Defence Business: Bushmaster turns 10 | ADM July 2009

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A decade has passed since the product contract option was exercised for Thales Australia's Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle, marking the end of a protracted and often torturous development process.

Mick Toal | Sydney

However, by the time the vehicle made its debut on foreign soil - when the two prototypes were sent to East Timor in 1999 as VIP transport - the Bushmaster had all ready been in the wars, and it faced many more battles for survival.

Eventually finally entering service in 2005 and almost immediately deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bushmaster is now considered to be one of the best of an ever-growing international family of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles vital for low level operations where the Improvised Explosive Device (IED), land mines and mortar and rocket fragmentation are the main hazards faced by Coalition forces.

Indeed, in July 2006 the Dutch Government purchased 25 Bushmasters at a cost of $31.7 million for units of the Royal Netherlands Army operating in Afghanistan and in July 2007 Thales was awarded a $5.8 million contract to fit 17 EOS Common Remotely Operated Weapons Stations (CROWS) to the vehicles.

So impressed were the Dutch with the Bushmaster, a further 24 vehicles have since been ordered.

In May, 2008, the British Army purchased 24 Bushmasters, mainly for service in Iraq.

A total of 443 of all types of Bushmaster have since been delivered to the ADF and negotiations are underway for 256 more to roll off the production line.

Several Australian Bushmasters have been destroyed in Afghanistan and many more damaged but none of their occupants have been killed - a clear testimony to the vehicle's effectiveness.

Australian innovation
The first armoured vehicle to be designed and fully manufactured in Australia since the innovative AC type Cruiser tank of World War II (the first tank in history to have a one piece fully cast hull), the Bushmaster was spawned from moves in the early 1990s to motorise Australia's infantry battalions to allow them to self deploy and dominate far more ground than they would in their traditional light infantry role.

The concept was essentially part and parcel of the 1991 Joint Force Structure Review, the 1994 White Paper - which recommended the redeployment of the Army's 1st Brigade to Darwin and an emphasis on preparing for ground operations in Australia's vast "Top End" - and the subsequent Army Force Structure and Army in the 21st Century reviews.

While the motorised infantry concept was being tested with a host of specially designed 4x4 and 6x6 Landrover types, tenders were called for in 1995 to deliver a new armoured Infantry Mobility Vehicle (IMV) to give a measure of protected mobility.

Among the contenders was a vehicle designed by Perry Engineering in Adelaide with some technical support from Irish company Timoney Technology Ltd.

The prototype, the basic design and the tender were acquired by Australian Defence Industries (ADI) Limited, which was subsequently sold to a consortium of Transfield and the French electronics entity Thomson-CSF in 1999.

Thompson-CSF was renamed Thales in late 2000, and the company took complete control of ADI in 2006, re-naming the business Thales Australia.

A rocky road
The Australian Army's original requirement was for a climate controlled vehicle capable of operating independently for three days in northern Australia to transport an infantry section (nine personnel) and a driver along with their stores and equipment while providing a level of protection against mine blast, fragmentation and small arms.

In June 1999, Defence contracted ADI to manufacture 370 Bushmasters under the auspices of Project Bushranger at its Bendigo plant and deliver them by October 2002 at a cost of $170 million.

However - although two prototype vehicles were sent to East Timor in 1999 for trials and to provide VIP transport - the project stalled when ADI advised in December 2000 it could not deliver the expected quantity and quality of vehicles within the agreed timeframe and budget.

Calls came from all sides of politics for the project to be scrapped, but the-then Liberal Defence Minister Senator Robert Hill and General Peter Cosgrove who both firmly believed in the utility of the Bushmaster vehicle, stood firmly behind an excellent Australian product.

In July 2002, Mr Mick Roach, Under Secretary for Defence Materiel signed a revised contract for 299 vehicles to be
delivered at a cost of $218 million (the total project value was $316 million in 2002 dollars).

"Local jobs have been preserved and it is now up to ADI to demonstrate it can deliver the vehicles on time, within specifications and on budget," Senator Hill said when the revised contract was signed.

"This would provide Defence with the capability to transport troops over large areas of operation, Bendigo with significant work and ADI with potential export opportunities.

"However, I must stress that we will not accept a vehicle that if it falls short of the required standards because it could put soldiers at risk."

The rest is history
The Bushmaster successfully entered service with the Australian Army and it is now filling vital roles in Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and security operations on Australian soil.

Ultimately, it was the epoch-making events of September 11 2001, that put the vehicle designed to operate in isolation across Australia's inhospitable northern expanses in the spotlight on the world stage.

As for the future, Thales Australia is focusing on the Bushmaster as a platform for many different capabilities, including the integration of new technologies, weapons and communication equipment.

New variants are also in the works.

The announcement that Land 121 Phase 4 Overlander will consider offerings from local manufacturers against the US led Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program is also good news for the Bushmaster and its future variants.

"Let us not forget that the success of Project Bushranger is testimony to the outstanding and tireless efforts of both the Thales Military Vehicle Division and Department of Defence staff," former Project Bushranger director Mr Mark Eggler said.

"The Bushmaster is truly an excellent Australian product and serves as a reminder to all those doubting Thomas's in the Defence bureaucracy as to what Australian ingenuity and skill can achieve if given a chance."

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