The next stage of LAND 121 Phase 3 has commenced with the down select of three vehicle types now remaining for further trials.
9th Mar 2010
The next stage of LAND 121 Phase 3 has commenced with the down select of three vehicle types now remaining for further trials. As a project it sets the direction for size and type of Medium Heavy Weight vehicles for the Australian Army for several decades to come. There is little doubt that the majority of the vehicles not already replaced by earlier stages of LAND 121 are tired, often inadequate, and unsuited for the type of military operations in the current operational tempo and continuously evolving threat environment. Many of these older vehicles currently in service have been rebuilt or modified over time in order to remain operationally compliant however it does get to a point were a complete technology refresh is required.
The challenge for Defence and particularly army is that these vehicles are intended to serve and perform on the front line for the next 30 years. Realistically the ongoing evolving threat environment and current tempo of operations means it is unlikely that these vehicles will maintain their suitability over this period of time as the transportation workhorse of the war fighter. However this in no way denigrates the current range of offerings or their abilities, but rather acknowledges that the nature of warfare is fluid and random. Accurately predicting the needs and requirements of the future is unlikely and the rate of technological evolution of land vehicles is only set to increase.
Defence, which has been hurt by poor project management issues over a variety of projects now maintains a culture that could be described as cautious at best. This policy is to ensure that projects are well managed and that every step undergoes extensive checks and balances with the aim of mitigating risk - whether it is capability, sustainability or costs. However, unless tightly managed this form of project management risk mitigation strategy can - on the flip side - drag on, erode budgets and not always impact positively upon the final decision making process.
The current Phase 3 is the result of refresh with what was formally 3A and Phase 3B and is now known as Phase 5. A key element of this project has been to acquire protected vehicles and Military Off The Shelf (MOTS) vehicles. Stage 1 of the trials had been previously completed, thus ensuring that the contending vehicles conform within Australian Design Rules and that the vehicles are genuinely Off The Shelf. Initially it was thought that the first down select of two vehicle types would occur in early 2010 however this approach has been altered and instead seen the emergence of three vehicles with the final selection planned for mid 2011. Vehicles selected must be capable of achieving a minimum NATO STANAG 4569 Level 2.2B of threat protection ballistic and blast. When the project was first let in 2005 the STANAG level of protection was at Level 1 which has now moved to Level 2.2. Some competitors have Level 3 protection available however this is beyond the budget perimeters of the project which is seeking to have all vehicles equipped with protection.
Phase 3 will see 2900 Medium Heavy MOTS vehicles acquired with 1500 of these vehicles protected to Level 2.2B protection. Phase 5 of the project will see the acquisition of unarmoured vehicles in this class with these most likely to be allocated to Reserve and stay at home and training units.
Furthermore an additional 351 vehicles in the form of the Thales Utility is likely to be acquired under the Medium Heavy category that emerged from Round 2.
Trials were undertaken with four different contenders at the testing facility Monegeeta Victoria, the Army School of Transport in Puckapunyal, Victoria and Townsville, North Queensland.
Testing involved delivery by all the Primes of their vehicles to the Monageeta Test Facility managed by Australian Testing Services where they were put through their paces on the test track. The majority of the drivers were from a wide variety of Arms and Service Corps from within the Army. A grand total of around 50 trucks were provided, with each supplier’s product tested separately and in conditions of considerable secrecy.
At the conclusion of these trials Defence moved the trucks to the Army School of Transport in Puckapunyal, Victoria. During this timeframe contenders were able to train the drivers in the correct use and management of the vehicles and their systems. Two of the primes transported drivers to either the UK or USA to undertake advanced off road training. Back at Puckapunyal testing occurred within the Safe Driving area – a traffic restricted training area consisting of purpose built typical city and suburban roads. Vehicles were also tested in the off road areas of the base - some of which are used by the School of Armour for it’s LAVs and M1A1 AIM Abrams tanks and then in other country areas of Victoria.
The vehicles for the next stage were driven from Puckapunyal, heading north to Amberley Queensland for a basic evaluation by 9 Force Support Battalion (FSB). The final destination was Townsville in North Queensland. Once in Townsville they underwent testing at the High Range and were put through an extensive list of tests to evaluate their performance and suitability.
Thinking strategically and long-term, Defence extended an invitation to other interested DCP projects related in the land business to undertake assessments of the LAND 121 vehicles to assist with them determining suitability for their own projects.
In the Medium / Heavy capability segment Defence will be seeking vehicles in the following classes:
-Medium Weight Cab Chassis (2.5 tonne)
-Medium Weight Tray (5 tonne)
-Medium Integrated Load Handling System (10 tonne)
-Medium Recovery (10 tonne)
-Heavy ILHS (16.5 tonne)
-Heavy Recovery (16.5 tonne)
-Medium & Heavy Truck Tractors (30 + tonnes).
Approximately 3000 trailers will also be acquired with a combination of types and capabilities. Trailers will be acquired for each vehicle type and will include the following types and capabilities: For the Medium / Heavy capability vehicle these will include, Semi trailers, Plant equipment trailers, and Heavy plant transporters.
The variants of these trailers will carry general freight, fuel, ammunition, stores, containerized freight, tanks, other armoured Personnel Vehicles, engineer plant and equipment, and specialised equipment modules.
Of the four vehicles were recently put through extensive testing ultimately three vehicles were chosen as part of the next stage of Phase 3. The three vehicles chosen via the down select process and to undergo further evaluation are: MAN Military Vehicles Systems Australia HX range, Thales – Utility, which is a derivative of the Bushmaster and Mercedes- Benz Australian Pacific with their Actros and Zectros range.
MAN Military Vehicle Systems Australia's HX vehicle series
MAN Military Vehicles currently supports the Australian Army with tank transporters for the M1A1 AS AIM Abrams Tanks. On the back of this success they are seeking to provide a variety of highly capable vehicles. These include MAN HX or High Mobility Truck System based upon the MAN civilian TGA and SX Extreme Mobility Trucks. The MAN High Mobility Vehicle or HX and Extreme Mobility SX vehicles have been designed to have an active military service life of up 30 years. Available in 4x4, 6x6 and 8x8 versions most variants have an unprepared fording depth of 75 cm and are capable of a prepared depth of 1.5 m. The long wheel base permits a climbing gradient of 60% depending upon the surface and without a Trailer, Vehicle types on offer in the Medium to Heavy range include the HX 18.330 4x4 (HX 60), HX 26.440 6x6 (HX 58), or HX 32.440 8x8 (HX 77) and HX 43.680 8x8 Tractor (HX 81). Extreme Mobility Vehicles include the SX 32.440 4x4 (SX 45) and the SX 32.440 8x8 Multi 2 IAC 3/3 (Integrated Armoured Cabin) (SX 45). The box structure frame of the SX series ensures that it does not pass on any torsion to carried payloads. This makes these off road all terrain vehicles highly suitable for carrying sensitive payloads. All HX and SX vehicles have parts, mechanical and driving commonality with the civilian TG range of MAN vehicles.
The vehicle with the highest local content is Thales Utility, formerly known as the Cooperhead - the tray back version of the Bushmaster. Building upon operational experience of its sibling which are already in service with the RAAF (Air Field Defence Guards), Australian Army, in addition to Dutch and British forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and East Timor.
Partnering with US Oshkosk Defence Thales submitted five variants based upon the US Marine Corps Medium Tactical Vehicle Replacement (MTVR) platform for comparative testing. It is capable of carrying 15 tonnes of payload on primary and secondary designated roads and 7 tonnes off road. Technologies embraced included the TAK-4 independent suspension and the J1939 databus self-diagnostics systems and a Central Tire Inflation System, (CTIS)
Mercedes Benz Australia/Pacific's Zetros and Actros
Mercedes Benz has long term relationship with the ADF with its Unimog and Actros family of vehicles. More recently this has been extended with modern incarnations of the G-Wagon which were the chosen provider for the Light / Light Weight requirement.
The Mercedes-Benz Zetros is a family of heavy duty trucks, designed for extreme off-road operations. Its design is intended both for military and civilian applications. This truck was first introduced in 2008. It has been submitted for DMO trials and evaluation in the Zetros 1833 4x4 and the Zetros 2733 6x6 configurations. Based upon the standard production Axor series, it is modified for off-road use. The 4x4 version has a permissible weight of 16.5 tonnes with a three-seater cab located behind the engine. The Zetros 2733 6x6 has a permissible weight of 25 tonnes. Both vehicles can be fitted with various levels of armor for ballistic and mine protection.
The Actros 4151 8x8 is being offered in both a Medium and Heavy format with a Gross Vehicle Weight of up to 41 tonnes. First introduced in 1996, with the Actros II launched in 2002, in layman terms would be referred to as a semi-trailer. These four axel, all wheeled drive vehicles are currently used in all terrain environments in an armoured format by the Canadian Armed Forces within Afghanistan.
Mid 2011, should see the eventual winner or winners announced for LAND 121 Phase 3. These outcomes will result in the composition of the future fleet of vehicles to serve with the Australian Army in some capacity over the next 30 years. For what has been widely perceived as a complex and drawn out process the ongoing trials process will hopefully deliver highly competent, capable, versatile vehicles that will have a long and productive service life. As an enormous project within the Defence Capability Plan the ultimate decision outcomes go beyond the scope of this project in that they indirectly impact upon other LAND elements within Army and to some degree Air Force and Navy.
There is little doubt the extensive testing, determined trials, requests for and provided information have equipped Defence with a comprehensive list of data upon which to make the final decision. However in the mean time we will have to wait and see with who will emerge as the winner or winners of LAND 121 Phase 3.