Developing sovereign industry capacity is part of the journey for Australian defence SMEs to establish credibility and recognition as a “partner of choice”. For BlueZone Group, this journey is starting to bear fruit.
From humble beginnings, BlueZone Group (BZG) has rapidly emerged as a quiet achiever in Australia’s growing defence industrial base, with a key focus on embracing government’s challenge to become a defence industry partner of choice.
This push has recently yielded fruit for the Newcastle-based company, following the award of a Defence Innovation Hub (DIH) Award to develop anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability using Australian-developed sonar and combat data processing systems installed in unmanned surface vehicles.
This recognition and engagement with defence and the (DIH) has been a long process, built upon the collaboration and partnership, or as BZG chief executive Elizabeth Karpiel told Defence Connect, “Working with defence is about the three P’s: Partnership, Patience and People – it takes a long time to build that relationship.
“Our work with the DIH addresses both patience and partnership, it breaks down the barriers to defence enabling the relationships through a defence sponsor, which also helps to speed up the process.”
This close collaboration and engagement with Defence through the DIH and from early support provided in the early stages of the Navy’s Huon Class mine hunter program and the ongoing support of the Navy’s Saab Double Eagle platform provided the foundation for the creation the company’s Unmanned Maritime Systems Support Centre (UMSSC).
Expanding on this, Karpiel told Defence Connect, “The DIH collaboration is allowing for BZG to begin stepping into the Anti-submarine warfare space, which is exciting because it is a new domain for us to develop those skills and capabilities.”
Since 2000, BlueZone has provided a truly sovereign defence industrial base for the support of unmanned underwater vehicles and unmanned surface vehicles operated by Navy and Army. This industry capability will support the Navy Robotic Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence (RAS-AI) Vision for sovereign control, enabling new UxVs to ‘plug and fight’ within days and not years.
A driving force behind BlueZone Group’s UMSSC is the ambitions identified by the ADF to operationalise increasingly capable unmanned maritime systems that can be supported by local industry partners like BlueZone.
“The Unmanned Maritime Systems Support Centre has its origin dating back to the Huon Class mine hunter program that was completed in Newcastle and supporting the Double Eagle vehicle over the past two decades,” Karpiel added.
“Investing in these capabilities locally is key to supporting Navy’s future focus, particularly with the growing need to provide reliable, capable support for these capabilities and is a driving force behind the development of the UMSSC.”
BlueZone Group draws on its own internal experience and the experience and expertise from partners Acacia and SonarTech Atlas to best support the demanding requirements of Defence, but also identify and pre-empt requirements of Defence as they emerge.
Supporting the ambitious plans for autonomous and unmanned systems is the collaborative relationships established by the formation of BlueZone Group, the expertise, capability and track record of supporting Navy’s platforms, developed over the course of 20 years.
“This will see BlueZone Group work with Acacia and Sonartech Atlas to integrate systems into the Wave Glider to support onboard data processing and the smart push of data for defence to make decisions and respond accordingly,” Karpiel explained.
Working in partnership with DIH is a critical component of this strategy, as the collaboration and engagement with Defence and DIH provides direct access to the end user and enables a cross pollination of data, concepts and requirements in a rapid manner.
A key force multiplier of this is, as Karpiel previously mentioned, the people on both sides of the equation and enables BlueZone Group to support business and Defence’s national security objectives.
“Working with DIH has been a great experience and they’re doing everything they can to help ensure the success of the program, working with us to clarify the end user’s requirements, which opens the possibility for customers,” Karpiel told Defence Connect.
Expanding on this, Karpiel added, “This work with DIH has enabled BZG to work with the client and clearly identify and respond to the requirements of the customer throughout the process and has ensured that we have de-risked the platform offering in a truly sovereign way, throughout the life of the platform.”
BlueZone Group maintains a coast-to-coast footprint with approximately 30 staff operating from offices and fully-equipped workshops in Newcastle and Perth.
This model enables BlueZone to offer local service, backup and sales to customers across Australia in markets including defence; offshore oil and gas, oceanographic science; hydrographic survey and water resources. Where there are synergies between market areas, BlueZone looks to leverage these for the benefit of customers, reducing costs, providing faster delivery or developing innovative solutions resulting from bringing new vision and ideas from one market to another.
The strong sales capability of BlueZone Group is matched by a highly capable service and engineering capacity in underwater technology and systems engineering. BlueZone has completed multiple engineering projects for customers to meet tight deadlines and demanding operational conditions.
The focus of BlueZone Group companies is the application of world-leading technology to enable operations, science, maintenance and repair to be conducted in underwater or water-based environments.
BlueZone Group actively invests in research and development projects to provide solutions for customer challenges across market areas.
The BlueZone Group Companies have a deep understanding of its specialist application areas combined with knowledge of the customer requirements to provide a capability to deliver innovative solutions to meet the customer need.