• Project LAND 121 Phase 3B will acquire around 2700 medium and heavy vehicles, along with associated modules and around 1700 trailers. Credit: Defence
    Project LAND 121 Phase 3B will acquire around 2700 medium and heavy vehicles, along with associated modules and around 1700 trailers. Credit: Defence

Four months ago, the forecast was sunny for Land programs scheduled to reach Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in 2019. Phases 3B and 4 of the Land 121 program were set to deliver thousands of new trucks, trailers, and Hawkei protected mobility vehicles to the ADF in December.

A few clouds, however, have since blown in. Whilst Phase 3B chugs along nicely, on-going reliability issues on the Hawkei vehicles, which last year were the subject of a controversially redacted ANAO report, were compounded by the failure of main engine supplier Steyr Motors in February. IOC for Phase 4 has been pushed back into 2020 as a result, although final operating capability (FOC) is set to be declared as scheduled.

“For 121 3B, IOC will look like the ability to deploy a protected battlegroup,” Head Land Systems Major General Andrew Bottrell explained to ADM. “So that’s around 100 medium-heavyweight trucks in three configurations; the integrated load handling system, the heavy recovery vehicle, and the truck-tractor, as well as all the bulk liquid storage and maintenance modules.”

“For Phase 4, IOC will incorporate 138 mission systems, vehicles and trailers, plus their through-life support, passing a battlegroup operational test and evaluation activity.”

According to MAJGEN Bottrell, the IOC milestone for the 3B team will be a marker of continuing momentum as they prepare to roll out a further 1,200 vehicles, 2,600 modules and 1,000 trailers. Phase 4, however, is a bit more complex.

“We’re working through some reliability issues,” MAJGEN Bottrell said. “The focus is working closely with Thales to get the reliability of the vehicle where we need to before we enter the production reliability acceptance test. That test will ensure that the baseline of the vehicle is right before we enter full rate production.

“We’re behind where we’d planned to be on that, and we are looking at a delay in IOC. The focus of that team is getting reliability up to speed and up to full rate production at some point in 2020.”

Reliability and supply
The complexity of the reliability issues poses a particular challenge to Army and Thales engineers as the Hawkei, a developmental platform building on Thales Bushmaster pedigree, enters later stages of development. MAJGEN Bottrell, however, is confident the platform will start hitting key performance milestones in the coming weeks.

“The reliability issues don’t follow a discrete pattern and aren’t in discrete areas,” MAJGEN Bottrell said. “It would almost be too difficult to run through how they’ve manifested themselves.

“Following three reliability growth trials, we brought the Thales and Land (Army) engineers together to work through the details and get the objective quality evidence behind the engineering changes to a level of confidence, and then applying regression testing and getting the hours up on the vehicles.

“Because it’s developmental, we always knew we were going to experience issues, but I have to say the two teams have really worked hard to get the project to where we are. I’m confident that in the coming weeks we’ll be at a point where we can commence [the] production acceptance reliability test.”

Meanwhile, the business failure of engine supplier Steyr Motors has seen some IOC vehicles delayed, although the situation has since been largely addressed by action from Thales and a visit by Army senior leadership to the Bendigo production facility in March. Army has procured engines for the vehicles scheduled under low rate initial production and has an order for the subsequent 1,000 engines.

“For IOC Thales has to deliver 138 vehicles. Some of these have been delayed by our engine supplier issue,” Paul Feighan, Director Protected Vehicles for Thales, told ADM. “All 138 are forecast to be delivered in the final quarter of 2019 after which they will go through a rigorous acceptance process.

“Upon finding out that Steyr had issues, Thales set a plan in place to ensure the viability of the company, including capital and resource investment and in-country support. We have been able to minimise the disruption to the schedule and to our workforce.”

“Thales have kept us closely in the loop. They’ve leant forward very heavily to support Steyr Motors,” MAJGEN Bottrell confirmed. “The advice we’ve had back through the administrator is that had Thales not done that, then Steyr Motors may not have continued to operate. 

“I’m confident that Steyr Motors will continue in its current form into the future based on the advice I’ve received. I’m waiting on advice over the next month to confirm if that’s the case.

“Having seen the Bendigo facility, seen their production line, having spoken with the production engineers on the floor, getting to

see where they are, and driving the vehicle – there’s a real confidence that this vehicle is going to deliver a significant step change in capability for Army.

“So I’m not as concerned as I was when I first heard the news, but of course I’m looking forward to it playing out as Thales has advised us that it’s likely to.”

MAJGEN Bottrell also emphasised that whilst IOC has been delayed by ‘up to 12 months’, declaration of FOC will not be affected as Thales will offset the delay by increasing production volumes.

“It could be up to 12 months, but it may not be,” MAJGEN Bottrell said. “The other point worth noting is that FOC is not expected to be impacted because Thales has an ability to adjust its rate of production. That’s an important point for Army.”

The sunny side
Problems aside, other elements of the Hawkei program are progressing as expected. The Integral Computing System (ICS), which allows operators to manage sensors, radios, and the Battle Management System (BMS) through a common interface, has passed through the design and development phase including integrated artillery fire control and combat support systems.

“We’ve completed what we call the Stage 2 design and development piece of the integral computing system, so that’s tracking as we had anticipated,” Sarah Myers, Assistant Secretary Land Vehicle Systems, said to ADM. “We’ve done some user trials as well, two here in Australia and one deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We will evolve all of that work over the next period so that we’re ready to go with a finalised design for full rate production.

“This is the first time we’ve had one in our fleet. It’s something that seen to be quite favourable, as opposed to having multiple screens crowding the cabin. [Soldiers’] feedback has been valuable in evolving the design and meeting users’ expectations.”

Other key milestones met by the Hawkei team over the last financial year include operator training, user trials and blast testing.

“Even though we’re delayed on IOC, we’ve actually achieved a huge amount,” MAJGEN Bottrell said. “We’ve had operator training commence in September 2018, we’ve had the second user trial in 3 Brigade in October, and the results of that are informing the design aspects of the mission system. The four-door Hawkei underwent successful side-blast testing in November. So I’m pretty pleased with where we are, notwithstanding the engineering reliability issues.”

Over on Phase 3B, the forecast remains sunny. Initial material release occurred as expected towards the end of 2018 and the team will have signed off on another material release by the time ADM goes to press.

“We’ve been passing through all the milestones as we need to [for 3B],” Myers said. “We achieved our initial material release at the end of last year in accordance with the schedule. This month we’ll have completed our material release one milestone.

“These vehicles are incredibly different. There’s a lot of work we’re putting into the training and maintenance programs to make sure we’re evolving all of that support infrastructure around these vehicles.”

The momentum built on the 3B program is rolling into 5B, with initial delivery of equipment made in January of this year.

“That’s been really pleasing to see that come to fruition,” MAJGEN Bottrell said.

“And a really nice continuity,” Myers added. “We signed the contract change proposals in September of last year for 5B and we’ve continued to realise deliveries early this year. It’s been a really good demonstration of how we can keep continuity in our programs from production, and that assists local industry as well as the OEMs we work with.”

The work generated by Defence and Rheinmetall for Land 121 3B has also created a favourable forecast for local industry, especially Albury-based Milspec Manufacturing. The company is responsible for providing fabricated subsystems such as roof frames, gunner stands, wire cutters, stowage boxes, signs, brackets and interior components for each vehicle’s Command Control Communications Computers and Intelligence (C4i) systems.

“The [3B] job was worth $35 million. It’s the biggest Milspec’s ever had,” Neil Morrison, General Manager for Milspec, told ADM. “It’s allowed Milspec to grow and invest over the past three years.”

The company’s performance saw it win an additional contract worth more than $10 million to supply the same products for Phase

5B, which will see Rheinmetall supply an additional 1044 high mobility logistics vehicles, 812 trailers, and 872 modules to the ADF. Milspec is now using the financial certainty of the contract to expand its capabilities.

“We doubled our painting capability here,” Morrison said. “Because we’ve moved from being fundamentally a jobbing shop to being a major volume producer, we’ve also rolled out lean manufacturing across the facility.”

Over the long term, the money flowing in from Land 121 is allowing Milspec to re-imagine itself as more than a ‘fabricator of things’. It is aiming to become a globally-exporting original equipment manufacturer by developing a new permanent magnet water-cooled alternator, which may be added to the Boxer and Lynx vehicles being procured under Land 400 Phases 2 and 3. Milspec are involved in Rheinmetall Defence Australia Global supply chain program, with the SME one of a number contributing to the global fleet of Boxers and hopefully Lynx.

“The revenue and profit this has generated has allowed us to accelerate our alternator development program,” Morrison said. “Patented, designed, and manufactured here in Albury. With some luck, I’m confident they’ll be on the Boxer vehicle here and the Lynx vehicle worldwide.”

This article first appeared in the June 2019 edition of ADM.

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