Universities to share AU$5.7m for defence cybersecurity, autonomous systems

22 universities in Australia will have to share the AU$5.7 million funding injection from the federal government to develop tech-related defence capabilities.

The federal government has handed over AU$5.7 million to universities in Australia to develop technologies to be used by the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The AU$5.7 million funding will be spread between 22 universities, an average of only AU$259,090 per institution -- or AU$100,000 per project.

The funding will be invested into nine "transformational" technology areas, highlighted in the 2016 Defence White Paper, including AU$2 million for the development of autonomous systems; AU$960,000 towards multidisciplinary material sciences; AU$780,000 for the advancement of sensors and directed energy capabilities; AU$710,000 to enhance cybersecurity defence; and AU$490,000 for the development of quantum technologies.

The funding was awarded after university-based research teams submitted proposals to the federal government, with a total of 428 project proposals received from 31 universities across Australia. 59 were successful.

Victorian university researchers from Deakin, La Trobe, Melbourne, Monash, and RMIT universities will undertake 18 projects with a total funding of AU$1.7 million.

A further 14 projects will be undertaken by researchers at universities in South Australia -- the University of Adelaide, Flinders University, and UniSA -- with AU$1.3 million to be shared between the three.

Similarly, researchers at six universities in New South Wales from Macquarie, Newcastle, Wollongong, Sydney, Western Sydney, and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) will undertake 10 projects with a value of AU$965,000.

Previously, UNSW received a total of AU$46 million in funding from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Telstra, and the federal government to further the development of quantum computing technologies alone.

Australian National University and the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra will receive AU$720,000 to undertake research on eight projects, while Queensland researchers at Griffith University, University of Queensland, and Queensland University of Technology will undertake five projects valued at AU$496,000.

Edith Cowan and Curtin University researchers in Western Australia will work on three projects with only AU$283,000 behind them, while the University of Tasmania has been allocated AU$97,000 to work on one project in enhanced human performance.

Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science Christopher Pyne said the universities were matched on the basis of their capabilities in the priority areas and the quality of their proposals.

The funding was allocated under the AU$730 million Next Generation Technologies Fund, launched in March in an effort to thwart emerging attack methods via "creative solutions" devised by industry and academia.

The 10-year research and development program also includes hackathon-like grand challenges that will bring together startups and larger companies, as well as academic researchers, to work alongside Defence scientists to solve large-scale, "mission-focused projects with clearly-defined end goals", Pyne explained previously.

The government will also be establishing Defence Cooperative Research Centres, university research networks, a Defence research accelerator scheme, an innovation research initiative for small business, and expanded technology "foresighting" activities as part of the fund.

The Australian government also announced in February it would be giving AU$1.9 million to universities that deliver specialised cybersecurity training in a bid to combat the skills shortage in cyber-related fields.

"Cybersecurity skills are fundamental to the success and growth of Australia's digital economy, but like many other nations, Australia is suffering from a skills shortage in this field," Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Cyber Security Dan Tehan said previously.

Under the program, universities can apply to be recognised as Academic Centres of Cyber Security.

The government hopes the funding injection will help attract more Australians to cybersecurity jobs and increase the number of skilled graduates needed to help protect businesses and government from emerging threats.