, with Cobham one such success story.

According to Callista Redmond, president of open technical community OpenPower, this is indicative of a shift towards more open boundaries between businesses. Overseeing an international collaborative effort between both tech giants and smaller companies, she says she’d seen the benefits partnerships could bring.

“Small nimble companies can jump into new opportunities via collaboration and an open approach,” says Redmond. “With this, we’ve seen a shift in mindset toward collaboration. Taking an independent, non-collaborative approach is no longer a viable option.”

Co-operation in space

The SA State Government has signed an agreement with Italy’s Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) to pursue joint research & development, academic exchange and industry collaboration in the space sector. The agreement establishes a collaborative partnership to pursue space-related industries. Martin Hamilton-Smith, State Minister for Defence Industries, says SA has led the way in the development of Australia’s space economy.

“Our vision is to position SA as a vibrant hub for future space activity and industry development,” says Hamilton-Smith.

SA is home to the Woomera Test Range and 60 space-related organisations. It has also recently launched a space innovation and growth strategy. SA’s place in the international space industry was cemented last May after a successful test flight of an experimental rocket in the HIFiRE (Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation) program.

“The success of this test launch takes us one step closer to the realisation of hypersonic flight,” Australia’s Chief Defence Scientist Dr Alex Zelinsky said after the launch.

SA is home to many space industry programs and businesses. Each year space experts from across the world meet at the University of South Australia’s Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program to discuss challenges and opportunities on offer in the space industry. Adelaide will also host more than 3,000 delegates from around the world at the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in September.

Adelaide set for defence and security start-up accelerator

The first start-up accelerator focused on developing and commercialising technologies for the defence and security sectors in the Asia Pacific will be established in SA this year. Leading entrepreneurial mentorship program Techstars will launch in Adelaide in July with the aim to build upon the local start-up ecosystem. Adelaide hosts world-leading defence companies such as BAE Systems, Thales, Lockheed Martin, ASC, SAAB, Rheinmetall and DCNS.

Techstars Adelaide is designed to support early-stage companies advancing state-of-the-art applications that revolve around the Internet of things (IoT), big data as well as sensors and robotics. It will connect 10 start-up teams from all over the world to an established network of community leaders, founders, mentors, investors and representatives from the locally-based defence companies.

Techstars co-founder and co-CEO David Cohen says Adelaide is perfectly designed to be the centre of its first accelerator in the region because of its infrastructure and support for entrepreneurship and start-up communities.

“When we were scouting Asia Pacific for potential locations for our first accelerator in the region, we knew we wanted to find a place that would not only attract terrific founders, but also had all the hallmarks of a successful Techstars host city,” he says. “Defence research has driven some of the most transformative consumer innovation the world has seen, from the internet and GPS to superglue and digital photography. We are excited to invite entrepreneurs to join a program that will help them develop and commercialise cutting-edge products in collaboration with the defence industry.”

Techstars was founded in Boulder, Colorado, in 2007 and is known for holding smaller programs to give companies and entrepreneurs more concentrated development than other contemporary programs. The incubator is continuing its international expansion after the success of its first African program last year. According to Forbes, the incubator has invested in 828 companies who have collectively raised more than US$2.2bn in funding. About 90% of Techstars’ graduate companies are still active or have been acquired.

Adelaide is poised to become a global centre of excellence for the defence sector with more than $100bn worth of major industry projects in the pipeline. Recent investment in innovation in SA includes an $230m Centre for Defence Industry Capability backed by the Federal Government.

State Manufacturing and Innovation Minister Kyam Maher says the new accelerator would not only help showcase local entrepreneurs to a global audience but also attract more talent to the state.

“On the back of our Gig City and Commercialisation Funding initiatives, it shows we are succeeding in our mission to position SA as the default place for smart new businesses to start and grow,” says Maher.