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VIC company lands US defence force deal

15-02-2010
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VIC company lands US defence force deal

US military leaders have chosen a Victorian-based company to produce new defence force technology.

Aquaterro has joined Wilcox Industries – a US company that makes high end tactical equipment for soldiers and police officers – to build a factory at a site to be chosen.

The new project is expected to create about 100 jobs.

The plant will cost about $10 million and be Wilcox's first overseas manufacturing site.

Aquaterro chief executive Graeme Bulte told Fairfax Media it was a partnership “born on the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan” where Australian troops noticed a wide technological gap between their equipment and that of their American allies.

Business boomed for Aquaterro, which distributes Wilcox's products in Australia.

Mr Bulte said what was a niche market, probably supplying about ''a half a dozen guys, suddenly became thousands.''

''We had the Australian Defence Force come to us and to Wilcox and say ... 'we are side by side in the mountains with our American counterparts and we need to be able to keep pace with that and be interoperable with them at that same level... can you help','' Mr Bulte told Fairfax Media.

''The details of what we provided I can't give you, but we turned around a problem that they'd had been dealing with for about a decade and fixed in inside of 60 days. Virtually every soldier deployed to Afghanistan from the point onwards was outfitted in that capability.''

Two years later, Wilcox has gained approval from the US Department of State to build an Australian factory and share closely guarded US military technology secrets.

As a result, much of the details surrounding the Aquaterro-Wilcox venture is classified. But Bulte said the products ranged from protective clothing, night vision mounts, to ''devices as big as an iPhone, which cost about $20,000.''

He said Wilcox chose to build a new factory, of which Aquaterro will have 50 per cent ownership, rather than to continue to export equipment from the US.

This is because a close relationship is needed with the company’s customers.

''Wilcox found the best way to succeed in what they are doing in delivering equipment to soldiers ... is to be always interacting with them and keeping them close to product development and manufacturing process,'' he said.

The two companies are scouting potential sites in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.

Mr Bulte said all those state governments were eager in developing “smart manufacturing.”

He hoped a ''stepping stone'' factory would be completed mid this year, with a permanent base part of a five year plan.

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