During the 1970s and 1980s, the research arm of the Australian Government Department of Defence - known as the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) - pioneered work on sonar sensors used to help detect activity at sea. DSTG recognised they would need a partner to further develop and commercialise their work for it to be deployed in the field, and chose a multinational supplier with an Australian research and manufacturing arm, Thales Australia, who combined the ability to leverage global supply chains and markets with strong local research capability. The Thales sonars, powered by DSTG R&D, continue to provide the Australian Defence Force with regionally superior undersea warfare capability on the nation’s surface ships and submarines.
Subsequent non-military spinoffs have provided sophisticated products for the civilian seismic industry, resulting in $350 million in export revenues for Australia in recent years, and creating new opportunities for local companies in the supply chain. This enduring R&D partnership has underpinned the recent breakthroughs that have resulted in a fibre laser sensor array, a compact and robust sonar that uses micro-lasers to detect activity at sea and can be easily towed behind navy vessels.
DSTG and Thales employ scientists, engineers, and technicians all across Australia, with 2100 employees in DSTG and over 3200 in Thales. The insights from this work are also being shared with the broader Australian manufacturing industry through Thales’ participation in the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, where they link other Australian advanced manufacturers into global supply chains. In 2015, Thales signed a global supply chain agreement with Defence to assist competitive Australian SMEs to grow and enter export markets. This has resulted in 80 contract wins within the first 12 months of operation, and is a great example of how large multinational companies are working with government researchers and policy makers to connect competitive Australian SMEs to export markets.