Today at Army's Enoggera barracks in Brisbane, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, along with Defence Minister Marise Payne and Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne, has announced Rheinmetall Defence Australia as the recipient of the $5.2 billion Land 400 Phase 2 Project (Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicle capability) tender which will deliver 211 vehicles to Army.
RDA's Boxer CRV edged out the adversary, the BAE Systems/Patria AMV35, in a close contest that saw initial delays as Australian Industry Content considerations were sorted and both vehicles were put through a rigorous Risk Mitigation Activity (RMA).
Political interference has marred the contest somewhat with both Queensland and Victorian State Governments fiercely advocating for what they see as their rightful spoils, indeed the strap at the bottom of the ABC's live feed from the announcement stated "Queensland wins $5 billion defence contract over Vic". BAE Systems has committed to building a defence hub at a site in Melbourne's Fishermans Bend where it had planned to build the 211 vehicles required by the Commonwealth under Phase 2. RDA has promised a Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence (MILVEHCOE) will be established in Brisbane. The MILVEHCOE will be the focal point for the Land 400 combat vehicles, Land 121 logistics vehicles, and other complex defence projects. It will also draw on a supply network across Australia to deliver products and services from local industry into Rheinmetall’s Global Supply Chain.
Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said that although Rheinmetall had chosen Queensland to be the base for the vehicles' manufacture, this represented a spend of $1.8 billion out of a $2.8 billion Australian Industry Content (AIC) spend.
He added that $635 million of AIC would go to Victoria, with 170 jobs created in that state; 330 jobs will be created through the establishment of the MILVEHCOE. The remaining balance would be split among the other states.
"There'll also be upgrades to bases in Edinburgh, WA, Puckapunyal, Townsville and here at Enoggera, so there's also a large infrastructure component. Not one state has won this contract; the nation has won this contract. In years gone by we would have bought these vehicles overseas and imported them into the country."
It appears the superior protection offered by the heavier Boxer won out in the end, with Army sources known to have favoured the German vehicle; currently around 700 units have been ordered by Germany, The Netherlands, Lithuania, and Slovenia.
The AMV35 is certainly lighter, weighing in at 30 tonnes against the Boxer's 38.5 tonnes. Over 1,900 units have been produced in several variants to eight countries. Both contenders had offered the ability to adjust their protection fit-outs up or down to suit the mission.
Some critics have argued a heavier vehicle will adversely affect its ability to perform its primary role of reconaissance, especially when deployed on the rough terrain, poor-quality roads and limited bridges typically found in Australia’s region.
What isn't in doubt is the drastic improvement in capability the new vehicle will offer over its much-loved but long-in-the tooth predecessor, the 16 tonne ASLAV, which suffered a lack of survivability and lethality in the modern context.
Afghanistan experience has taught Army that the new vehicles will have to survive greater blasts from improved shoulder launched weapons and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), the likes of which were not envisaged when the ASLAV was first commissioned.
The need to detect and engage the enemy at greater distances has also been a factor in the final selection with both tenders offering a minimum of a 30mm cannon (range up to three kilometres) compared to the ASLAV's 25mm.
The first deliveries of the 211 vehicles are planned to occur by 2020, the first Armoured Cavalry Regiment (ACR) is to be re-equipped by 2022, and Defence hopes to have all three ACRs re-equipped by 2026, although this is a keen estimate.
A Request For Tender for Phase 3 of the Land 400 program, where around 450 Infantry Fighting Vehicles will be acquired to equip three mechanised infantry battalions in the Army combat brigades, is expected later this year.
The possibility of a selection of an eight-wheeled vehicle, as opposed to a tracked vehicle, for Phase 3 has not been ruled out; this would naturally deliver substantial benefits in terms of cost, industry packages, logistics support and training. Rheinmetall, however, will be keen to offer its Lynx IFV, which will offer similarities, especially in terms of the 30mm LANCE turret.