Small fry beams defence equipment to the world

WA communications company Blacktree Technology has just completed its largest export ever – antenna systems bound for the United Kingdom.

The multiple dual helical phased matched antenna systems will enhance the UK’s UHF SATCOM ground station capability.

The deal signals that this small Belmont-based company is stamping its mark as a defence exporter and supplier, delivering critical communications infrastructure for projects around the globe.

Blacktree supplies data networks and RF systems covering the spectrum from HF radio through to Ka band satellite and has infrastructure in Australia, Germany, US, Italy and Japan.

Managing Director Joe Nevin and Director Joel Nevin, a husband and wife team, established the company in 2002.

It has five staff and operates on a model of using about 20 small businesses and specialist contractors when demand requires, with the high-tech products assembled – often by hand – in its Belmont warehouse.

It’s caught the eye of the Federal Government of late, with Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds launching the new Defence Policy for Industry Participation at Blacktree’s workshop in March.

Blacktree has won more than $1.3m worth of contracts with Department of Defence since 2017 – including a $440,000 order for three remote control antenna pedestal acquisition on April 2, with equipment installed in air force, navy and army facilities across the country.

It is exactly the type of company the Australian Government hopes will benefit from the new policy, which means tenderers must demonstrate Australian industry participation has been considered for national and local level procurements worth $4m for materiel and non-materiel procurements and $7.5m for construction procurements, making it easier for small-to-medium businesses to compete for defence work.

Joel says Blacktree, along with many other Australian SMEs, have been advocating for the policy, which will apply to new projects and new phases of existing projects and be introduced throughout the year.

“The policy announcement at our office by Senator Reynolds was fabulous because it means for the smaller projects, companies will still have to demonstrate an Australian industry content, even down to local content,” she says.

“We are an SME, manufacturer and we export. Those three things are very much the focus of government with the sovereign industry priorities at the moment.”

A big break for Blacktree came in 2014-15 when it was approached to take over WA innovation company Spirit River, which had been around since 1996, and upped Blacktree’s capability to supplying communications equipment to military forces around the world.

“The products are critical to the operation of the anchor communication stations and allow you to simultaneously transmit and receive through the same antenna systems. But behind the scenes there are a complex system of components inline that ensure a stronger, clearer signal; including filters, combiners, low noise amplifiers, high power amplifiers. We manufacture all those components in WA,” she says.

Winning a CDIC Capability Improvement Grant in August last year and matched by the company has helped Blacktree find its focus in the industry by reviewing its internal systems, developing a marketing plan and strategy relevant to the industry.

Blacktree has also been boosted by a listing in the Australian Military Sales catalogue in February, which advertises surplus ADF equipment, and products and services of selected companies for export, which prompted a visit by WA Governor Kim Beazley.

“Blacktree is a bit unique because our product is acknowledged as world leading, often forming a core component in the UHF SATCOM anchor stations. To the point where our components are certified by JITC for use in certain applications,” Joel says.

Arizona-based JITC (Joint Interoperability Test Command) supports testing for the Defence Information Systems Agency.

“So, when a Defence force requires communications systems to be used on a particular UHF SATCOM network, they must incorporate our equipment with certain types of radios within the anchor stations.”

► CCIWA advocates on behalf of the Members for local defence opportunities. Find out how here.

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