• Soldiers from 2RAR swim to shore from an Army LCM-8 Landing Craft at Cowley Beach during Exercise Sea Explorer. (Defence)
    Soldiers from 2RAR swim to shore from an Army LCM-8 Landing Craft at Cowley Beach during Exercise Sea Explorer. (Defence)

The Request for Tender (RFT) for a new landing craft to replace the Army’s venerable LCM-8 closes in mid-June, and industry comments on what is being requested range from ‘very ambitious’ and ‘incredibly versatile’ to ‘unique’.

What’s clear, having ascertained the broad detail of the Land 8710 Phase 1 RFT that was released on 19 December 2021 and closes on 14 June, is that all three assessments were spot-on.

The AusTender project description states the Littoral Manoeuvre Vessel – Medium (LMV-M) “will provide independent shore-to-shore and ship-to-shore capability, to enable manoeuvre and sustainment of the amphibious Joint Force over extended ranges in restricted littoral and riverine environments.

“The new LMV-M fleet will be capable of carrying the Joint Force’s current and planned armoured and protected vehicles, as a combat-laden mission system in high sea states. Interoperability with the Royal Australian Navy Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) and Landing Ship Dock (LSD) is required. Initial Operating Capability (IOC) is scheduled for 2026.”

Meeting requirements

To achieve these requirements the new vessel will clearly be larger, faster and better protected than the 59-tonne LCM-8s which entered service with the ADF in the 1970s and were substantially upgraded in the mid-1990s. The number still in service is not known.

The RFT states the LMV-M capability will provide for fast mobilisation of a small amphibious force under Army command, requiring a high level of LMV-M availability over extended ranges and periods of time.

Up to 18 new landing craft are required, which will be built at Henderson. These must be able to carry a single upgraded Abrams M1A2 main battle tank with a combat-ready weight of 67 tonnes, or a mixed payload of up to 80 tonnes.

A steel hull is mandatory. Other essential requirements include configuration for a crew of not less than 10 with overflow accommodation, if possible, for a further five personnel; transport of all ADF vehicles and vehicle combinations, in combat load/fully laden condition, in sea conditions up to the top of Sea State 4 (waves of 2.4 to 4 metres).

For intra-theatre transit, when carrying a payload not less than 80 tonnes the LMV-M must have adequate seakeeping to maintain way, maintaining control and remain undamaged in sea conditions up to the top of Sea State 4.

In survival transit, when carrying a payload not less than 80 tonnes, the LMV-M must be capable of maintaining way, maintaining control and remain undamaged in sea conditions up to and including the top of Sea State 6 (waves of 4 to 6 metres).

Further, the LMV-M must be capable of operating safely and effectively without restriction up to the top of Sea State 4 over a distance of at least 500 nautical miles without fuel resupply, at a speed not less than 15 knots while carrying vehicles and mixed cargo up to a combined maximum of 80 tonnes, and complete the transit with a burnable fuel reserve of at least 20 per cent. 

The LMV- M must also be able to operate for at least 10 days without failure of mission critical systems in Australia’s immediate region, in regional oceanic environmental and weather conditions, the RFT states.

Surf beach landings in deep load conditions must be possible in up to 1.5 metres of surf; rock landings in sheltered waters in up to 1.0 metres of surf.

Growth margin of 10 per cent is required for lightships displacement, 4.5 per cent for any increase to vertical centre of gravity, and Life of Type is set at not less than 20 years.

Provision must be made for two remote weapon stations and two .50 calibre machine guns.

The new landing craft will not be carried within the LHDs but must be able to exchange cargoes with the amphibious vessels.

As described by a source close to the program “the requirement set is not in any way, shape or form reflective of the capabilities of the LCM-8 or the Navantia-built LHD Landing Craft (LLC).

“They want to be able to do open ocean transit through areas like the Coral Sea, to self-deploy from places like Townsville across to the Solomon Islands and then meet up with the amphibious task group which will provide 98 per cent of the combat material required. Then they’ll provide independent intra-theatre shore-to-shore transport while the task group moves on to other things.

“Defence is not being proscriptive about how contenders can deliver a vessel which meets the requirements; it gives the contenders a lot of leeway in determining a solution.

“But these will be very much Army vessels; there will be occasions when they operate as part of the Joint Task Force with Navy; and then there will be opportunities for them to operate independently with Army.

“They’re not specifying the size of the vessel although maximum draft is set at 1.6 metres and there’s an air draft limitation of six metres so the vessel can pass under a traffic bridge to reach the Ross Island barracks in Townsville.” 

Although commercial confidentiality has understandably restricted their comments, Austal Australia, Birdon, BMT, Navantia Australia and Serco have all confirmed to ADM their participation in the Sea 8710 Phase 1 RFT, although not necessarily with whom or how.

Austal Australia

Austal Australia confirmed in June 2021 that it would submit a proposal to design, build and sustain Army’s next generation of littoral manoeuvre capability, but has subsequently declined to discuss any details of its intentions or of prospective partners.

Although Austal Australia is best known for its expertise in aluminium-hulled ship construction, CEO Paddy Gregg pointed out the company’s on-time, on-budget delivery in March of the 14th of 21 steel-hulled Guardian-class vessels contracted under the Commonwealth’s Pacific Patrol Boat program, as well as Austal’s Henderson shipbuilding and service facilities. 

Birdon Group

Joe Smith, General Manager Marine at Birdon, describes the Australian-owned private company as the country’s most experienced provider of Army watercraft, both in Australia and in the US. 

As such LMV-M was a natural fit for the business, and the company was looking forward to developing a truly sovereign solution that would meet Army’s needs now and into the future, although he gave no details.

Birdon’s Australian Army experience dates back to 1990 and includes the design and build of bridge erection propulsion boats, utility workboats and regional patrol craft, and the refurbishment of LCM-8s and Balikpapan-class land craft heavy (LCH), as well as the upgrade and on-sale of Australian-manufactured LCM2000s to the Israeli Navy.

In the US, Birdon is prime contractor for the complex upgrade of 117 47-ft US Coastguard Motor Life-Boats operating in the extreme marine and high-surf, littoral environments, and is supplying from its Denver close to 500 M30 new-build bridge erection boats to the US Army.

BMT Group

BMT describes itself as a multi-national ship design house and maritime technology company, and in October 2019 it confirmed that it would be bidding for Land 8710 with its 203-tonne Caimen 90 landing ship.

This is able to operate at 22 knots with a 90-ton payload over a range of up to 500 nautical miles, allowing faster amphibious offload from a host platform when compared with slower, more conventional landing craft. Unladen speed is 40 kts.

Three high-speed diesel engines coupled to waterjets offer inherent redundancy, and the tri-bow monohull landing craft form reportedly results in excellent sea-keeping, with a less than one knot speed reduction in Sea State 4.

However, John Godwin, BMT’s business development director APAC, told ADM in late February that he was unable ‘at the moment’ to confirm the Caimen 90 had been formally proposed.

He denied this was because of the Caimen’s aluminium hull and superstructure when Defence had mandated steel, but said that BMT had made it “very clear” that the vessel could be  built in steel if required.

“We’ve got well over a decade of experience in development of the Caimen hullform and that goes over quite a range of deadweight tonnages,” Godwin stated.

“The requirement that Army and CASG have come out with is quite unique and we’re in a great position to assist in what they’re trying to do because the hullform is so scaleable and we’ve got experience with other navies and armies in doing that.”

Godwin declined to name anywhere where a BMT-designed landing craft was in service, although he could have mentioned the US Army’s Manoeuvre Support Vessel (Light) whose design was developed by US shipbuilder Vigor in partnership with BMT as a natural evolution of the Caimen 90.

The MSV(L) is intended to replace the US Army’s LCM-8 fleet and according to Vigor, provides the optimal combination of performance, operational flexibility and life-cycle cost, leveraging more than a decade of extensively-tested performance.

Prototype construction began in September 2019, to be followed by low-rate production of four MSV(L)s and full rate production over a 10-year period of up to 32 addition vessels.

This presumably is of interest to Defence, although the US Army has chosen construction in aluminium rather than steel.

Navantia Australia

Significantly, Navantia is bidding for Land 8710 but as Navantia Australia, marking the first Defence acquisition program for which the Australian Navantia is bidding in its own right as a sovereign Australian designer.

Since Navantia Australia’s sovereign expertise lies in naval architecture and engineering design services, together with project management of these services, the company would be bidding with undisclosed  Australian partners who excelled in providing construction and manufacturing services.

The Commonwealth’s tender requirements specified an incredibly versatile vessel, the company told ADM.

“Navantia Australia’s solution proposal draws on the design heritage and proven technical performance of the LHD Landing Craft (LLC). A great deal of research and development has been undertaken to create the LLC design that performs well in landing situations.

“These learnings will be exploited and integrated into the LMV-M design.”


Serco describes itself as an industry leader in complex maritime project management and Defence Business Development Director Asia-Pacific Rob Slaven told ADM that the company’s Land 8710 contender meets all the essential requirements in the RFT.

“There are some very challenging bits and pieces in there which are purely Australian and we’re addressing those as best we can with a hull design that is deliverable, that is easy to build, and gives the Army exactly what it’s looking for which is a sustainable, robust platform that can do things that they have not yet even imagined,” Slaven commented.

The Oboe functional design, named in recognition of the Australian-commanded amphibious operations in Borneo towards the end of World War II, is 42 metres long, weighs between 230 tonnes in a light-ship condition, to 340 tonnes for an inter-theatre full load task. Meeting the accommodation and endurance requirements was not a challenge, Slaven said.

A 1/16th scale model of Oboe One underwent a rigorous series of speed and performance trials at the Australian Maritime College (AMC) in Launceston last August and passed with flying colours.

Some additional testing was scheduled simply to verify the hull design again, specifically against the Army requirement, Slaven disclosed.

“We don’t expect any issues, our hull-form remains unchanged and we have an Australian design partner to flesh out the detailed design. The design authority and intellectual property will reside in Australia as will our platform systems integration authority. Serco will lead the platform systems integration activity along with an Australian partner,” he said.

The company was partnering with one of the three shipyards at Henderson and 13 other companies that had been brought into what Slaven described as a very strong “Australian” industry team. 

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