Investing in Dual-Use Tech in the Territory

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Alex Farrugia – Investment Manager Paspalis

Interest in dual-use technologies, serving both commercial and defence purposes, has grown recently. This trend is driven by the recognition of their strategic and economic benefits, enhancing national security and civilian applications.

Dual-use is not new to the Territory. In 2019, Paspalis invested in award-winning SPEE3D, which had an innovative approach to 3D printing that allowed for the rapid and cost-effective production of metal parts. Since then, SPEE3D has advanced its capabilities to support critical needs, such as supplying Ukraine’s frontlines with essential repair parts for military equipment.

Paspalis supported SPEE3D at the AIDN NT Awards in May 2024, which won the Innovation in Defence Industry Award. Paspalis is proud for its portfolio companies’ achievements, especially in the defence sector, reinforces its validation from strategic stakeholders on the potential for defence innovation in the north.

The Case for Defence Innovation in the Territory

Significant investment in Australia’s north has made the Northern Territory a key training destination, sustainment hub, and forward operating base for the Australian Defence Force and our allies.

The Territory hosts a capable and resilient defence industry that is evolving to support platforms, programs, and projects in the region. Along with the development of strategic infrastructure, the Northern Territory is a crucial enabler for Defence in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Commonwealth Government’s recent response to the Defence Strategic Review highlighted the significance of the Northern Territory. The focus towards the Indo-Pacific as Australia’s region of military focus positions northern Australia as a priority for defence posturing and investment.

I represented Paspalis during NT Defence Week in May, during which I listened to senior defence officials and commentators highlight the growth potential for defence innovation in the Territory. This included the impact of AUKUS Pillar 2, which encourages the co-development of critical defence technologies. The Territory is uniquely positioned to take advantage of this momentum.

The Territory is an ideal testing and development ground for emerging dual-use technologies, such as UAVs and rocket technology. Its vast, flat-open space, low population density, strategic infrastructure (including a commercial spaceport in Arnhem Land), and new R&D capabilities (e.g., North Australia Centre for Autonomous Systems “NACAS” in collaboration with Charles Darwin University) are providing new opportunities for local, interstate, and overseas firms to mature their innovations for the dual-use market.

Paspalis Is Betting on Dual-Use

Paspalis, a leading investor in Australia’s north, has aligned its interests in dual-use technologies in Australia’s North through three investment opportunities: Praetorian Aeronautics, Blueflite, and Equatorial Space Systems.

Praetorian Aeronautics

Paspalis has invested in Praetorian Aeronautics, an Adelaide-based company developing drones for defence and cargo applications. Their drones can be counter-drone interceptors and long-range cargo carriers. Led by Brett Hill, an aeronautical engineer with extensive experience, the company benefits from a strong team of ex-Boeing and advisory board members. Praetorian will base its testing program in the Northern Territory, supported by the Australian Government through its Trailblazer program.

This program, in partnership with Charles Darwin University’s (CDU) NACAS facilities, involves testing at outdoor ranges in Darwin and Katherine and using the NACAS TestLab for flight test repair and maintenance activities. The collaboration will support Praetorian’s advanced AI-based control and sensing system project and the development of large dual-use drones for civilian and military customers.

Blueflite

Blueflite, a US-based company backed by Paspalis, designs and manufactures a cargo drone platform to solve modern-day logistics challenges. Their drones offer faster and greener deliveries at lower costs than conventional transport.

In the Northern Territory, Blueflite will commence its R&D testing program with NACAS to develop world-first hydrogen-fuel vessels for its Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, significantly increasing carrying distances. Additionally, Blueflite has partnered with DroneUp, one of the largest drone operators in the United States, to redefine last-mile delivery services.

Equatorial Space Systems

Paspalis has led an investment into Equatorial Space Systems (ESS), a Singapore-based aerospace company focused on developing launch vehicles for the expanding satellite launch market. Their innovative hybrid rocket technology combines solid fuel with liquid oxidiser, emphasising safety, cost-efficiency, and operational flexibility.

ESS has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Equatorial Launch Australia (ELA), another Paspalis investee, to become a resident launcher at the Arnhem Space Centre. ESS has secured a Hidden Valley facility for static testing of rocket propulsion systems, with firings expected to commence shortly. The company has established an assembly industrial workshop in Winnellie to support ongoing testing activities.

Paspalis invests in innovative companies, underscoring its commitment to driving economic growth and technological advancement in the Northern Territory.