Insight – Overseas R&D programs a viable export route for Australian defence contractors
Increases in global defence spending are creating fresh opportunities for
Australian companies to participate in overseas defence-innovation programs
– especially in North America.
According to defence industry observers,
SPIRI, global military spending rose 2.6% in 2018. After a seven year downward
trend, US defence spending is again on the rise, and reached US$649 billion
Some of the biggest beneficiaries are defence-related research and
development (R&D) programs. As defence forces seek to maintain
competitive edge, investment in long-term innovation programs is
For example, the United States Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency, DARPA, gained an 8%
rise in its 2019 budget allocation, to US$3.4 bn. This followed a 10% rise
Participation in overseas R&D programs by Australian companies can
provide an effective source of funding for critical research. Participation
also generates contacts with R&D personnel that lead to export
opportunities as programs move into the production phase.
Overcoming export barriers
One key advantage from participating in R&D programs is that it can
help to address export barriers – including limited access to end users and
As applicants progress through the defence program-application process,
they will usually gain exposure to decision makers and possible partners.
Participants will also gain an indication of end-user appetite for specific
Successful applicants may also receive contracts that help establish an
in-market presence – and gain valuable cash flow.
Not all innovation programs are open to Australian applicants, however, and
some may require partnerships with local entities
Working with US defence programs
Austrade and the Department of Defence are working together to identify new
programs and find new ways to access them.
The United States is a particular focus for Australian efforts. Australian
agencies have identified multiple innovation programs that are open to
Australian submissions. These include:
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA): DARPA submissions are well-suited to advanced organisations with
significant R&D capabilities, such as universities.
Defense Innovation Unit (DIU):
The DIU seeks to identify commercial solutions that can meet US Department
of Defense needs, and has a strong focus on fast turnaround times. DIU
submissions are well-suited to businesses with commercial products that
match a DIU call.
The US Air Force’s innovation program AFWERX issues specific challenges,
partners with technology accelerators and holds the annual AFWERX Fusion
US AID operates an open Development Innovation Ventures program that covers
work in any country where US Aid is active. The program has multiple grants
available, ranging from proof of concept to scaling.
The Defence Innovation Marketplace:
provides a centralised resource that consolidates many of the above (and
additional) defence innovation solicitations in the United States.
Canada’s defence investment program
Canada is also a potential market for Australian defence exporters with
Canada’s defence spending projected to rise in 2019.
Within the Canadian Government’s 2018
Defence Investment Plan, the Canadian government has identified priority areas for increased
defence spending over the immediate and longer term, which include cyber,
space, unmanned air vehicles, satellite communications, surveillance and
Canada also has an innovation program which offers an additional means of
accessing global funding, innovation opportunities and entering the
Canada’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security (IDEaS)
program: The IDEaS program operates a range of mechanisms including contests and
solicitations and innovation networks.
Eligibility for the program is limited to educational institutions
chartered in Canada, or international collaborators who partner with a
Companies seeking more information on these programs should contact the
Austrade Defence, Advanced Manufacturing and Space team at email@example.com
US Department of Defence, FY 2019 President’s Budge, Defence
Advanced Research Projects.