Minister for Defence – 2016 Minister’s Award for Achievement in Defence Science

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Senator the Hon Marise Payne

Minister for Defence

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  • Henry Budd (Minister Payne’s office) 0429 531 143
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10 November 2016

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and thank you very much for the invitation to be here today. Let me first acknowledge that this event is being held on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people and pay my respect to their elders past and present.

Your Excellency, lovely to see you here this afternoon, thank you very much for being here. Chief of the Defence Force, I didn’t know we were going to have the pleasure of your company so it’s very nice to see you, Chief of Army, Chief of Navy, Chief of Air Force, Secretary Richardson and Chief Defence Scientist, of course. My very good friend, Robert Hill. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very pleased to be here tonight to present the 2016 Minister’s Award for Achievement in Defence Science. I am not sure what I did last year but I don’t think I was invited to present the 2015, so I think either I had been bad, and you punished me, Alex, or perhaps it preceded my appointment. Who knows? But it’s a very great pleasure to be here tonight. I did observe to Alex that holding events like this on sitting days is a nerve wracking process for people in my job because they don’t always release us so we were trying to renegotiate the Australia-US Alliance on the floor of the Chamber thanks to the Suspension Motion moved by the Australian Greens. So I wasn’t sure I would actually escape, so it’s a great pleasure to be here and former Senator Hill will be familiar with those sorts of daily challenges of the parliamentary environment.

This award, which as Alex said is now in its 28th year, recognises outstanding contributions made by an Australian Defence scientist to Defence capability.

Our defence scientists are held in high regard around the world for their expert advice to Government and the capability solutions they deliver for Australia’s defence.

They have a long and distinguished record of achievement – from extending the life of aircraft to fixing issues with the Collins submarine. Their work has also helped protect soldiers in the field with counter IED equipment, and they have been recognised for their input into the search for MH370 and the downing of MH17.

As you all know, this Government recognises that embracing innovation and new ideas is key to ensuring Australia has a modern and dynamic economy.

As outlined in the 2016 Defence White Paper and the Defence Industry Policy statement, the Turnbull Government has charted a new course designed to deliver leading-edge research and innovation to the ADF.

Through its links – the links Alex spoke about in his introductory remarks – with industry and the education sector – and let me acknowledge members of industry and education who are here this afternoon. Defence’s strategic research and development will both deliver the future cutting-edge capability that the ADF requires and ensure Australian defence industry remains at the technological forefront.

The introduction of the Innovation Hub and the Innovation Portal will improve the intersections between the innovation sector and Defence, providing the appropriate mechanisms for undertaking collaborative innovation activities.

The Government is in fact investing $1.6 billion in new funding over 10 years to support innovation for defence capability. This investment will ensure that Australia is able to leverage science and technology expertise and maintain that capability edge into the future.

A significant part of that investment is directed towards the development of game-changing capabilities under the Next Generation Technologies Fund.

The Chief Defence Scientist and his team have the critical task of delivering on these future technologies in collaboration with industry, universities, research organisations and our international partners.

Our defence scientists continue to make notable advances in technology and are recognised for their achievements by their peers and independent experts.

Just a few examples if I may. Dr Bob Mathews received the inaugural Hague Prize from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for his lifetime contribution to the elimination of chemical weapons.

The hypersonics team of defence scientists has received the prestigious Von Karman award from the International Council of Aeronautical Sciences for their international research collaboration into ultra high-speed flight.

Aerospace engineer Joanna Kappas was awarded the US Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service for her contribution to the health and usage management system for the Joint Strike Fighter.  This was the highest US Secretary of Defense award given to a non-US civilian officer. 

The ongoing contributions of our Defence scientists will be vital in positioning Defence to meet the technology challenges of the future.    

And we’re here this evening to recognise one such scientist.

To be nominated for the Minister’s Achievement Award is no small feat.

This year’s recipient has been judged by both his supervisors and peers to receive this prestigious award and he follows a long line of excellence in Defence science.

Last year’s award recipient – Dr Mark Patterson from whom we have just heard and it had never occurred to me that the science of sweating was really such a fascinating subject. As I watched some of the body armour descriptions you were making, and I know I am a rank-amateur in the field, having experienced very, very briefly a micro-Baghdad 50-degree day in the shade wearing said armour, I appreciated some of the insights you offered, Dr Patterson, so thank you.

People like Mark Patterson have really contributed to improving the combat performance of Australian soldiers by developing new solutions to improve protective combat gear, reducing heat injuries suffered by deployed troops and establishing a set of standards that match individual tasks, irrespective of gender.

Previous recipients have been recognised for innovative work in a range of technology areas such as ballistic protection and armour, JORN, information security, aircraft structural integrity, combat clothing, surveillance imagery and combat systems for the Collins submarine.

Tonight’s recipient has dedicated more than 40 years of his research career to defence science, improving the capabilities of acoustic sensor systems to detect, classify, localise and track targets of military interest in maritime and land environments.

The improved level of situational awareness resulting from his work has provided ADF commanders with a significant capability edge, enabling Defence resources to be used more effectively against military threats. 

It gives me great pleasure to announce that the winner of the 2016 Minister’s Award for Achievement in Defence Science is Dr Brian Ferguson! 


Congratulations, Brian.

Brian is the Principal Scientist in the Maritime Division of DST Group and a world-leading expert in acoustics.   Brian’s going to have to wait just a second, and you’re going to have the bear with me because I have a few things to say about Brian.

Dr Ferguson joined the then Department of Science in 1974, but found his true calling, I am told, ten years later when he joined the Royal Australian Navy Research Laboratory. Since then he has been providing innovative solutions to real-world problems involving acoustic signal processing both above and below water.

With his innovative mathematical analysis and modeling he demonstrated that acoustic signals were directly related to the course, speed and identity of ships, submarines, aircraft and even speeding bullets and artillery rounds in the battlefield.

If it made a sound, Dr Ferguson could detect it, classify it, localise it and track it.

During Operation Iraqi Freedom an acoustic localisation system based on algorithms he had developed was deployed to geo-locate mortar fire from insurgents, saving the lives of coalition forces and innocent civilians.

It has been said that Dr Ferguson’s work always embodies a novel approach, is always experimentally verified and usually finds its way into real systems.

This is the hallmark of a successful scientist and Dr Ferguson’s solutions have indeed entered into service with the Australian Army and Navy as well as with military and civilian services in the United States.

He was the first researcher to develop land-based acoustic systems with false alarm rates low enough to enable remote unattended surveillance. This system has been used by the Australian Army during overseas deployments while the US Army has applied the same signal processing for its surveillance system in Iraq.

Dr Ferguson developed advanced data processing techniques leading to enhancements in sonar technologies, allowing the Australian Navy’s sonar operators to detect targets at greater distances than before. These sonar technologies have been incorporated in the Collins class boats and the US Navy’s Virginia and Seawolf class submarines.

Dr Ferguson led a comprehensive research program into high-frequency sonar, making Navy’s mine hunting operations safer and more effective while providing acoustic techniques to examine mine-like objects from safe stand-off distances.  

Dr Ferguson’s research has also made it possible for submerged submarines to track aircraft, resulting in US submarines being fitted with an Automatic Threat Overflight Monitoring System, a capability that will no doubt be vital for our future submarines.

The protection of critical infrastructure including ports and harbours is a high priority for any government.  Dr Ferguson’s acoustic surveillance capability can now provide better protection for these assets by monitoring small, high-speed watercraft that may pose a threat to naval vessels in harbour or to offshore oil platforms.

The same threat detection capability is also being used in support of the environment.  It’s monitoring the Great Barrier Reef to detect merchant shipping that might trespass the ecologically sensitive waters around the marine park.

It is clear from these achievements that Dr Ferguson has an impressive record of delivering defence capability through innovative science and technology.  

He has been successful by focusing on the needs of the soldiers and submariners, and by using real data in Australian conditions to inform his analysis and innovative solutions.

He has also displayed outstanding scientific leadership and eagerly mentored staff across disparate disciplines during their careers, thus building a depth of expertise for Defence and the broader Australian scientific community.

Brian has published over 40 papers in peer reviewed journals and authored or co-authored three book chapters. He has published more than 50 papers on the proceedings of international conferences. 

In 2009 he received the NATO Scientific Achievement Award and in 2011 he received the Science and Technology Achievement Award from the Technical Cooperation Program. 

Last year the Acoustical Society of America presented him with a Silver Medal for Signal Processing in Acoustics, making him only the third person – and the sole non-American – to be given this honour in the 87 year history of that Society.

Dr Brian Ferguson, on behalf of the Australian Government, I congratulate you on your award this evening, on your remarkable career and thank you for your valuable contribution to the defence of our nation. I know that the Government is extremely proud of you, I know that Defence is extremely proud of you. Congratulations again for winner of the 2016 Minister’s Award for Achievement in Defence Science.

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