Australia Recapitalises Defence Force

Rheinmetall’s Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle

Andrew Drwiega – Australia’s defensive posture for the next 20 years is being guided by the perceptions of its 2016 White Paper.

Australia’s rich mineral deposits has allowed it to spend 1.9 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on the defence budget, a figure which is set to rise to 2 percent (GDP) by 2020-21. The total budget for 2018/19 is $26.2 billion (AUD $36.4 billion).

The 2016 Defence White Paper set a course for the Australian government’s investment in defence equipment that would shape the nation’s defensive posture until the mid-2030s. It identified six key strategic issues shaped the defence posture that the country would take.

Firstly, it continued to see the United States as the pre-eminent military power, despite growing challenges by China. This view also underpins the acquisition of US manufactured equipment which would lead to knowledge sharing and operational familiarity.

Secondly, the White Paper declares that “Australia’s security and prosperity relies on a stable, rules‐based global order that supports the resolution of disputes through peaceful means, facilitates free and open trade, and enables unfettered access to the global commons to support economic development.” This concept is challenged by China’s push into the South China Sea personified by its ‘island building’ strategy, and also by President Trump’s prolific use of trade tariffs (particularly against China) as he attempts to rebalance international trade in favour of the US.

Thirdly, there is an real threat of the growth of terrorism in the region which has been experienced by several countries including Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and elsewhere. The return of members of Daesh has been highlighted by many governments in recent months.

Fourthly, there is a concern regarding the inability of some nation states to protect their own borders, and even territory within their own countries (as has been witnessed in Africa). Supporting international resilience to such threats is a role in which the Australian Defence Force can participate.

Fifth is the rate of modernisation among countries within Asia Pacific that have been experiencing positive economic growth. As nation’s develop their own defence industries, such as the Made in India drive, so home-grown capabilities will increase. According to the White Paper: “While military modernisation will not be directed against Australia, it will mean that the defence capability edge we have enjoyed in the wider region will diminish. In the next 20 years, half of the world’s submarines and at least half the world’s advanced combat aircraft will be operating in our region.”

Finally, the White Paper recognises the increase in threats generated in cyberspace and space. As is being experienced internationally, the cyber threat has grown quickly and shows no signs of slowing.

The major areas of focus in the White Paper include: maritime operations and anti-submarine warfare; Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) together with space, electronic warfare and cyber; air and sea lift; strike and combat air; land combat and amphibious warfare; and base development.

MQ-4C Triton

MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for the Royal Australian Air Force.

The momentous news in terms of maritime operations is the recent and long-awaited announcement that came on 26 June when the Australian Department of Defence­ confirmed its acquisition of six Northrop Grumman Corporation MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in a cooperative programme with the US Navy (USN). The USN’s programme of record is for 68 MQ-4C Triton’s.

An initial investment of $1.4bn will be made to acquire the MQ-4C, including $364 million in new facilities at RAAF Base Edinburgh and RAAF Base Tindal, together with ground control systems, support, and training. The MQ-4C Triton is a further development of Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk, with a reinforced airframe and wing. For long range maritime missions where it may be necessary to descend through cloud layers in order to obtain better images it incorporates de-icing and lightning protection systems.

The Triton is classified as a high altitude long endurance (HALE) platform has been under development by the United States Navy since 2008. The RAAF UAS will work alongside Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft conducting maritime surveillance. With both of these assets operating together the RAAF will discontinue using the AP-3C Orions in this roll. Triton mission length is up to 24 hours allowing it to range further than manned aircraft and to stay on patrol for longer. They will be flown by RAAF pilots and co-pilots at altitudes up to 55,000 feet.

Prime Minister of Australia, the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull, MP; Minister for Defence, Senator the Honourable Marise Payne; the Minister for Defence Industry, the Honourable Christopher Pyne, MP; and Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Leo Davies, AO, CSC, announce a $1.4 billion investment for the Australian Defence Force that will see the acquisition of six MQ-4C Triton (Australian DoD)

Manufacturer Northrop Grumman
Role Real-time Maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance
Airframe Length:14.5m, height: 4.6m
Wingspan 39.9 m
Weight 14,628 kg
Speed 331 knots (max)
Ceiling 50,000 feet
Range 24 hrs+

“Triton provides unprecedented endurance and 360-degree coverage through its unique sensor suite,” said Doug Shaffer, vice president of Triton programmes, Northrop Grumman. “Australia has one of the largest sea zones in the world over which it has rights to use marine resources, also known as an Economic Exclusion Zone. As a flexible platform, Triton can serve in missions as varied as maritime domain awareness, target acquisition, fisheries protection, oil field monitoring and humanitarian relief.”

The first of the Triton aircraft is expected to be introduced into service in mid-2023 with all six aircraft planned to be delivered and in operation by late 2025.

Type 26 Future Frigate

Other key capabilities in maritime acquisition include 12 new regionally superior submarines; nine new anti‐submarine warfare frigates; 12 new offshore patrol vessels; seven additional P‐8A Poseidon aircraft bringing the total to 15 P-8As by 2020.

The winner of the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) anti-submarine warfare Future Frigate competition was announced in June. BAE Systems beat its rivals to supply the RAN with nine Future Frigates to replace the Anzac-class frigates from the mid-2020s, Construction work on the ships will begin in 2020 at the still under construction new federal government-owned shipyard, ASC Shipbuilding, in Osborne, South Australia. For the duration of the build the yard will become a subsidiary of BAE Systems, but after that is will return to Commonwealth ownership to continue naval shipbuilding into the future.

BAE Systems was announced as the successful bidder to design the Hunter Class Future Frigate for SEA 5000 Phase 1. (Australian DoD)

To fulfil its role as an anti-submarine warfare platform the hull of the Hunter class is being designed to produce a low acoustic signature, and will incorporate an Ultra S2150 hull mounted sonar new sonar, Thales S2087 towed array and variable depth sonar. It will operate a Sikorsky MH-60R helicopter with hanger room for an additional UAS system.

Main weapons and sensors include Australian CEAFAR2 Phased Array Radar, Aegis Combat Management System with a Saab developed Australian interface, as well as a range of anti-air missiles, close-in weapons systems, guns, decoys and other countermeasures.

Land Capabilities

There is a significant investment, up to 18 percent of capability expenditure, on land systems up to 2025-26. These will address a wide range of requirements, from those that support deployed infantry both in terms of personal equipment, and mobility, firepower and situational awareness.

On 17 August one of the most significant investments in the Australian Army was made when the Australian government announced a $2.3 billion (AUD$3.3bn) contract for Rheinmetall’s Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV), of which a total of 211 will be acquired under Project Land 400 Phase 2.

Rheinmetall’s Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle.

Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister, stated that the contract represented “the largest single acquisition for the Australian Army and it is part of our AUD $200 billion [US$142 bn] re-equipment of the Australian Defence Force. These vehicles will be built in Queensland and we are creating for the first time a sovereign national defence enterprise which is our commitment.” Over 40 Australian companies will participate in the programme.

This will also ensure that Rheinmetall will plays a major roll in supporting the combat mobility of the Australian Army. The Boxer is already in service in the German, Netherlands and Lithuanian armed forces, will be delivered in several variants, the largest of which will be the reconnaissance version at 133 vehicles. This version has the Lance turret system which features a 30mm MK30-2 / ABM automatic cannon, developed by Rheinmetall. The turret can house 200 rounds of two different types. it also incorporates a digital fire-control systems with two electro-optical sights – a high-resolution camera, a thermal imaging camera and a laser rangefinder.

Head of Rheinmetall’s Vehicle Systems Division Ben Hudson stated: “The Boxer CRV is highly protected against both asymmetric threats that have been faced by Australian soldiers in recent operations, while also being highly protected against conventional battlefield threats that our soldiers may face one day in a conventional war-fighting scenario”.

Deliveries of the 8×8 CRV will begin from a dedicated new facility in Queensland in 2019 and run through to 2026.

Rheinmetall has also been the successful winner in another competition to supply the Army with over 1,000 trucks through Australia’s Land 121 Phase 5B project. The contract is worth $497 million (nearly AUD$700 million) and is an addition to a previous contract for 2,500 medium and heavyweight military trucks worth nearly $1.4bn (AUD$1.9 bn).

Armin Papperger, CEO of Rheinmetall stated: “This follow-up order is of great strategic significance to us…It reflects Australia’s satisfaction with our performance and the quality of our vehicles” and that it proved that Rheinmetall was “fully capable of carrying out sophisticated large-scale projects.”

Exoskeletons and cyber

At the close of the biennial Land Forces exhibition 2018, which ran from 4-6 September, the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr summarised ADF’s need for modernisation and flexibility of operation: “The operating environment is increasingly volatile, uncertain and complex. We must embrace and understand technological opportunities to prepare our Army for the challenges of the future.”

Lockheed Martin’s FORTIS Exoskeleton.
Lockheed Martin is partnering with Deakin University to further develop its FORTIS exoskeleton.

During the event, on 5 September Lockheed Martin Australia announced that it would be partnering with Deakin University’s Institute for Intelligent Systems Research (IISRI) to examine how to extend the capability of Lockheed Martin’s FORTIS Exoskeleton.

A 12-month research partnership between Lockheed Martin Australia and has extended the capability of Lockheed Martin’s FORTIS Exoskeleton. According to the company, the FORTIS is an “unpowered, lightweight exoskeleton designed by Lockheed Martin that makes tools weighing up to 36lbs feel weightless – reducing user fatigue and improving worker safety.” The Deakin IISRO researchers have already discovered how new attachments can expand the load carrying capability of the FORTIS Exoskeleton “

James Heading, business development senior manager, Lockheed Martin Australia, said that research into exoskeletons would ultimately result in “assisting soldiers to carry heavy equipment over long distances.”

The ADF is to benefit from cyber training from Elbit Systems of Australia subsidiary Cyberbit following an announcement by Minister for Defence Christopher Pyne. Elbit will deliver training and teaching materials to allow the ADF to develop their own ‘Cyber Warriors’ who “will learn to identify, track, investigate, respond to and remediate a cyber-attack.”

Cyber training facilities will be collocated with the ADF in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra. The fully self-contained Cyber Security training network will be capable of training 50 students concurrently.

by Andrew Drwiega