Plans to develop Australia’s first unmanned military submarine are a step closer to reality, with 10 local suppliers enlisted to provide components for the prototype “Ghost Shark”.
Officially known as XL-AUV, or Extra Large Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, the submarine is being co-developed by US defence contractor Anduril, the Defence Department’s Science and Technology Group (DSTG), and the Royal Australian Navy.
Anduril Industries’ test-bed for Ghost Shark, Australia’s first robot submarine, surfaces during testing in Sydney. 
The partnership is committed to producing three prototypes, with a manufacture-ready vehicle by the end of 2025. It is using this week’s Indo-Pacific Maritime Exposition in Sydney, the region’s premier naval conference and trade show, to promote its wares.
“The Ghost Shark prototypes are being designed and built in Australia with the intention to manufacture in Australia at scale,” said Anduril Australia executive chairman and chief executive David Goodrich.
“Australian suppliers are fundamental to the project. Anduril has talked with 50 different suppliers across the country to understand their capabilities and how they could scale their manufacturing and is delighted to announce 10 crucial partnerships today.”
Suppliers include underwater engineering firm Sonardyne, artificial intelligence experts Advanced Navigation, advanced materials producer Matrix Composites, and Ron Allum Deepsea Services, which has provided undersea vehicles to filmmaker James Cameron for expeditions to the Titanic and Bismarck shipwrecks.
Another supplier is Melbourne engineering firm Marand, the biggest Australian supplier to the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project.
Anduril’s senior vice president for engineering, Shane Arnott, said the company was talking with suppliers outside the usual industries associated with Defence.
“We’re tapping into a wider set of Australian industry: mining, medical, retail, consumer products,” Dr Arnott said.
“We come to manufacturing with a commercial mindset – leveraging a wider supply base and different thinking to that of the jurassic Defence primes to achieve the key goal of affordable mass for the warfighter.
“In addition to the Defence Ghost Shark, we are creating a commercial Dive-XL variant for other sectors such as subsea infrastructure and resources. Australia is the perfect manufacturing base for XL-AUVs. We need to grow the Australian supply chain with us, as this is just the beginning.”
Anduril’s founder, billionaire US tech entrepreneur Palmer Luckey, has positioned the firm as a disruptor for the traditional world of defence contracting, developing systems and platforms on its own initiative and using its own capital before selling them to militaries.
The company also takes a “software first” approach, with its Lattice operating software the bedrock of its products. Lattice uses artificial intelligence to fuse real-time data from multiple sources for autonomous operations.
Anduril and DSTG are contributing $70 million each to develop Ghost Shark, and are already using its Dive-LD – which can stay underwater for up to 10 days at a depth of 6000 metres – as a test-bed vehicle to prove concepts. As an indication of the speed Anduril brings to its work compared with traditional Defence acquisitions, Ghost Shark has only been under development for 18 months.
Chief defence scientist Tanya Monro said this year’s Defence Strategic Review emphasised the “need for speed” for new capabilities.
“DSTG is providing expertise for the design and development of key systems and payloads, with embedded subject-matter experts as part of the team,” Professor Monro said.
“We’re also helping bridge the gap between Australian industry innovation and Defence needs. We’re working side by side on a daily battle rhythm to get cutting-edge technology as fast as possible into the hands of the warfighter.”
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