The US Department of Defense has certified Australian-made TNT to military specifications, paving the way for Australian TNT to be exported to the US from the Commonwealth-owned and Thales-operated plant in Mulwala, NSW.
In a joint statement released following the 31st Australia-United States Ministerial Consultations (AUSMIN 2021) on Thursday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne welcomed the decision.
"Australia also welcomes the recent decision for Australian-made TNT to be certified to U.S. military specifications as an alternate source of supply for the United States," Minister Payne said.
Mulwala is one of only a limited number of facilities worldwide capable of producing TNT. The US imports large quantities of TNT supplies for military purposes.
ADM understands that the certification process began prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. US defence officials physically assessed the plant in Mulwala, and further trial and assessment work on Australian TNT samples then continued in the US ahead of final certification this week.
"It means we can engage with US customers who utilise TNT as part of their manufacturing process to supply the US military," Dion Habner, Managing Director of Australian Munitions, Thales Australia, said.
Those customers could include General Dynamics, American Ordnance and the US military itself.
TNT currently produced in Mulwala is mostly used for domestic military and civilian purposes in Australia. According to Habner, US certification means that Thales could double production of TNT to meet American demand – although increased freight costs remain a challenge.
Until recently Thales Australia sourced toluene (a key ingredient of TNT, or trinitrotoluene) from overseas but has now secured local supply from Viva Energy in Geelong.
"We're really pushing to secure local supply of those key ingredients," Habner said. "The next US orders requiring TNT could be released next year, meaning we'd hope to see the first shipments exported in the back end of next year.
"Defence's support and engagement with the US Department of Defense has been really beneficial."
Thales Australia is also using locally-made TNT to establish an Australian domestic filling and production capability for the 155mm M795 high-explosive artillery projectile. This activity is part of the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between the US Army’s Development Command Armaments Center and Thales Australia.
"We're working on the technology transfer to stand up this capability in Australia," Habner said. "Having our locally-made TNT certified to American standards is a critical step in this process."
Thales' site in Mulwala also produces military-grade rocket propellant, solid fuel rocket motors and boosters, while the company's plant in Benalla manufactures high explosive artillery rounds.
The company signed a $1.1 billion agreement with the Commonwealth in 2020 to operate the two facilities for the next decade.