SYDNEY — The new CEO and chairman of Anduril Australia, overseeing a tiny staff of seven now, plans to have 140 people working by next year, and his company will soon announce a “state of the art” research and development center on Sydney Harbour to build what the company believes will be the first of hundreds of large drone submarines.
In an interview at a spectacular former school for the arts here Thursday night, CEO and chairman David Goodrich told Breaking Defense the $100 million AUD deal with the Australian navy to build three prototype Extra Large Autonomous Undersea Vehicles (XL-AUVs) in three years is just the beginning of ambitious plans for the company, which specializes in autonomous systems, artificial intelligence and sensor fusion.
“We are pursuing major programs of record in four domains,” in Australia he said, and estimated they would be worth “billions” as they come to fruition. Goodrich didn’t expound on the domains, but the obvious first domain is sea. Given the company’s existing work and Australia’s interests, the others are likely cyber, space and air. As for the subs, they will be more easily marketed and sold by Australia because they will be “ITAR-free,” Goodrich said, meaning non-US governments will be able to buy them much more easily than if they were controlled. He did say they will come under the US Commerce Department’s much less restrictive dual-use program.
When asked the crucial question as to whether the new drone subs are planned to help bridge the sub capability that may loom between the end of operations of the current Collins class subs and the advent of the planned AUKUS nuclear attack boats, Goodrich was very careful to say that the Australian government had not told them the subs might help bridge the gap.
Instead, he said the subs could help provide asymmetric capabilities that could assist Australia in bridging any gap. Vice Adm. Mike Noonan, told Breaking Defense in May when asked if the subs were meant to help close the gap said only that having more subs was a good thing, largely echoing comments by then-Defense Minister Peter Dutton. The vessels, Dutton said when the deal was announced, “would give the Australian Defence Force innovative mission options while presenting a disruptive and difficult undersea problem for any adversary. This capability would potentially complement and enhance the agility and potency of the Navy’s current submarine and surface combatant force in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Since then, the new Australian Labor government has started a Defence Strategic Review, which is expected to be released early next year. The general assumption is that few new programs will get underway until after that review is completed.
One of the most intriguing things about the Anduril sub sale is the manner in which it looks place. Unlike the usually plodding and safe issuance of requirements and RFIs and RFPs, etc., this one took place because a small group of people in the Australian navy were receptive to Anduril’s pitch. There was much talk at last night’s Anduril event — clearly designed to help recruit top engineering and military talent, as well as raise the company’s profile — about Anduril and the tech world generally helping to speed up Australia’s acquisition process. But when asked if he thought the sub sale is helping to change things, Goodrich said, “I could certainly like to say it has changed the Australian acquisition process. I don’t think it has.”
Of course, it’s early days for Anduril, whose parent in the United States is only five years old. Anduril Australia hasn’t had its first birthday yet. Given the centrality of autonomy and artificial intelligence to much of what Australia plans to deploy over the next five years, Anduril would seem to have to have a rich target environment.
“This is why we think Australia is a really good place to hang up our shingle and prove our model,” Goodrich said.
But Australia is not the only target market. He said the company has made pitches to Japan, Singapore and India. He wouldn’t discuss any of the possible offerings or topics of discussion.”It’s early days, but…” he said, before trailing off.