• A K9 self-propelled howitzer. Credit: Hanwha
    A K9 self-propelled howitzer. Credit: Hanwha

Updated 14 May, 16:11

The government has announced that it is resuscitating a program to acquire self-propelled howitzers for the Army, formerly known as Land 17 Phase 2.

The original program was cancelled following funding cuts in 2012 but will come back to life with Army set to acquire 30 self-propelled howitzers under the Smart Buyer framework. Although the prime contractor has not been specified, the build will take place around Geelong from 2022-2023.

“We will acquire 30 self-propelled howitzers and their supporting systems, and we will build them and maintain them in Geelong, drawing on the large manufacturing skills base in the region,” PM Scott Morrison said in a statement.

“We will revive the self-propelled artillery project by bringing forward the Defence acquisition project known as ‘Protected Mobile Fires’ to address the capability gap left by Labor," Minister for Defence Industry Senator Linda Reynolds said.

“We will utilise the outcomes of the tender process cancelled by Labor and the Coalition’s Smart Buyer framework, as the starting point of an accelerated approval process."

A Raytheon spokesperson said that their original offer for Land 17 remained 'on the table' despite the program's cancellation seven years ago, although it is unclear whether Raytheon has been re-selected for the current acquisition.

"When the acquisition process for self-propelled artillery was cancelled in 2012 Raytheon Australia had successfully led a team offering an Australianised version of the Korean K-9 self-propelled howitzer which became known as the AS-9 'Aussie Thunder'," the spokesperson said.

"As preferred tenderer, the company had won the competition, completed a risk-mitigation process in collaboration with the Commonwealth, finalised the solution and negotiated contracts.

"Following the cancellation announcement, Raytheon Australia formally advised the Commonwealth that, although the company was disappointed with the decision, we would resume the acquisition process should the Commonwealth decide to reconsider acquiring self-propelled artillery. That offer remains on the table.

"The self-propelled artillery solution agreed upon in 2012 remains as relevant today as it did seven years ago. Should the acquisition process be resumed Raytheon Australia would refresh our offer and seek the involvement of capable Australian small businesses as part of our team." 

The northern part of Geelong forms the seat of Shadow Defence Minister Richard Marles. In a statement, Minister Marles said that Labor would support the plan if elected on Saturday pending conversations with Army.

"[Labor] will work with Army on the decision to acquire 30 self-propelling howitzers to make sure it gets the capability it needs, when it needs it," Minister Marles said.

"We will seek Army’s advice on this decision to make sure it meets its needs, not a desperate government’s political need. Once we have determined this capability is the right one for Australia, a Shorten Labor Government will proceed with the decision to build the capability in Geelong.

"A Shorten Labor Government will meet the bipartisan commitment to lift defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP."

More on this story will be available in Thursday's edition of Defence Week Premium.

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