Melbourne-based Grollo Aerospace has developed the world’s first low-cost, supersonic training missile, the EVADER, which for the first time allows ADF personnel to practice life-saving skills against a realistic high-speed target.
The EVADER’s innovative, supersonic ramjet engine and its rugged airframe and autonomous control system have been developed entirely in-house by Moorabbin-based Grollo Aerospace.
The company in July submitted a proposal for a $2.85 million Defence Innovation Hub contract that would complete EVADER’s development, help protect RAN ships and personnel and open up a hitherto-untapped global market for high-speed aerial training targets.
Founder and Chief Technology Officer Mark Grollo, who designed EVADER’s low cost ram jet engine, explained, “Sailors currently don’t have a representative target they can practice on. All ships are vulnerable to high-speed, sea-skimming missiles, and these are proliferating: they’re getting faster and more agile, and there are more of them.”
To train its combat system operators, the Navy currently simulates missile attacks by flying manned or unmanned aircraft towards them, but these are too slow, they have to fly unrepresentative flight profiles for safety reasons and have much too big a radar cross-section.
EVADER has even resorted in the past to firing artillery shells near ships, but these have the wrong altitude and trajectory. Air-launched from over the horizon EVADER, which is 4.2 metres long and weighs about 90 kilograms, can accurately replicate the flight path and trajectory of a genuine, seaskimming anti-ship missile, including some terminal manoeuvres.
The platform’s training value for ships’ combat systems and their operators in realistically simulating such threats is incalculable.
As a sovereign capability, EVADER can be changed and upgraded at short notice to respond to new threats without the ADF having to ask an overseas ally for help, or wait for a foreign contractor, which means that Australia’s own threat intelligence remains under its own control.
The company reflects current defence industry policy through its development of a unique, high-technology Australian industry capability based on the company’s own R&D and expertise in robotics, autonomous systems and ram jet technology. Furthermore, Grollo Aerospace now has an Australian supply chain of 80 companies.
EVADER is the product of seven years of self-funded R&D by Grollo Aerospace and recent cooperation with DST that’s designed to deliver an operational ADF capability as well as a sustainable commercial outcome; it’s an outstanding example of R&D collaboration between Grollo Aerospace, DST and the ADF, adds Grollo.
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With further development EVADER will be able to replicate the even higher speeds of enemy attacking missiles. This would enhance still further its training value to the ADF and its allies as well as enable the development of new tactics to counter this emerging threat.
At just $250,000 each, EVADER will be less than one sixteenth of the cost of the existing standard US Navy test missile, the Orbital Dynamics GQM-163 Coyote, which costs about US$4 million ($5.7 million) each, says Grollo.
At present, the RAN can only use the ground-launched Coyote at the US Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii to test and prove its ships’ anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems.
Coyote is mainly a test and evaluation (T&E) missile; neither Navy has a cheaper system it can use for routine training, said former RAAF Air Commander and Test Pilot Air-Vice Marshal (Ret’d) Peter Nicholson.
Nicholson, whose technology consulting firm aadi Defence is supporting Grollo Aerospace, adds that the Australian Army is also interested in EVADER.
The ADF has invested heavily through projects such as LAND19 Phase 7B in ground-based radars and missiles to protect its troops and defend key assets; but it is still unable to simulate and train against the growing threat from high-speed cruise and hypersonic missiles.
Grollo Aerospace funded EVADER development for seven years using its own money before winning a$1.75 million Defence Innovation Hub contract in 2017.
This funded a series of trials at Woomera in 2018, which proved the missile design, the autonomous control system, the vital ram jet engine, and the fact that EVADER can be re-used more than 10 times.
The unique feature of EVADER is its stainless steel, solid-state ram jet engine, designed by Mr Grollo, which enables supersonic flight using standard JP1 jet fuel, without requiring a rocket motor or any exotic and expensive alloys in its construction.
Other autonomous target systems use turbojet engines which can’t attain supersonic speeds while EVADER can do so, repeatedly. Grollo Aerospace has now submitted a proposal for a second Defence Innovation Hub contract worth $2.85 million, which is designed to confirm to the Australian and US navies EVADER’s supersonic performance and the integrity of its ‘fail safe’ mode when used to simulate high-speed incoming attacking missiles.
This would take EVADER across the ‘valley of death’ for high-technology projects, said Dr Bill Schofield, CEO of aadi Defence and a former deputy chief defence scientist: “We’ll have reached Technology Readiness Level 7 – demonstrating a prototype of the entire system in an operational environment. That will confirm we’ve got an initial supersonic air target capability that we can offer to the ADF.”
It will also open up an export market among trusted allies, he adds: there is nothing like EVADER anywhere else in the world. The US Coyote missile costing US$4 million each is only operated in Hawaii, making it unaffordable to visit for all but a few vital proving trials.
EVADER can be air-launched for training purposes into any suitable military sea or land-based range. The US Navy has expressed a strong interest in EVADER and trusts Australian-developed technology, said Dr Schofield: two of Australia’s biggest defence export earners, the Nulka anti-missile decoy and the vectored thrust rocket nozzle of the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), are in fleet-wide US Navy service – both were both developed in Australia while he was head of DST’s Aeronautical Research Laboratory.
Grollo Aerospace expects to hear the result of its application later this calendar year, explained Dr Schofield.