Port Macquarie-based shipbuilder Birdon Group was selected as the preferred designer for up to 18 Landing Craft – Medium (LC-M, formerly referred to as Littoral Manoeuvre Vessel – Medium, or LMV-M) vessels for the Australian Army in November 2023, with deliveries set to begin before the end of 2026.
The vessels are being acquired under Project Land 8710 Phase 1A and will replace Army’s ageing fleet of LCM-8 (Landing Craft Mechanised) vessels. In the Request For Tender (RFT) Defence specified that the new vessels will be built from steel at Henderson in WA and it was revealed during the November announcement that Austal has been selected to construct them in their facility at Henderson.
The announcement of Birdon and Austal as the preferred partners for Land 8710/1A was followed on 27 November 2023 by the signing of a Heads of Agreement (HoA) contract between Austal and the Commonwealth to establish a Strategic Shipbuilding Agreement (SSA) to build the new landing craft.
“Austal has a proud record of delivering fit-for-purpose vessels to the Commonwealth of Australia,” commented Austal CEO Paddy Gregg at contract signature. “In the past five years alone, we have completed and delivered 24 vessels for the Australian Government and Navy, plus a variety of other vessels for navies around the world.”
The HoA agreement was most recently followed on 13 December by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Austal and Birdon to jointly develop the required shipbuilding capability at Henderson.
Under the SSA, the intent is that Austal will build the LC-M vessels and in the future, the larger LMV-H (Heavy) vessels (to be called Landing Craft – Heavy, or LC-H) - to be acquired under a subsequent phase of the overarching Land 8710 program - in WA.
Birdon’s General Manager for Defence Joe Smith told ADM that the company has the pedigree of delivering specialised vessels for the Australian Army and is currently building a replacement vessel for the Navy’s brigantine Sail Training Ship (STS) Young Endeavour, to be named Young Endeavour II. Smith said Birdon is also a major supplier to the US Army, US Navy, US Coast Guard and US Marine Corps, as well as other international defence forces.
Examples of the work it has done for the Army in Australia includes the refurbishment of the existing LCM-8 fleet and the now-retired Balikpapan-class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) vessels, the design and construction of bridge erection propulsion boats, regional patrol craft and utility workboats.
The design selected by the Commonwealth for Land 8710 Phase 1A is the largest of the vessels on offer, with what Smith calls a “true blue water capability”. They will be 50 metres long, have a beam of 10.5 metres and be able to transport a payload of up to 94 tonnes (sufficient to accommodate two Hanwha AS21 Redback infantry fighting vehicles) – a figure in excess of Commonwealth requirements.
Smith says the LC-M design will carry an 80-tonne payload in excess of 2,000 nautical miles at “the top” of Sea State 4 and still hold 20 per cent fuel reserves.
“What we think we did differently to the other organisations (responding to the RFT) is that we designed - from the keel up - a vessel specifically to meet the Australian Army’s requirements – and there was no vessel in operation that met their requirements,” he told ADM.
“We used a proven hull form among other things and we have provided Army with a design that meets all of – and in some cases, exceeds - their requirements. In many respects, our design is based on decades of collective experience and refinement to our product offerings.
“There is some further design maturation to occur, but we’ve self-funded the construction of a prototype LMV-M, so that our design has been maturing since tender submission. This means that our design is a lot more mature than would typically be the case at this stage.”
Smith added that Birdon responded to the Commonwealth’s RFT for a replacement for Army’s five-ton LARC-V (Lighter Amphibious Resupply Cargo) fleet in late 2022 and is currently awaiting the decision. The RFT called for the replacement amphibious vehicles to be delivered from 2026 and Birdon is partnered with a drive train manufacturer for its bid.
The company is also partnered with Boomeranger for the supply of a family of sea boats to the Australian Defence Force – a program which is also awaiting the announcement of a preferred bidder.