Army Mobility Surges Ahead

Australian Army soldiers use a G Wagon Surveillance & Reconnaissance vehicl
Australian Army soldiers use a G Wagon Surveillance & Reconnaissance vehicle during a training activity in Alice Springs, in March 2017. (Australian DoD

The Commonwealth of Australia’s LAND programmes have made good progress in the competitions and selections for its army mobility requirements.

Australia’s military is in the middle of an ambitious plan to modernise its defence forces. Many of these programmes involve updating and enhancing land mobility including the replacement of its logistics and support, tactical and combat vehicle fleets, some of which have been in service since the 1980s.

Upon completion, this will not only significantly improve the capabilities of the forces but is projected to increase readiness and reduce maintenance and support burdens. The programmes addressing this need are LAND 121 for support vehicles, LAND 400 for combat vehicles, and LAND 8120 for engineer support platforms. Executed in a series of phases, the programmes have attracted international industry attention while providing opportunities for Australian industry to capitalise on local content requirements to establish new national capabilities to support the force in the future.

Tactical Trucks

The tactical truck fleets of Unimog, Mack and S-liner vehicles are slated to be replaced by new current generation, highly capable, protected, and unprotected, modular prime movers and trailers.

Designated LAND121 Project Overlander it consists of several phases: LAND 121 Phase 3A addresses lightweight/light vehicle and trailers; Phase 3B and 5B for medium and heavy trucks and associated trailers/mission modules; and Phase 4 for light protected mobility vehicles (PMV-L).

Phase 3A is being addressed through the acquisition of Mercedes-Benz G Wagons manufactured in Graz, Austria for Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific in Mulgrave, Victoria and matching trailers from Haulmark Trailers in Queensland. The acquisition includes four- and six-wheel models in 11 mission configurations, some of which are provided by GH Varley in New South Wales. They share a common chassis, engine and running gear. The 4×4 has a gross vehicle weight of up to 10,120lbs (4,600kg) with the 6×6 at 14,300lbs (6,500kg). A total of 2,268 G-Wagon all-wheel drive plus 1,921 trailers have been delivered since 2011 completing the force needs.

The medium and heavy truck requirements of Phase 3B are being filled by Rheinmetall MAN through its subsidiary, Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles Australia (RMMVA). A 2013 contract saw 2,500 trucks plus 3,000 specialist modules with deliveries through 2020. Integration of mission packages has occurred at their Vehicle Integration Facility in Brisbane. An additional contract under Phase 5B was awarded on 25 July 2018 for 1044 new medium and heavy trucks, 872 modules and 812 trailers. Special modules for water and fuel are manufactured locally by Queensland’s based Holmwood Highgate.

Australia was the first to receive the HX2 series of military trucks, 40 percent of which will be supplied with armoured cabs. They are available in 4×4, 6×6, 8×8 and 10×10 configurations with weights up to 120 tonnes. Mission versions include Heavy Integrated Load Handling (HX-77), Heavy Tipper (HX-77), Medium Tipper (40-M), Tractor (HX-81), Heavy Recovery (45M), Medium-weight Tray with Crane (40M), and Medium-weight Tray (40M). Deliveries to Australia commenced in 2019 and are expected to continue until 2024.

The Rheinmetall MAN HX series of tactical logistics and support trucks are designed for the rigours of military service. HX3 8×8 shown with ISO container load.(Rheinmetall MAN)

Protected Vehicles

LAND 121 Phase 4 addresses the requirements for light protected vehicles for command, liaison, reconnaissance, and utility tasks. The PMV-L is intended to provide protection against ballistic and blast threats at levels equivalent to the current Thales Bushmaster in a lighter, deployable, and highly mobile system. One of the more challenging criteria was providing for helicopter transport while achieving the required protection. The Thales Hawkei, an Australian developed design, was selected in December 2011 to fill this role.

The 4×4 Hawkei has a curb weight of 1,5432 lbs (7,000kg) with 6600lbs (3,000kg) payload capacity. Its Axle Tech independent suspension provides for good off-road mobility. The vehicle can be externally sling lifted by the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Available in both two-door and four-door versions, the plan is to acquire 465 of the former and 635 of the latter as well as 1058 trailers. Equipped with on-board an integral computer system and vehicle Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS), maintenance is intended to become conditions-based rather than schedule-based. The vehicle has been equipped with open stations for light or heavy machine guns and with a remote weapon station. Thales is delivering 1,100 vehicles and trailers by the end of 2021.

The Hawkei protected vehicle is an Australian design by Thales.
The Hawkei protected vehicle is an Australian design by Thales. (Thales)

Mounted Combat Reconnaissance

LAND 400 Phase 2 is fielding state-of-the-art Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (CRV) to replace the Australian Light Armoured Vehicles (ALAV) in service since 1996. Following a competition with international participation the Rheinmetall 8×8 Boxer was selected. The programme looks to field the initial 25 (Block 1) vehicles manufactured in Germany with Block 2 occurring in the company’s new Queensland facility for a total of 211 vehicles. That first batch of vehicles was delivered in June 2021. The order comprises a number of variants including the reconnaissance (the majority), command and control (15), joint fires surveillance (29), ambulance (11), battlefield repair (11) and (10) recovery versions. The reconnaissance variant has a two-man Lance turret mounting a 30mm automatic cannon, Spike LR2 fire-and forget anti-tank missiles, and the possibility of a turret roof .50 calibre remote weapon station (RWS). A panoramic optical sight with 360-degree situational awareness and automatic target detection and tracking and digital fire control allows hunter- killer engagement. It can carry up to four dismounts.

Rheinmetall Boxer 8x8
The ALAV replacement is the Rheinmetall Boxer 8×8 which brings improvements in survivability and firepower. (Australian DOD)

Other Australian Boxer variants take advantage of the design’s mission module concept, allowing various mission modules to be installed onto a common drive module. The drive module contains the power pack, suspension, fuel system, electrical and driver station. Specific mission modules can be placed into the drive module for different roles. Versions of the modules required by LAND 400 have already been provided to other Rheinmetall/ARTEC NATO users. Those armed with a RWS will initially use the Kongsberg with Block 2 vehicles moving to the R400 HD Mk2 from Australia’s EOS.

All variants share the same emphasis on survivability with modular armour protection against up to medium calibre cannon and artillery fragments as well as mines and IEDs. NATO STANAG 4569 levels of fourto 6/6+ are possible. The Elbit Iron Fist – Light Decouples Active Protection System is also being evaluated. The design isolates the crew from hazards like fuel with triple layer floors, blast attenuating seats. Specific attention is given to achieving the lowest visual, infra-red, thermal, and radar signatures. The engine is thermally decoupled from the hull, actively cooled frontal plates are provided, while the engine exhaust is directed toward the ground. it is powered by an MTU8V199 TE20 720hp engine coupled to the Allison HD4070 7 speed automatic transmission.

Land Combat Vehicle System

The Australian Army has been using the M113 Armoured Personnel Carrier since the mid-1960s. LAND 400 Phase 3 will acquire a replacement Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) and associated manoeuvre support vehicles. Following an initial competition Rheinmetall Defence Australia and Hanwha Defence Australia Defence were down selected and have proceeded to the risk mitigation activity phase which began in October 2019. The final evaluation and selection are expected in 2022. The eventual contract is now understood to be for 400 vehicles with 281 turreted and 119 non-turreted support vehicles with an expected initial operating capability (IOC) of 2024.

The two candidates are the Lynx KF41 from Rheinmetall and Redback from Hanwha. The Lynx is derived from the Puma IFV which entered service with the German Army in 2010. Lynx is designed to address other export markets and has been adopted by the Hungarian Army. The Lynx 41 offered accommodates a crew of three plus eight dismounts and uses the Lance turret. The Lance has an auto-cannon, two side weapon pods which will accept guided missiles, advanced optics, and fire controls. Mission variants being proposed draw from the Lynx chassis. The company suggests that there are areas of logistics and support commonality between the Lynx offering and the Boxer RCV that would offer benefits in manufacturing and field support.

The two contenders to replace the M113AS4 are the KF41 Lynx from Rheinmetall Defense Australia and the Redback from Hanwha Defense Australia (shown with the M113 – centre). (Aus-tralian DOD)

Hanwha’s Redback draws from its development of the K-21 which, as a spokesperson explained, “is specifically designed for Australia’s LAND 400 requirements”. It mounts a 30mm auto-cannon in an Elbit Systems T2000 two-man turret from EOS Systems with hunter-killer sights and advanced fire controls. In March 2021 the company announced its successful integration of both the Rafael Spike anti-tank guided missile and Iron First Active Protection System into the Redback.

Both companies are actively seeking every opportunity to involve Australian industry and maximise local economic value. Three prototype infantry fighting vehicles were delivered from each company team by February 2021 under the risk mitigation activity. One will undergo ballistic and blast testing while the other two will be used for user evaluation and testing. Results of these efforts will be used in the final selection.

Engineer Support Platforms

An equally important aspect of an army’s ability to maintain mobility are its combat engineering capabilities. LAND 8120 Phase 1 was specifically directed toward replacing and modernising the force’s earth moving and off-road material handling equipment. Beginning in 2019 the programme prepared and released a tender for a range of modified commercial off-the-shelf engineer platforms. The list includes 312 items of equipment in 17 groups. The Australian Department of Defence statement on the Request for Tender (LSD/RFT/7161/1) explained: “Defence has finalised the evaluation of these tenders and anticipates signing a contract in Quarter 3 2021 pending Government approval.” Although a bidders list has not been made available, firms that have indicated interest include Babcock Australasia, ECLIPS, FKG Group, Broadspectrum and Scientific Management Associates.

by Stephen W. Miller