Given its potential to determine which contractor will benefit from Army’s costliest-ever acquisition program, the outcome of the detailed testing and evaluation now underway on the two contenders for the ADF’s Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) requirement is keenly awaited.
Not that anything of substance is likely to be known until the end of this year at the earliest from the overall Risk Mitigation Activity (RMA) of Project Land 400 Phase 3. Also known as the Mounted Close Combat Capability, the project will deliver and support up to 450 IFVs and 17 manoeuvre support vehicles.
These complex platforms will replace the army’s expensively-upgraded but now obsolescent M113AS4 armoured personal carriers at a cost estimated in the 2016 Defence White Paper at $10-15 billion – a remarkably broad variation in potential expenditure.
And that was until publication of the 2020 Force Structure Plan, in which the forecast soared by an extraordinary 80 per cent to $18-27 billion.
A Defence spokesperson subsequently told ADM that the additional investment included an increase in the initial procurement of spares and a larger stockholding of munitions to support greater operational readiness, together with increased investment in supporting infrastructure and training ranges specific to the IFV capability.
Shortlisted as contenders in September 2019, Rheinmetall Defence Australia’s (RDA’s) Lynx KF41 and Hanwha Defense Australia’s (HDA’s) AS21 Redback, both tracked IFVs, entered the RMA process in the final quarter of 2019, with 12 months allocated for each contractor to manufacture and configure three trial vehicles ready for evaluation continuing through to the final quarter of 2021.
Each contender is receiving $25 million exclusive of GST from Defence to partially offset costs associated in participating in the RMA, which includes one of their trial vehicles being tested to destruction.
The full Phase 3 requirement is understood to comprise 400 IFVs made up of 281 turreted platforms and 119 non-turreted variants, although most reports continue to refer to ‘up to 450’ IFVs. The non-turreted variants will fill recovery, repair, combat engineer and ambulance roles. Only manned turret variants, each mounting a 30mm cannon, are being used in the RMA.
Vehicle delivery was staggered between October 2020 and January 2021, with initial deliveries required to support a vehicle performance assessment (VPA) undertaken for safety reasons prior to the start of further testing.
The VPA, undertaken at the Monegeetta proving ground of the Land Engineering Agency, considered the mobility, manoeuvrability and recoverability characteristics of the vehicles with data also gathered for inclusion in the User Evaluation later in the test program.
Meanwhile specialists from Defence’s Capability and Sustainment Group (CASG) undertook parallel engagement with the shortlisted companies to clarify, refine and negotiate aspects of their tenders.
This included a range of workshops, the progressive development of contract data items such as plans and schedules, and Financial Investigation Service’s analysis of prices and company arrangements.
COVID-19 concerns saw a three-month industry roadshow organised by Defence successfully switched from face-to-face to virtual meetings. This enabled some 400 companies across Australia to showcase their capabilities and provide the shortlisted tenderers with the opportunity to identify local businesses able to contribute to their supply chains.
Prior to the start of the user trials, a Lynx and a Redback were displayed side by side outside Defence headquarters on 12 March, both weighing in at more than 40 tonnes and towering over a well-preserved example of the M113AS4 that they’re competing to replace. The user trials will continue until October, when the project will move to a final evaluation phase.
Test locations include the High Range training area outside Townsville during the wet season, and the 2,100 square kilometre Cultana combined arms training area in South Australia at the height of summer.
According to Defence, the test vehicles will have been delivered to the trials “in a configuration representative of their tendered configuration with any exceptions agreed to by Defence and documented in the RMA contracts that Defence has signed with each tenderer”.
As of April, Defence confirmed to ADM that the project remained on schedule and budget to inform a government decision in 2022 on the preferred tenderer.
Beyond that, Initial Operating Capability (IOC) of the selected platform is set for 2024-25 and final operating capability (FOC) is anticipated by 2030-31, although these dates are indicative and may well be refined.
The 26-strong Trials Platoon stood up to operate the contending vehicles comprises a mix of armoured and mechanised infantry soldiers of varying experience, selected to facilitate a broad spectrum of user feedback. Since the RMA is not a comparative trial, the crews have been trained on and are operating the same vehicle type throughout the evaluation process, much like the Phase 2 RMA.
Vehicles are being supported and maintained by the platform manufacturer but basic maintenance and checks are being carried out by vehicle crews.
Testing is being assessed against the technical requirement set out in Request for Tender (RfT) documentation to verify tenderers’ claims and also to assess vehicle performance from a user perspective.
Released five months after Rheinmetall’s Boxer 8x8 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV) was selected under Land 400 Phase 2 to replace the army’s ageing fleet of 247 ASLAVs at an acquisition cost of $5.2 billion for 211 vehicles, the Phase 3 RfT noted that a key aspect of potential cost efficiency could be commonality with Phase 2.
Important or not, amid the perception that Rheinmetall would have a distinct advantage in bidding for Phase 3, Defence subsequently stressed that the IFV bids would be assessed entirely on their standalone merits.
Unusually, the Phase 3 RfT listed only three essential requirements. These were the proposed vehicle’s ability to carry six dismounts, the ability to be strategically deployed by the RAN’s two Canberra-class Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) amphibious ships, and the ability to be carried by RAAF C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifters.
“Defence’s aim is to achieve a position from which it could readily contract with either of the shortlisted tenderers,” a Defence spokesperson said to ADM.
Although information on how the trials are progressing is highly confidential, Defence has provided some material to ADM on the RMA procedure itself.
This is being conducted across six sub-trials led by Army’s Land Test and Evaluation Agency, with sub-trials delegated to the appropriate test agency, including the Land Engineering Agency, CASG, and the Defence Science and Technology Group.
The response to any failure will be dependent on the nature of the failure and the ability of the tenderer to demonstrated rectification of such a failure.
Survivability is described as a key consideration, with lessons learnt from Land 400 Phase 2 where survivability, including blast, ballistic and signature management, was sequenced at the end of the RMA test period.
“Land 400 Phase 3 has sequenced the (survivability) test early in the testing window, with exact timings to be dependent on external factors such as the weather and fire danger levels at Defence’s Proof and Experimental range at Graytown, Victoria,” a defence spokesperson said.
“For blast it considers the assessment of IFV protection levels against mines and other explosive threats, and for ballistics it assesses the resistance of the IFV against a range of current and emerging threat weapon systems.
“The detectability, recognition and identification of the IFV by its aural and electromagnetic signatures is assessed in different environments.”
Details of the blast test held early in the RMA program have not been released, but this is understood to have involved one 10 kilogram mine explosion under a track and another under the centreline of the hull.
Regarding ballistic capability, the spokesperson pointed out that the IFV was intended to enter combat zones, withstand high volumes of smallarms, rocket, artillery and mortar fragmentation for long periods of time, and survive.
“At its core the IFVs will operate in combat zones destroying or suppressing adversaries to allow infantry to clear defended terrain or buildings,” the Defence spokesperson stated.
Although the mandated ballistic protection level has not been disclosed, turret and hull armour is believed to be STANAG 4569 Level 6, capable of protecting against 30mm armour-piercing projectiles at 500 metres, or against a 155mm high explosive shell blast at 10 metres.
Underbelly protection at STANAG 4 and 4B protects against the 10 kilogram mine blast already referenced.
So far as lethality is concerned, the Lynx’s Lance turret is in the same configuration as that selected for the Boxer CRV, fitted with a Mauser MK30-2 airburst-capable 30mm cannon firing proprietary ammunition, a coaxially-mounted RMG 7.62mm machinegun, and a two-round, dampened launcher for the mandated Spike LR2 antitank missile (ATGM).
The Redback’s T2000 turret, developed by Elbit Systems and Canberra company EOS, mounts a Bushmaster Mk44S 30mm cannon, a MAG 58 7.62mm coaxial machinegun, an integrated launcher for two Spike LR2s, and an EOS R400S Mk 2 remote weapon station that can be fitted with a M2QCB 12.7mm heavy machine gun, a MAG-58 7.62mm machine gun, or a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.
Lethality trials will provide Objective Quality Evidence of the accuracy and capabilities of the tendered turrets in a number of scenarios including static firing, firing on the move, and moving while firing at a moving target.
These skills are critical to the project to ensure not only that the turret is safe to operate, but also that it provides a capability that is able to meet Defence’s stringent requirements. Some lethality trials have already been conducted at tenderers’ facilities overseas, others are taking place at Defence ranges.
The integration assessment enables Defence to confirm the tenderers’ ability to integrate existing ADF communications and other equipment. These assessments are being undertaken predominantly through a systems integration laboratory which provides Defence with the required level of assurance regarding integration, but reduces the cost of tendering.
Defence is observing the maintenance tasks carried out by the tenderers throughout the RMA process, including validation of actions against maintenance procedures.
Failures will be tracked against sub-systems and kilometres. Reliability data will be captured as part of a longer-term reliability plan, which will allow Defence to characterise those subsystems that are more prone to failure.
Additionally, Defence has access to data from internal reliability tests undertaken by both tenderers as part of the ongoing performance of their platforms, both of which are under consideration in a number of overseas programs.
Notably, Defence has disclosed that the RMA and other data will inform tailoring of an Acceptance Verification Program “including the contractually-binding Reliability Growth Program” as part of the Acquisition Contract prior to the start of full rate production.
This appears to contradict a recent media report criticising the lack of such a program in tender documents.
Within the tight constraints necessary while RMA is underway, Rheinmetall Defence Australia has encapsulated to ADM the reasons it believes its Lynx KF41 should be selected by the Commonwealth for the Phase 3 Mounted Close Combat Capability requirement.
These include decades of proven IFV and Manoeuvre Support Vehicle (MSV) development.
“The Commonwealth would benefit from this development and delivery experience as the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the Marder IFV, Puma IFV, Kodiak MSV and Buffalo ARV (Armoured Recovery Vehicle),” the company stated.
“The complete Lynx mission and support system for Land 400 Phase 3 including vehicle, turret, ILS (integrated Logistics System), simulation and ammunition can all be provided from a single OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer).
“Rheinmetall’s heritage in Australia through Land 121 Phase 3B/5B (medium and heavy trucks) and Land 400 Phase 2 would bring local capability, commitment and experience to bear for Land 400 Phase 3.
“Lynx is a next generation platform with capability growth. A modular vehicle system with unmatched levels of protection, mobility, lethality, knowledge, suitability, sustainability and growth. Lynx is able to meet the 11 roles required for Land 400 Phase 3 and offers significant capability advantage to the Australian Army,” the company statement explained.
“Lynx is a highly modular solution with high Boxer CRV commonality. A modular Lynx and Boxer Land Combat Vehicle System (LCVS) solution provides commonality of the Lance turret, vehicle systems, weapons, sensor systems, electronic architecture, simulation and training. The Rheinmetall support solution turns modularity and commonality into lower total cost of ownership through condition-based maintenance and whole of fleet management.
“Rheinmetall will deliver significant Australian Industry Capability (AIC). Lynx will be manufactured in the Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence (MILVEHCOE), utilising and extending the Land 400 Phase 2 development team, and the qualified Australian armoured vehicle industry network. Rheinmetall is committed to the creation of an enduring Australian military vehicle ecosystem, with strong support and investment from the Queensland Government.
“Rheinmetall has already announced export contracts for Australian industry for the Lynx Hungary program. Australian-manufactured Lynx vehicles and core systems exported to the world offers significant enduring AIC and economic benefit. Further countries have expressed strong interest to date in the Lynx capability, resulting in multiple further potential export opportunities,” the statement concluded.
For its part, Hanwha Defense Australia describes the AS21 Redback as a fifth-generation IFV that is highly protected, exceptionally mobile, formidably lethal, and developed specifically to meet Australian requirements and take advantage of the latest technologies.
The Redback’s two-man turret is a development of the proven Elbit MT30 Mk2 turret that fully integrates the Iron Fist active protection system, the Spike LR2 ATGM and onboard training systems (as proven by recent demonstrations and test firings) and the Iron Vision situational awareness system.
The Iron Vision system allows the Redback’s crew to effectively look through the hull as if it isn’t there and is a game changer in operating heavy armoured vehicles in close company with dismounted troops.
The Redback’s Mk44S Bushmaster II 30 mm cannon is capable of firing all natures of the 30mm x 173mm ammunition in service with 19 nations, including advanced munitions such as proximity fused and airburst rounds. The 30mm cannon can be rapidly upgraded to 40mm by exchanging three parts, boosting lethality without the need to modify the turret or cannon.
Rubber tracks reduce noise and vibration that can damage sensitive electro-optical systems while saving life-cycle and operating costs and providing superior ride quality for the Redback’s three-strong crew and eight dismounts.
The AS21 also benefits from a fully independent inline suspension system that does not require torsion bars, thus supplying more space to achieve exceptionally high levels of blast protection without significant additional weight.
The Redback’s 1,000hp MTU MT881 turbo-charged diesel engine and Alison transmission have been well-proven by thousands of hours of use in the Korean Army’s K21 fleet from which the AS21 has evolved. An incremental improvement program ensures ongoing modifications and adjustments.
If selected the Redback will be constructed at a purpose-built facility in Geelong. This facility will also be used by Hanwha to manufacture the K9 155mm self-propelled howitzers and K10 armoured resupply vehicles for the $2 billion Land 8116 Protected Mobility Fires requirement for which Hanwha was selected in September 2020. The K9 uses the same engine and transmission as the Redback; Army’s M1A1 Abrams main battle tank uses the same Alison transmission.
As a footnote, Major General Simon Stewart, Head of Land Capability, told ADM separately (see this month’s From the Source interview for more) that Army has not mandated a specific active protection system for either Phase 2 or Phase 3 of Land 400.
Although Elbit Systems’ Iron Fist Decoupled Light had been used as the exemplar, it had not been mandated.
Subsequently, both of the Phase 3 contenders had offered Iron Fist Decoupled Light as part of their tender response “so we’ve got some more work to do to figure out exactly how that works and exactly what and when we’re going to do that”.