Although production in Australia of Boxer 8x8 combat reconnaissance vehicles (CRVs) will not get underway until 2022, substantial progress has already been made in ramping up the complex industrialisation process for Land 400 Phase 2.
Of the 211 CRVs being acquired from Rheinmetall Defence under Project Land 400 Phase 2 at a cost of $5.2 billion, the first 25 are being delivered from Europe while the remaining 186 will be manufactured at the company’s $170 million Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence (MILVEHCOE), currently under construction at Ipswich southwest of Brisbane.
MILVEHCOE will be Rheinmetall Defence’s largest facility outside Germany, and represents the largest financial infrastructure investment to be made by the company in its 130-year history.
On full completion in late 2020, the MILVEHCOE will provide the capability for fully-owned subsidiary Rheinmetall Defence Australia (RDA) to manufacture, sustain and upgrade not only current and future Rheinmetall vehicles in service with the ADF, but potentially also those operated by militaries across the region.
As detailed by RDA, the facility will accommodate the design and manufacture of vehicles, turrets, armour, electro-optics, electronics, simulation and other advanced systems.
As stated by Managing Director Gary Stewart, the one campus will house some of the best technologies from across the parent company’s entire defence business – a true one-stop shop, coupled with an impressive range of development and test facilities.
“And it will be a centre where Defence, industry and academia can come together to test new ideas, confirm capability benefits and commercialise new technologies, in Australia,” he declared.
Under Land 121 Phase 3b, RDA in 2020 will complete delivery to the ADF of more than 2,500 heavy and medium high mobility logistics vehicles.
Under Land Phase 3b/5b, the company will then deliver through to 2024 a further 1,044 of the same platforms, also manufactured in Europe but incorporating about 35 per cent Australian Industry Content (AIC). The AIC largely comprises mission modules, products and parts whose integration will move around mid-2020 from Penske Commercial Vehicles in Brisbane to the first of MILVEHCOE’s three production lines.
Land 400 Phase 3
The second MILVEHCOE line will be dedicated to Boxer production. The third is intended to assemble Rheinmetall’s Lynx KF41 should this be selected under Project Land 400 Phase 3 to meet Army’s requirement for up to 400 tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) to replace Army’s Vietnam era – albeit upgraded - M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers.
Two of the four confirmed contenders for Land 400 Phase 3 are expected to be shortlisted in the third quarter of this year to undertake extensive risk mitigation activities, probably lasting about 18 months, culminating in the submission of best and final offers and final evaluation for work estimated at $15 billion.
Whatever the standalone merits of the Lynx, its proposed production alongside that of Boxer CRVs in what will be the most advanced military vehicle manufacturing facility of its type in Australia is unlikely to have harmed its prospects.
MILVEHCOE construction is being overseen by the Queensland Government and the facility is on track for phased practical completion from early 2020 on an 11.1 hectare precinct adjacent to the Brisbane River and about 30 km southwest of Brisbane.
As pointed out by RDA, the facility’s proximity to Gallipoli Barracks will enable vehicle operators from 7th Brigade to remain involved in vehicle design, manufacture and test activities.
MILVEHCOE’s location also leaves it centrally placed for other Army operational units in Townsville, Darwin and Adelaide while being relatively close to the growth markets of Asia and the Pacific.
The production facility/warehouse building will cover a gross floor area of more than 32,000 square metres. A separate three-storey administration building will include RDA’s Australia-Pacific headquarters, while a separate corporate function centre will act as a multi-purpose venue for corporate presentations, staff briefings and vehicle and equipment displays.
Resources will include ballistic steel welding of vehicle structure, assembly and test of complex electrical and sighting systems, sandblasting and painting, composite armour manufacture, and full vehicle assembly and integration.
The precinct will also contain a three-storey electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) chamber designed to test vehicles up to the size of an Abrams M1A1 main battle tank; a mobility test track for post assembly/maintenance and prototype shakedown testing; a fully-enclosed 100 metre firing tunnel for testing weapons up to 35mm; and a high security prototype workshop and systems integration laboratory.
Importantly, the MILVEHCOE has been designated as the global home for the design and manufacture of Rheinmetall’s Lance turret, a modular system whose manned version fitted with a Mauser MK30-2/ABM (Airburst Munition) 30mm automatic cannon and 7.62mm coaxial machinegun will equip the 133 CRV reconnaissance variants being acquired under Land 400 Phase 2. The same turret configuration has been proposed by Rheinmetall for the Lynx KF41 under Phase 3.
The fully digital turret can mount a variety of medium-calibre guns ranging from 25mm to 40mm and is designed for integration into numerous medium and heavy wheeled and tracked platforms. As such it has clear export potential.
Phase 2 timeline
The delivery of the first 25 CRVs from Europe through to 2021 meets an early capability requirement by the Commonwealth for familiarisation and training purposes. This initial tranche will comprise 13 multipurpose CRVs and 12 reconnaissance variants.
The first two CRVs, both turretless multipurpose platforms, arrived unheralded in Brisbane in mid-July. Both are now being modified prior to final delivery to Army with Australian-specific communications and battlefield management systems, and the Australian Army’s three-colour disruptive paint pattern.
It’s understood that at least the first tranche of vehicles will be fitted on arrival with Kongsberg Protector remote weapon stations (RWS) previously used on Army ASLAVs deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
To reduce integration risk, fitting the more capable EOS R4009 Mk 2 RWS to reconnaissance variants is not expected to begin until after domestically-produced turrets become available.
Since signature of the Land 400 Phase 2 contract in August 2018, RDA says it has recruited more than 100 employees. A further 150 personnel will be hired in Queensland by early next year.
As of August RDA had around 30 Australian engineers in Europe working on the Boxer program primarily in Kassel (wheeled vehicle production) and Unterluess (turret production) who will transition back to the MILVEHCOE after completing assignments of up to 18 month, plus a number of Brisbane-based engineers making regular business trips.
The company has also been working with Queensland TAFE and other educational institutions to provide training in production and trade skills that are not currently available. The skills learnt by successful candidates will subsequently be reinforced with on-the-job experience in Germany, another activity seen as an essential element of the overall technology transfer process.
As of September, RDA had engaged with more than 900 small to medium enterprises (SMEs) around Australia and NZ on the Land 400 program, building on contacts made in both countries during the Land 121 Phase 3B program.
“We are now working with many of these SMEs to ensure they have the capability to supply into a global program such as Land 400 Phase 2…. and meet rigorous standards to ensure the best quality vehicle to protect the Australian soldier,” a RDA statement noted.
The five-step engagement process encompassed identification of the best possible suppliers; confirming the master data for work packages; releasing Requests for Information and Quotation; conducting evaluations (including supplier visits and audits); and signing contracts.
RDA pointed to Wollongong-based Bisalloy as a good example of a company that was moving through a two-year qualification process in Germany and Australia to supply Australian armour at grades of protection expected by the Commonwealth.
This process had begun before RDA was selected for Land 400 Phase 2, and a final determination on whether the company had achieved qualification would be made by the German government in 2020. A recent update to the Australian Stock Exchange had confirmed the trials were going well, RDA said.
Many Australian SMEs were in fact already trusted suppliers within Rheinmetall’s global supply chain.
“Some already find their products on the first Boxer CRV vehicles, while our procurement teams are currently auditing and testing a range of products for the next wave of Australian companies to join the Land 400 program,” an RDA spokesperson said.
German agencies responsible for areas such as welding and standards around the delivery of welding services would be working with Australian companies to train, support and assess qualifications in these and other areas of production and sustainment, it added.
Four initial contracts for localisation work on the first 25 Boxers were announced on 7 August by Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price and included Melbourne-based Cablex, which will supply vehicle systems and C4I cabling; and Sydney-based Eylex, which will supply crew communications equipment.
Melbourne company Tectonica Australia will provide driver’s aids for night time situational awareness, and Brisbane-based ABI Coating Specialists will supply paint and finish. More contracts are due to be announced in coming weeks.
Companies such as Cablex have been building products for Rheinmetall’s international programs already, including Boxer programs in Germany and Lithuania.
“That’s part of RDA’s technology transfer; to get them qualified on Rheinmetall’s global program and then have them ready for delivering content into the Australian program, that’s one approach, ” commented one source close to the program.
“The second approach is about sending engineers into Europe to learn how to build Boxers, engineers coming from Europe to Australia to support the technology transfer and increase RDA’s ability to use those skills and expertise to develop Australian skills and eventually transition that capability locally.
“Rheinmetall is moving from 30 per cent AIC with the logistics vehicles to more than 50 per cent with the CRVs. Good results from Land 121 suppliers are now producing good options for RDA on Land 400 Phase 2, and equally, presenting clear go-to options for Lynx as well.”
Timing between programs
In lining up MILVEHCOE production schedules, Land 121 3b/5b finishes as Land 400 Phase 2 ramps up, and Phase 2 will finish in 2026 as Land 400 Phase 3 ramps up.
Although RDA declined to discuss commercial issues with ADM, the rationale for the MILVEHCOE and its long-term future appears to reflect the impact of Defence’s development of the Osborne naval shipbuilding precinct – once a sovereign manufacturing capability has been established in a specific sector, would it make sense for anyone to duplicate that capability?
RDA’s Stewart points out that although the MILVEHCOE is based in Queensland, the facility will be a focal point for what is a national endeavour, and substantial jobs and opportunities will also be created in other states.
“This will allow us to establish a national, sovereign military vehicle capability that underpins and enduring partnership with the Commonwealth to design, manufacture, deliver, support and modernise this world-leading capability,” he said.
Being selected for Land 400 Phase 3 is clearly of major importance to the MILVEHCOE. However, it would not appear to be a gamechanger for a facility that already has contracted work through to 2026, major sustainment and upgrade responsibilities, and what Rheinmetall says will be a strong focus on product development and export.
This article first appeared in the September 2019 edition of ADM.