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Sonar technology for RNZN set to expand to other navies as government-supported R&D investment pays off

Line of Defence Magazine, Summer 2017/18

A Callaghan Innovation R&D growth grant can also help develop export revenue opportunitiesA Callaghan Innovation R&D growth grant can also help develop export revenue opportunities


ENL Group is eyeing international defence contracts as a government grant helps its ongoing research and development programme. Callaghan Innovation says more New Zealand defence sector manufacturers have the potential to benefit from a similar R&D focus.


Auckland-based marine electronics manufacturer, ENL Group, has its sights set on winning international defence contracts that could see its kiwi-developed sonar technology deployed on naval vessels around the world.

With a long history of marine innovation, a track record of delivering results to the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN), and a government grant to further its research and development, the company is on course for global growth as it targets new defence contracts.

Callaghan Innovation, which has a long history of partnering with ENL, and provided the R&D grant, says it has similar support to offer other kiwi manufacturers and innovators targeting the defence sector.

ENL subsidiary, WASSP Ltd., recently delivered three multi-beam wireless sounder systems to the RNZN for use by the Protector fleet. The WASSP system’s world-leading technology provides the fleet’s ships’ bridges with real-time underwater and sea-floor mapping, enabling safe passage.

ENL Group managing director, Gareth Hodson, said until recently a non-disclosure agreement prevented the company from discussing the innovative solution it had developed for the NZ Ministry of Defence and the RNZN, but since the NDA was lifted, it was talking to other navies interested in the technology.

“It’s an adaption of our WASSP multi-beam sounder system that’s in use internationally by superyachts and in the fishing sector, and now that we’re not constrained by the NDA, we’ve started promoting it to navies and coast guards around the world, who have shown a lot of interest,” said Gareth.

Behind WASSP’s success has been a significant investment by ENL in research and development (R&D), and a strong partnership with government innovation agency Callaghan Innovation.

“We’ve been investing in R&D since 1991 and in the early days of our multi-beam development, around 2000, our partnership with what was then Industrial Research Ltd (now Callaghan Innovation). As a technology partner, IRL enabled us to rapidly increase our R&D capability, while we successfully managed to commercialise WASSP, which is now being sold into 32 countries,” said Gareth.


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“Another positive spin-off from this relationship has been continuing the asset building of our IP, where we have successfully registered two patents within WASSP.”

ENL now has a Callaghan Innovation growth grant that provides 20% additional funding for every dollar the company spends on R&D.

Callaghan Innovation business advisor, Nick Brewer, said other New Zealand companies developing technologies with potential defence sector applications should take inspiration from ENL’s success and the international interest it was attracting for its sonar technology.

“Callaghan Innovation has deep expertise in a range of technologies, from sonar and optics to digital and advanced materials. Over the years ENL has been able to take advantage of both our research and technical capabilities, and our capacity to assist with funding.”

Nick, a former Royal Navy aircraft and helicopter engineer, said Callaghan Innovation’s expertise provided businesses with a cost-effective solution for overcoming obstacles to innovation.

Gareth said as well as being used to assist with the development of the WASSP system for expansion into international markets, the R&D growth grant would also help ENL develop other export revenue opportunities.


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