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Dr Sanjay Mazumdar: The SA ‘trailblazer’ driving defence innovation
In 2022, South Australia reinforced its reputation as the nation’s “defence state” when the University of Adelaide established the Defence Trailblazer for Concept to Sovereign Capability in partnership with the University of New South Wales. Now, this ground-breaking research commercialisation program has an Executive Director— and Dr Sanjay Mazumdar is already working with industry to pilot projects in quantum, AI, cyber, hypersonics, autonomous systems and space technology.

Dr Mazumdar brings over 30 years of experience across defence, national security and technologies to the role, including his time as CEO of the Data to Decisions Cooperative Research Centre. There, he successfully transitioned R&D into real-world operations, meeting high priority national security needs and creating two spinout companies. Mazumdar says he will carry this “mission first” approach into his Defence Trailblazer work.

“Over the past few months, I’ve been meeting with senior Australian Defence Force officers,” he says, “and it’s only reinforced my view that we should focus our R&D efforts on the priority missions they’ve identified.”

Mazumdar acknowledges the urgency of the challenges facing the sector, specifically the imperative need for advanced technology and skilled personnel.

Dr Sanjay Mazumdar, Executive Director

“The strategic threat landscape for Australia’s defence and security is extremely complex at the moment, and evolving rapidly. We need better tech and new, skilled talent in the workforce.”

The Defence Trailblazer partnership will offer crucial support to address these pressing issues.

“The University of Adelaide and UNSW are both ranked in the world’s top 100 universities—and both undertake significant research and education work with defence and defence industry,” he says. “They understand the sector, have defence-cleared staff, and share a focus on transitioning research into real-life applications.”

“We have a proud history of defence-sector collaboration,” says Dr Stephen Rodda, the University of Adelaide’s Chief Innovation and Commercialisation Officer, “and a proven track record in supporting industry to achieve their goals. We’re incredibly excited that Dr Mazumdar, a respected University alumnus and community advisor, is leading this vital project.”

Mazumdar says some of the University of Adelaide’s first Defence Trailblazer projects will be in defensive hypersonics and countermeasures, cyber and information warfare, and defence space technologies.

Luckily, grand challenges are no stranger to the institution. University of Adelaide researchers are responsible for huge advances in this area:  blast-resistant concrete, the world’s most precise clock, algorithms for object recognition in images— even dragonfly-inspired robots that pursue targets in unstructured settings. In 2017, the University also supported a space start-up in designing and building a nanosatellite launched by NASA.

With two prodigious research universities at his back, Dr Mazumdar is poised to make enormous strides for national security, military capabilities, defence education, and commerce. Defence Trailblazer estimates that the program and its projects will generate a net economic benefit to the Australian economy of $1.5 billion over ten years.

“I see this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to upgrade the defence innovation system—and drive sustainable cultural change within universities. I’m very excited to seize the opportunity and make a real difference.”

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