AUSTRALIA’S MILITARY VEHICLE INDUSTRY BASE

Writing an overview of Australia’s military vehicle industry base is fraught with difficulty, due in no small part to the twists and turns of various phases of the overarching and ambitious Project Overlander vehicle replacement programme. Analysis of any future industry base is therefore very much dependent on the outcome of several phases.

3rd Oct 2011


 Mobility

 AUSTRALIA’S MILITARY VEHICLE INDUSTRY BASE

 Nigel Pittaway / Melbourne

Writing an overview of Australia’s military vehicle industry base is fraught with difficulty, due in no small part to the twists and turns of various phases of the overarching and ambitious Project Overlander vehicle replacement programme. Analysis of any future industry base is therefore very much dependent on the outcome of several phases.

Australia has a significant industry at the present time, thanks in recent times to the General Dynamics Land Systems Australia (GDLS-A) ASLAV and Thales Australia (formerly ADI) Bushmaster wheeled vehicles. Both companies are enjoying ongoing success with these products, either in terms of Through Life Support and upgrade or continuing production and export potential and both are bidding for future contracts with new products.

However delays to recent projects, such as the M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier upgrade and the addition of a major Overlander phase to the Projects of Concern list, have contributed to the specification of ‘de-risked’ Military/Commercial Off The Shelf solutions in many Defence programmes.

In 2008, Australia bought into the US Joint Tactical Light Vehicle competition as one solution to the Protected Mobility Vehicle – Light phase of Project Overlander and while any purchase of the winning design would realise huge economies of scale, it would do so at the cost of local vehicle design and development capabilities. Instead, if JLTV is indeed successful, Australian Industry may participate in the global supply chain of the victor, thereby enjoying years of sales of ‘widgets’ to all JLTV customers. This is a double-edged sword for Defence and a dilemma for industry, but is not limited to military vehicles; most major defence projects, land, sea and air are facing the same decisions.

In December last year, media outlets were quoting ‘Wikileaks’ documents, in which US sources reportedly suggested that Australia should buy its Defence equipment from the USA (naturally) and close down local manufacturing capability. Happily this advice has not yet been accepted in its entirety by the Government and Defence Materiel Organisation, but the MOTS/COTS preference will no doubt squeeze local capability in years to come.

CURRENT INDUSTRY BASE AND RECENT PROJECTS

An exhaustive analysis of Australia’s military vehicle industry is beyond the scope of this article, but a handful of recent (and ongoing) projects provide an overview of the situation at the present time.

Project Land 106 is the aforementioned upgrade of the tracked M113A1 APC fleet to M113AS4 standard. The work is being carried out by BAE Systems Australia (via its acquisition of Tenix) and replaces most of the vehicle – only the hull, hatches; rear door/ramp and communications systems are retained. The programme will upgrade 431 vehicles at Bandiana and Williamstown in Victoria and Wingfield in South Australia. Despite significant delays to the execution of Land 106, the final vehicle is expected to be handed back to Defence by the end of next year.

Phases 2 and 3 of Project Land 112 delivered 257 wheeled Australian Light Armoured Vehicle (ASLAV) to the Army Between 1990 and 2004. The vehicle is a version of the US Marine Corps’ LAV-25, assembled in South Australia by General Dynamics Land Systems Australia and has proven a great success both at home at in the Middle East.

GDLS-A also designed and manufactured the turret for ASLAV and has enjoyed export success for this product. The company received a five-year $44.8 million contract in May for Through Life Support of the ASLAV and Abrams M1A1 tanks and M88A2 Heavy Recovery Vehicles.

Thales Australia was awarded a contract to produce an additional nine ASLAV Crew Procedure Trainers (CPT) for delivery during 2013, as follow-on to nine which were delivered in 2006 under Land 112. Thales will build the CPTs, which are housed in ISO shipping containers, at its Rydalmere facility in New South Wales.

In June last year, Defence granted Second Pass Approval to Phase 4 of the Land 112 programme, to up-armour the ASLAV commencing in 2012. Although a contract has not been let, the work will enhance the mine and ballistic protection qualities and possibly add a defensive aid suite and some form of signature management.

In what has ultimately become a great success story for Australian Industry, Thales Australia’s Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle continues to earn accolades from its users.

Bushmaster is a wheeled PMV, capable of withstanding mine and Improvised Explosive Device explosions. It has been used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan by both the Australian Army and RAAF Air Defence Guards. Despite a number of vehicles struck by IEDs all crew and passengers have, to date at least, escaped without loss of life.

First ordered under Project Land 116 (Bushranger), 838 vehicles have been ordered by Defence and in June, Thales rolled the 800th production example off its production line in Bendigo. The most recent contract, awarded in May, is for 101 vehicles under Land 121Phase 3 and adds to the 293 previously announced under this phase, guaranteeing production through to early 2013 at least The Bushmaster has also won export sales to the Netherlands and has been evaluated by other forces, such as the US and Spanish Army’s and the United Arab Emirates. Thales says export sales are valued at more than $100 million to date and further opportunities are being ‘vigorously pursued’.

DEFENCE CAPABILITY PLAN AND CURRENT PROJECTS

Project Land 121, arguably the most ambitious Land plan ever, is a $4.6 billion multi-phase programme which will deliver around 7000 Military Off The Shelf vehicles to the Australian Defence Force.

Phase 3 of the project seeks to deliver 1200 unprotected light vehicles, protected and unprotected medium/heavy vehicles and specialist modules, 973 light and lightweight trailers and the additional Bushmasters plus 184 trailers. In addition, Phase 4 is a $1 billion competition to supply up to 1300 Protected Mobility Vehicle-Light units to the Australian Army.

To say that Land 121 has had its share of problems is an understatement and the programme has been beset by many problems along the way. A history of the project to date is worthy of an article by itself (and has been over the years), so it is perhaps best to examine the current facets and how they will likely affect the industry base here in Australia.

Mercedes Benz Australia is currently in the process of delivering 1200 G-Wagon unprotected light vehicles to the ADF, with the first being delivered in February last year. Several versions are being acquired, including four-wheel drive station wagons, cab-chassis units and six-wheel drive single and dual cab versions.

The G-Wagon is imported in Australia, after being built by Mercedes Benz in Austria, but has a modular payload system which is being built locally. G.H. Varley of Newcastle has won a contract to produce specific modules, such as Ambulance and Command Post variants, which the company says will add up to 100 jobs in the Hunter Region.

Brisbane-based Haulmark Trailers were awarded a contract to supply 830 trailers for the G-Wagon in early September, coming on top of a previously-won contract to construct 583 lightweight and 390 light trailers for the ADF.

A Medium/Heavyweight vehicle is also to be acquired under Land 121 Phase 3. Contenders for this phase are Mercedes Benz Asia-Pacific with their Actros and Zetros series of trucks, MAN Military Vehicle Systems Australia (a division of Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles GmbH) with the HX high mobility vehicle and Thales Australia with a utility version of the Bushmaster. Up to 2000 vehicles and modules are to be acquired under this sub-phase and the DCP predicts contract signature in the 2011-2012 timeframe..

Land 121 Phase 4 will acquire around 1300 PMV-Light vehicles and companion trailers for command, liaison and utility roles, with a Year of Decision expected somewhere between 2012 and 2015.

In 2008, Australia announced it would pay $40 million to join the Technical Development phase of the US JLTV programme. The JLTV is designed for the US Army and USMC and, with a similar requirement, Australian participation began in 2009.

Contenders for the JLTV contract are Lockheed Martin, teamed with BAE Systems, Alcoa Defence and JW Defense Systems, and BAE Systems-Navistar offering the Valanx design.

The JLTV timetable calls for the programme to move into the Engineering and Manufacturing phase next year, but all is not well. There are reports that the vehicle is now too heavy for the Marines and earlier this month the US Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman, Daniel K Inouye announced that it had recommended the project be terminated.

“This bill terminates the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle programme due to excessive cost growth and constantly changing requirements” his announcement said, “The Committee believes that alternatives exist today to meet the Army and Marine Corps requirements to recapitalise and completely upgrade the Humvee fleet, and supports funding for those programmes.”

Where this leaves the programme is anyone’s guess but, given the Australian vehicle had been planned to come from an assembly line in the United States, local participation would have been restricted to participation in the global supply chain and TLS. Shortly before the Senate Appropriations Committee announced its’ recommendation a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Australia said, “local industry would be extended an opportunity to participate in a global supply chain for 50,000 vehicles - by far the largest light tactical vehicles programme in the world.”

Land 121 Phase 4 perhaps fortunately includes further options which will be evaluated against the winning JLTV design. The first is a Manufactured and Supported in Australia (MSA) option, which has shortlisted three designs, and a Market Available option, which may be taken up should the others prove unsatisfactory. Contenders for the MSA are Force Protection Australasia (Ocelot), GDLS-A (Eagle IV) and Thales Australia with its locally-designed Hawkei.

Force Protection Australasia is a subsidiary of Force Protection Inc, a US-based company. In late 2010, it announced it had signed an agreement with the South Australian Government to assemble the Ocelot in Adelaide should it win the competition. It also flags the participation of local suppliers in the programme.

GDLS-A will likewise assemble the Eagle IV PMV-L in Adelaide if it is the victor, saying it will engage with Australian companies as part of the design, manufacturing and sustainment transfer initiatives for the programme. “General Dynamics is currently developing our supply chain strategy to enable Eagle IV to be manufactured and supported in Australia” it told a supply chain conference back in 2009.

Thales Australia is teamed with Boeing Defence Australia, Plasan and the PAC Group to offer its Hawkei. The company says it has leveraged experience gained in the design and manufacture of the Bushmaster for Hawkei, which will also be manufactured at is Bendigo plant.

Other Projects currently underway are Joint Project 2097 Phase 1B, which will replace the SAS Regiment’s Long Range Patrol Vehicles. Known contenders are Force Protection Australasia (Ocelot), GDLS-A (Eagle), Supacat (Nary) and Thales Australia (Hawkei).

Land 200, which will see BAE Systems, under contract to Elbit, prepare the ADF’S Mack, Unimog, Bushmasters and M113s for the installation of a Battle Group and Below Command, Control and Communications (BGC3) system.

Under the latter, BAE Systems Australia will carry out the installation activities at the Meeandah Military Facility in Brisbane, and on the M113 APCs at the new 7RAR Facility at Edinburgh Parks, north of Adelaide.


FUTURE PROJECTS AND OPPORTUNITIES

Beyond Phases 3 and 4 of Land 121 there are other projects either in development, or on the horizon:

Further phases (5A and 5B) will deliver training vehicles for both protected and unprotected light vehicles, worth around $425 million. Further into the future, Land 400Phase 2 has been inserted into the DCP to replace the close combat capabilities currently fulfilled by the M113, ASLAV and Bushmaster.

All of these projects combined will cost Australia several billions of dollars over the next decade or two. With no disrespect to the manufacturers of ‘widgets’ intended, all of whom perform a vital role in our economy and should be encouraged and supported by any means available, the country must decide if it needs or wants a solid military vehicle design and manufacturing capability, or whether it will become known as the supplier of ‘widgets’ to the world.

 

 

APDR at a glance