A showcase of Australia's latest and greatest military technology has been eclipsed by new warnings that the nation's defence capabilities could soon be seriously undermined unless a growing technological brain drain is arrested.
Opening the Australian Science Festival in Canberra, Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill echoed warnings by Australia's new chief of Defence Force, Air Marshall Angus Houston, that the military was finding it harder to recruit and retain personnel with science and technology backgrounds.
In April, Houston warned both the government and his military peers that Defence would soon have to compete with the rest of industry to secure IT talent skills, describing the sort of people Defence wanted as "a very expensive commodity to employ."
However, this week Senator Hill admitted that the Defence Science and Technology Organization (DSTO) is now experiencing difficulties in recruiting suitable graduates especially where hard sciences such as physics are involved, pointing to two new physics scholarships funded by DSTO.
But Senator Hill may be forgiven for wondering about technology's less predictable side when an errant Dalek - a fictitious killing machine from the BBC TV series Dr Who - managed to hijack the minister's speech. Manifesting a well-documented interface issue with humans, the machine startled Senator Hill telling him it wanted to "seek, locate, destroy".
"In the future defence and national security will be undertaken by an integrated force of these land, sea and air robotic vehicles controlled by defence personnel from a safe distance. This will be a huge leap in capability for our Defence Force. I envisage that in the future unmanned battlespace vehicles will be deployed in fleets to gather information, conduct surveillance, sweep for mines, defuse bombs and carry out a range of dangerous tasks," Senator Hill said.
Best in show - robot-style
Autonomous vehicles being investigated by DSTO include:
Unmanned Ground Vehicle capable of self navigation through difficult terrain.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for e-warfare, communications, intelligence and surveillance and traffic control.
Unmanned Underwater Vehicle for underwater surveillance, mine clearance, hydrographic surveys and sub surface communications.