At the time of writing, the Land 400 program was half way through the risk mitigation activity (RMA) between Rheinmetall’s Boxer and the BAE Systems/Patria AMV35. Editor Katherine Ziesing checked in with the industry players and program director to get an idea of what’s been happening.
The RMA process kicked off in August last year and has been going full steam ahead ever since. The RMA framework allows for not just the physical and performance testing of the vehicles (do they perform the way their tender said they would?) but also getting more of an idea of the Australian Industry Capability (AIC) elements behind each solution and working with them to maximise this.
“We’re quite pleased with progress,” Brigadier Greg McGlone, head of the Combined Arms Fighting System (CAFS) told ADM. “The test and evaluation phase is on schedule. We’ve finished the vehicle performance assessment which we did at Monegeetta in November and December and the four vehicles are now up at Puckapunyal where we’ve started the crew conversion training and the user evaluation trial.”
Brian Gathright, BAE Systems Land 400 program lead, and Gary Stewart, Rheinmetall Australia’s chief operating officer and Land 400 capture lead, said that the RMA process has been a good chance for their teams to explain their offers to the CASG team and now the users.
So far, the four RMA vehicles have been put through their paces on a number of fronts. Both have performed lethality testing at ranges in Europe (Sweden for the AMV35 and Germany for the Boxer with their 35mm and 30mm canons respectively) and undertaken amphibious tasks as well. This included time aboard the LHD, HMAS Canberra and its LLC landing craft.
“The strategic lift is obviously an important part,” BRIG McGlone said explaining the various elements of the RMA so far. “So C-17 and the LHDs are the two strategic lifts that we’ve got to go through. To know that everything works, that we can get them on and off the LHDs, we can get them on and off the LLCs – all of those sorts of things are quite significant waypoints for us.”
“The vehicle assessment testing that we do at Monegeetta – the vehicles’ performance, the tilt tables (for side slopes), getting them up and down the hills (testing slopes), through the soft sand test, through the water pools and environmental tests – are all part of the other things we have to do to technically prove they can do it on the battlefield.
A Rheinmetall Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicle drives onto the heavy vehicle deck of the Royal Australian Navy amphibious ship HMAS Canberra during a series of trials at Fleet Base East in Sydney on 6 December 2016. Credit: Defence
“Whilst some of the activities to date have used Rheinmetall and BAE personnel to actually conduct the activity – for example, the live firings were done by the companies and we observed – now we are in the phase were Australian Army soldiers are now driving the cars and evaluating the systems.”
It must also be noted here that Defence didn’t specify a calibre in terms of the turret; they asked for a system that was capable of generating a specific effect against a target.
Stewart said that the lethality trials went well for Boxer and they were able to demonstrate not just the Lance turret but also other lethality aspects of the vehicle. Gathright confirmed that the AMV35 hit five out of five targets at 4,000 metres, as per their offering.
The next phase will be to ascertain how the tests compare with what was asked for in the RFT.
“We were never expecting 100 per cent compliance against the RFT,” BRIG McGlone said. “Everybody knew that that was probably the bridge too far but we made sure that we included the systems and capabilities we knew that provided the best possible systems for our soldiers. Now, the resolutions and trade offs of the capabilities become part of the evaluation process.”
“We completed all the tests on time and were fully compliant,” Gathright said. “We’re very pleased with how the AMV35 has performed. We think our 30 tonne capability is an important discriminator in our offering. We’re seeing lots of favourable responses to how the vehicle handles, its ability to tackle the toughest terrain and that is a reflection of how weight impacts mobility.”
Boxer visited Australia in 2010 and operated in a number of different environments around the nation and the Rheinmetall team is confident they will be able to meet the requirements of the Commonwealth at this time.
“The Boxer meets the Commonwealth requirements,” Stewart told ADM in response to questions about the weight of the vehicle. “It exceeds the mobility requirements and the reason it has the ability to carry so much payload is that it has the highest levels of protection in its entirety, with room for growth. This is what a next generation vehicle looks like.
“In terms of weight, regardless of which vehicle is chosen, they will still have to be transported by LHDs, LLC or C-17. It’s not an issue as far as we’re concerned.
“The modularity of the Boxer system is also an element worth noting,” Stewart continued. “You’ve got the ability to separate the mission modules and turret and ship those separately for example in a Hercules. So if you already have a vehicle in theatre, you don’t need to ship a whole new platform; just the relevant module such as ambulance or reconnaissance to go on the chassis. Both the German and Dutch forces operate this way and have both realised that they don’t need to buy more vehicles and can just get the mission modules they need.”
It should also be noted that both teams are using Rheinmetall munitions across a number of natures.
The next few months will see user trials at Puckapunyal including driver and crew training, firing trials, manoeuvrability trials, and getting valuable user feedback.
“We’ll find out what the soldiers really think because at the end of the day it’s the soldiers that are going to have to operate these vehicles,” BRIG McGlone said.
The vehicles will also be headed to the Mt Bundy training area up in the Northern Territory to see how they perform in the tough hot/wet conditions.
“The Commonwealth team has been great in managing what has been a very complex and challenging body of work in multiple arenas,” Stewart said. “I think the RMA process will give the Commonwealth a really good understanding of how the vehicles and industry teams operate.”
“At the moment, to be halfway through and to be on schedule and for there to be no significant issues is a really, really good thing,” BRIG McGlone confirmed to ADM. “From that perspective the Project is in a good spot and I’m quite happy with our progress.”
Stewart was keen to point out that the crews being trained are of a high standard to begin with, and are receptive to new technologies they’re seeing on the vehicles.
The next phase will also include the C4I vehicle integration testing. This will see the vehicles fitted with a range of government furnished equipment (radios, BMS etc) to make sure they can meet the needs of the future digitised battlefield.
The AMV35 in action at Monegeetta. Credit: Defence
Supacat Australia is helping with this work on the Boxer at their vehicle site with Northrop Grumman also in the mix.
“We’re working with Northrop Grumman who are providing support and technical assistance in this area,” Stewart said. “They’re really providing the pathway to the next generation of C4I systems.”
As many readers will be aware, the program saw a short two month break last year in the wake of the release of the Defence Industry Policy Statement (DIPS) to hold a series of road shows to make sure contenders were making the most of the local supply chain.
“The important thing for me in that was getting Australian industry to engage with the primes in a meaningful way,” BRIG McGlone said. “I was told by many industry people that the Primes were hard to engage. But when we went around Australia in late October, early November about 340 companies attended the Defence led industry showcasing workshops and made their case with the two shortlisted primes. I thought that was superb. We discovered that about a quarter of the companies were already engaged with BAE or Rheinmetall and they knew them.”
About a quarter hadn’t done any work before with BAE or Rheinmetall or their sub contractors but knew of the program, particularly in those states that already have a strong vehicle industry presence and were able to provide a strong statement of their capability.
“I know Saab (part of the BAE/Patria team for sustainment support) itself issued some requests for quotations for some of the Australian companies for work that previously had gone offshore by them,” BRIG McGlone said.
“There was another quarter in which the primes were interested in potentially working with them but they’re either not quite there yet as either they don’t have the financial capability, the management processes, the quality standards, etc but they would be strong contenders once they lifted their capabilities a bit more.”
The final quarter weren’t quite ready for the project and would need to work on a number of fronts to be considered mature enough to enter the program.
“The road show was a really good way of demonstrating the breadth and depth of Australian industrial capability,” Stewart said. “We’re now talking to many of these companies about pathways into Rheinmetall, and not just for Land 400 but other programs too. It was an excellent kick-starter for our global supply chain program in the wider Rheinmetall business.”
Rheinmetall is also basing a new Military Vehicles Centre of Excellence (MILVEHCOE) in Australia, leveraging their work on Land 121 Phase 3. During his speech at the ADM 2017 Congress, Ben Hudson, Rheinmetall’s global head of military vehicles, explained how this was not a replication of German facilities but would be a global CoE for the company and a significant investment in Australian defence capabilities. The company also announced an agreement in December last year with Cablex as part of their Global Supply Chain agreement.
Cablex will manufacture and supply electrical wiring harnesses and electrical sub-assemblies for the Boxer Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) Project in Lithuania, a program driven by Rheinmetall’s global vehicle arm Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles (RMMV).
The Republic of Lithuania and ARTEC – a joint venture between RMMV and KMW – signed a contract for the procurement of 88 Boxer IFVs in August last year.
“With all the money we’re going to spend on Land 400, if we get 50 per cent or more Australian industry in that, I think that’s a fabulous outcome for the country,” BRIG McGlone said, refusing to be drawn on what the required level of industry content was.
When questioned about any surprises during the RMA process, BRIG McGlone said nothing technically was an issue but there was one element he wasn’t prepared for; how well the contenders worked together.
“Rheinmetall and BAE have helped each other out on a couple of a different things that we were trying to do because one didn’t have access to something or couldn’t do this and I think the fair play between everybody is there,” BRIG McGlone reflected. “But I think both of them are quite sensible about the fact that we are being quite harsh on them in some regards. For example, the fact that we’re paying them to be part of the RMA – we’re not paying all of their costs, we’re defraying some of them and paying for their support – and the fact that we may potentially damage one of the vehicles when we do the mine blast testing later in the year. But what’s been really, really good is the open approach of everybody and how well the teams have all cooperated and got along well.”
The BAE Systems led team is not expecting any surprises from their offering.
“In terms of our performance so far, I can’t say I’m surprised,” Gathright said. “We have a mature vehicle that we delivered and tested very strenuously in Australia before delivering it to the Commonwealth. I fully expect our vehicle to perform exceptionally well.”
Gathright said he has also been pleasantly surprised by the Army’s willingness to consider ‘left and right of arc options for what the capability needs to do and how that could be delivered’ and how well both sides are approaching the AIC elements of the program.
Blast testing involves one of each tenderer’s vehicles undergoing two different blast types to confirm they meet the stated protection levels. Once again, does the material put forward in the tender responses match up with the vehicles on the ground?
“We’ll do the mine blast tests and hopefully what will happen is that the vehicle doesn’t get blown up in the air and land on its roof,” BRIG McGlone said. “Hopefully it’s the minor damage that we’re expecting, a bit of dent in the steel or a wheel will get blown off. We’re not expecting anything to be that spectacular. And we are hopeful that both of the vehicles will actually survive the two tests. There’s an under-wheel blast and then under-body blast on both of the vehicles. Hopefully, and we’re pretty confident they’ll come through without any issues.”
ADM confirmed that the vehicles would not be undergoing testing to the point of failure.
Land 400 Phase 3
In terms of the larger tranche of vehicles being acquired in Phase 3 (467 in Phase 3 vs 225 in Phase 2), the program office is ‘completing all the analysis’. One of the natural tendencies is to look at things like commonality.
“Now that we’ve got the Phase 2 underway and we know what we’re looking at, we will then start to develop what makes sense commonality-wise between Phase 2 and Phase 3,” BRIG McGlone said. “Is it turrets? Is it just the canon? Is it nothing at all? Are there options that we need to explore? So that’s what we’re going through. We’re certainly talking to some of the Phase 3 companies over the coming months, asking them questions of what was in their submissions so that we’ve got a really good understanding of the existing capabilities.”
Phase 3 isn’t due to go to first pass until the second half of next year, so a much smaller team is currently working on that part of the program, with a large focus on commonality where feasible.
The Phase 2 RMA is scheduled to wind up in mid-August and at the moment the program office is scheduled to go to Government with its business cases for consideration during the first half of 2018.
“We’ll present to them a couple of different options,” BRIG McGlone said. “Obviously the preferred candidate who’s performed the best as far as offering the best capability, the best price, value for money, throughlife support etc.
“A big focus on this is the total cost of ownership. We’re not just looking at the acquisition. It’s no good if we give this platform to the Chief of Army and it's not affordable through the rest of its life. It’s also not acceptable to select the cheapest option, and when we go off to war our soldiers suffer due to inadequate capability.”