Defence Connect editor Liam Garman met Scott Corrigan, director capability at EPE, at Land Forces early last month.
Liam Garman: Thanks for joining me Scott, I know you’ve got a busy schedule at Land Forces this year! For our readers who are unfamiliar with the company, what is EPE and what services does it offer?
Scott Corrigan: Thanks Liam. We're proud to be a 100 per cent Australian and veteran operated SME. We provide protective systems to the Australian military, law enforcement and the first responder community and have spent over 20 years protecting the individual and taking them as far out of harm's way as we can – looking after soldiers, sailors, airmen and police officers.
Over 75 per cent of our employees are either military or police veterans. Those that aren't have strong affiliations to the military or police through family, or a strong commitment to protecting the lives of service personnel, which is really lovely to be a part of.
Liam: How is EPE contributing to Australia's sovereign defence industry?
Scott: We contribute to Australia’s sovereign defence industry through several initiatives. We’ve just opened a company called EPE Innovation, which we are proud to be announcing soon.
We’ve also recently entered a partnership with a trusted government scientific entity to jointly produce a world-class advanced CBRN technology. This will be our first foray into the manufacturing industry, and we intend to expand from there. The entire protective capability from the IP development, to the proof-of-type prototyping and the manufacturing will be done in Australia to create a truly sovereign capability which will not only protect military personnel but first responders as well. The capability provides a tenfold improvement on performance to protect operators from CBRN threats.
We also recently worked with CSIRO and Data 61 at their facility in south-east Queensland to develop a military test and evaluation procedure for robotics and unmanned vehicles. There is no global standard for testing and protocols that are associated with unmanned ground vehicles and unmanned air vehicles, so we're going to establish what is effectively the first Australian testing procedure. As a result, we're incorporating a US standard and we're going to run all of our capabilities through that on behalf of the Australian government. This way we can provide a greater level of surety when we test systems in a live setting under environmental threat conditions to make sure that they are reliable. Improving Australian operating standards is also critical for the defence industry as we can no longer rely on sending equipment overseas for repair and therefore need to be able to certify all levels of repair conducted in Australia. COVID has proven that enabling the entire supply chain to be managed within Australia is critically important, and EPE has taken this opportunity to enhance a commitment that it has successfully implemented over the last 10 years.
Liam: With the continued development of test and evaluation procedures for robotics, it seems like EPE has stepped away from its pedigree in the bomb disposal industry?
Scott: The threats that Australian military members have encountered for several decades have a bad habit of going back to rudimentary principles. Our enemies will always revert to using devices such as IEDs, so many of the challenges that we've overcome and capabilities we’ve developed over several decades will remain critical. Thus, EPE will still have that remit for counter-IED and counter-CBRN capabilities. A current example is our project for the development of a common controller to allow an operator to manage multiple unmanned systems from a single controller. The outcome of this will be to maximise soldier performance while reducing the system, training and cognitive burden during the difficult counter-threat tasks.
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But on the other side of the coin, the battlefield is always evolving! Whilst EPE started around the time of the Olympics. with the provision of bombsuits, unmanned ground vehicles, disruptors for threat device neutralisation and electronic countermeasures, we have continued to develop and have really expanded from there. Whether it’s protective equipment against IEDs or AI for unmanned drones to map out the battlefield – our primary goal remains the ongoing protection and safety of the operator.
Liam: What’s next on EPE’s agenda, you’ve mentioned that the company is looking to expand into AI?
Scott: EPE is increasingly focused on the artificial intelligence space for unmanned vehicles, and as we continue to develop our collaboration arrangements with Defence Innovation, CSIRO, DST STaR Shots Program and Queensland Defence Science Alliance we continue to strengthen in this area. Our goal is to keep the unmanned vehicles safe and controllable which will serve to remove the human as far as possible from the threat space. Therefore, our primary goal is to improve the ability for these vehicles to operate in a GPS and communication denied environment while still conducting their task on behalf of those operators ensuring that the human is out of harm's way. We've got prototypes of vehicles which provide 3D mapping, as well as all of the functionality that makes up artificial intelligence including an ability to respond in its own right, learn from its activities and learn from its mistakes.
Liam: Will these artificial intelligence mechanisms include target indication?
Scott: Absolutely. There's a couple of layers there. So the vehicles include a few capabilities that have been around for a while like electronic countermeasures. We then layer that with additional sensor systems, and then layer that with artificial intelligence. These layers allow the vehicle to learn, see and respond. EPE hopes that these technologies will help get the soldier out of harm's way.
These unmanned vehicles will be able to enter dangerous areas such as subterranean tunnels and multi-story buildings to map them – even in GPS and communications denied environments. Due to inbuilt continual machine learning functionality, the system will not only identify issues, targets, challenges and routes but also enhance its understanding of the risk landscape while in the threat environment. The unmanned system will then come back and once it’s re-established communications or GPS links, will reverse map all that data and pass that through the battle command system to the operator. So, ideally the mission planners are pre-informed of key threats and challenges before they get anywhere near the danger, which is really important. For EPE it always comes back to protecting the operator.
Liam: So, your products are veteran tried, tested and get their tick of approval?
Scott: Absolutely. You know, there's two aspects to that. Firstly, many in our workforce have used our equipment operationally. Even the newer iterations of the equipment have been used by EPE employees who only left the forces in the last year or two. Secondly, we get their tick of approval from a concept of operations perspective. We fully understand the capability requirements and use cases, and definitely consider ourselves to be professionals in the capabilities that we provide to the frontline practitioners.
Liam: Seems like you have an amazing future and all the best as EPE continues to grow.
Scott: Thanks Liam!
Editor – Defence and Security, Momentum Media