US snaps up kiwi military technology

New Zealand's top military science secrets are attracting million-dollar investments from allied defence forces.

The US Navy has agreed to buy six Kiwi-created diver training systems in a seven-figure deal.

Now, the New Zealand's Defence Technology Agency - the main provider of research, science and technological support to the New Zealand Defence Force and the Ministry of Defence, including the SAS - is preparing to take another secretive project to the next level.

The DTA believes it has created the world's first fully-portable unit for measuring ship signatures, the acoustic, pressure, magnetic and seismic "footprint" of a vessel. The signatures allow a ship to be picked up by enemy radar and, potentially, underwater mines.

After more than 20 years of research and development, the DTA has been able to shrink a unit the size of a 20ft shipping container into something relative in scale to a wheelie-bin. Its value, financially and to human life, could prove colossal. It is potentially destined for action with British and American forces in the Persian Gulf.

"We'd like to work out the signatures of our ships to find ways of either minimising or disguising them, because they're used by unscrupulous people to trigger mines," Garry Armstrong, the DTA's trials officer, said.

"Most people think that stealth stuff is special to submarines and planes, but they're doing a lot of work in designing stealth elements into ships, especially to do with radar and infrared.

"There is nothing on the market like this at and the US and the UK are keen."

The sensors can be launched by just two crew members and Armstrong estimated the units would be worth about US$500,000 ($750,000) each.

Various technologies the DTA has previously designed have attracted the interest of the US Navy and the Royal Navy.

DTA director Dr Brian Young said for a relatively small military entity, being able to commercialise target technological developments was vital.

The agency has an annual budget of about $10 million, the majority spent on the salaries of its 80-plus staff.

"The kinds of investment we've already seen from the United States are significant," Young said.

"It earns international respect for the Defence Force and is useful in strengthening relationships with allied nations."

Earlier this week, American military officials travelled to New Zealand and met counterparts from here, the UK, Australia and Canada to discuss space-sharing activities and increasing military partnerships. American officials spoke of existing and future operations.

"Coalitions and partnerships represent a necessary step within national security that increases transparency, strengthens deterrence, improves mission assurance, enhances resilience and optimises resources across participating nations."