Supporting the Royal Australian Navy's Campaign Plan for Robotics and Autonomous Systems

Enhancing Innovation

by Marigold Black, Carl Rhodes, James Black, Rebecca Lucas, Linda Slapakova

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Research Question

  1. How can the RAN enable innovation with, and rapid acquisition of, RAS-AI systems in the near and medium term?

In 2020, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) released the Robotics, Autonomous Systems and Artificial Intelligence (RAS-AI) Strategy 2040. As part of the Campaign Plan to implement the strategy, the RAN asked RAND Australia to identify how international innovation and rapid acquisition practices might improve its processes to acquire and field RAS-AI.

The RAN is in the process of modernising its forces to better address the growing challenges Australia faces in the Indo-Pacific region. Increased state competition in the region combined with accelerated military modernisation have prompted the RAN to consider the use of RAS-AI systems in maritime roles and missions.

The authors used a combination of methodologies—literature reviews, a survey of current practice, and elicitations of subject-matter experts—to develop approaches the RAN might consider for enabling innovation with, and rapid acquisition of, RAS-AI capabilities in the near and medium terms.

The report's findings highlight that to innovate with RAS-AI systems most effectively, the RAN needs to ensure that leadership and guidance are provided from the highest levels to enable development of an innovation ecosystem that proactively engages academia and industry, including non-traditional stakeholders. The RAN must also clearly define and communicate current and future challenges, reduce barriers to marketplace entry and engagement, and form long-term relationships to ensure trust and credibility.

Key Findings

  • An innovation strategy will be most effective when based strongly on high-level guidance. Such guidance can come from the organisation's overall strategy, which should highlight the most important challenges the organisation faces.
  • Innovation is most successful when a single innovation catalyst has access to senior leadership in the organisation, is granted authority to set innovation priorities, and is allocated secure funding.
  • Translating new technologies into military capabilities often requires new operational concepts that can be developed, tested and refined through gaming, modelling and experimentation.
  • Open innovation—specifically examining solutions that might come from fields outside of defence—should be leveraged to access a broader range of ideas. This is especially true in a quickly moving area with dual-use applications, such as the RAS-AI field.
  • Experimentation campaigns with clearly defined goals can be a valuable tool in incorporating new technologies. Each experiment should have a well-defined goal, such as testing a new technology in realistic conditions, examining a new operational concept or tactic, or speeding the transition of new capabilities to the field.
  • Rapid acquisition methods might prove especially useful when advances in the commercial world are happening quickly. Rapid acquisition of a system that provides an '80-per-cent solution' might be preferable, given knowledge that the capability can be refreshed with a more capable system in the near future.
  • A thorough understanding of partners' and allies' innovation models or systems can help determine best practices, improve innovation interfaces between friendly nations, and empower the defence innovation ecosystem.


  • Find ways to best leverage the Defence-wide innovation system in its pursuit of new RAS-AI capabilities. This could involve influencing the choice of the STaR (Science, Technology and Research) Shots initiatives, advocating for RAS-AI investments as part of the Defence Innovation Hub, and employing the Capability Acceleration Fund.
  • Educate industry and academia about the RAN's specific challenges so that they can make better investments in people and ideas and, eventually, deliver better military capabilitie
  • Consider co-locating certain Defence agencies, labs, accelerators and research institutes.
  • Use innovation scouts to identify commercial RAS-AI solutions that might be leveraged by Navy to address capability shortfalls.
  • Establish a RAS-AI innovation team to rapidly deliver new capabilities to the field in a specific operational area.
  • Leverage rapid acquisitions to field RAS-AI capabilities derived from relatively mature technologies. Teams carrying out rapid acquisitions should consist of experts who fully understand acquisition guidelines and program trade-offs in performance, cost and schedule.
  • Account for interoperability requirements in innovation processes so that a gain in performance in one area does not come at the expense of broader capability.
  • Use experiments and rapid prototyping to explore new technologies and operational concepts associated with maritime RAS-AI.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Selected Review of Literature on Military Innovation, Experimentation, and Rapid Acquisition

  • Chapter Three

    Survey of Exceptional Military Innovation Organisations in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States

  • Chapter Four

    Implications for the Royal Australian Navy

  • Chapter Five

    Findings and Recommendations

Research conducted by

This research was prepared for the Royal Australian Navy, Robotics and Autonomous Systems/Artificial Intelligence Directorate and conducted by RAND Australia.

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