Over 35 industry partners and two Australian universities have joined forces for a $240 million Defence Trailblazer program to bolster national security and boost employment in Australia’s defence industry.

Officially launched on Friday by Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development Anthony Chisholm and supported by the Australian government’s Department of Education, the ‘Defence Trailblazer: Concept to Sovereign Capability’ project sees University of Adelaide and UNSW Sydney partnering up to “herald in a new era of innovation for the country’s defence industry”.

Delivered in collaboration with more than 35 industry partners, the $240 million program will focus on upskilling and building on defence workforce capabilities, developing “cutting-edge” science and technologies, and co-designing multi-domain solutions for the Australian Defence Force.

“The Albanese Government is committed to supporting collaborative initiatives that produce innovative solutions to bolster our national security, create more employment opportunities and grow the economy,” said Chisholm.

Estimates suggest the project will develop 100 new defence products, directly creating over 1,000 jobs and more than 1,400 additional jobs throughout wider defence industry over four years.

Furthermore, Chisholm said the project is estimated to deliver $1.5 billion in terms of net economic benefit for the Australian economy over the coming 10 years.

Aimed at accelerating delivery of leading-edge tech – the program will focus on key areas such as robotics and AI, defensive hypersonics, quantum technologies, cyber and information warfare, and defence space technologies.

“This research will directly contribute to an evolving defence sector in which technologies will be developed by Australians and commercialised through local companies and international partnerships,” said Chisholm.

During the launch at the National Wine Centre in Adelaide, surveillance technology firm Silentium Defence exhibited its MAVERICK M8 passive radar – a soldier-portable surveillance technology which enables personnel to “see without being seen, from ground to space”.

“Working with industry partners to spearhead faster innovation cycles will be key to the success of the program in meeting the challenges of a rapidly evolving threat landscape,” said Defence Trailblazer Executive Director Sanjay Mazumdar.

One of the milestones already achieved as part of the project has been the launch of an Industry Research Program, which offers students opportunities to study research degrees through the University of Adelaide (which has formally merged with University of South Australia in what is being called the world’s largest university merger) and the University of New South Wales.

The Industry Research program will also provide students the chance to work directly with select industry partners.

Funding for the project will be delivered primarily via participating partners – such as Boeing Defence Australia, CAE Australia and Cisco – totalling more than $140 million in contributions over the next four years.

The Australian government is also committing $50 million through the Trailblazer program, matching the University of Adelaide and UNSW’s contribution of a further $50 million.

The project arrives shortly after the Australian Universities Accord Interim Report, which recently saw federal government commit to boosting university enrolments via a range of expert recommendations.

Among the recommendations was provision of funding certainty to universities while the accord process rolls out, and an extension of Commonwealth-supported funding to First Nations students.

Another recent Defence-boosting initiative is the Albanese government’s release of the Defence Strategic Review 2023, which urgently called for the Australian Defence Force to enhance its cyber capabilities in preparation for a “radically different” security environment.

The review laid out the controversial AUKUS project as an area of priority, which itself is facing concerns over whether US Congress will block Australia’s bid to purchase essential American submarines.

University of Adelaide’s Vice-Chancellor Peter Høj AC described the Defence Trailblazer as an example of “true collaboration” that will “equip the next generation of innovators with specialised knowledge and skills to meet the defence sector’s needs now, and in coming decades.”