Fighting Chance

LAND400

The opening statement of the Army Objective Force 2030 Primer could be a mantra for the many companies contemplating competing for a part of the LAND400 project, which is a bulwark of forward tactical thinking for Australia’s armed forces.

LAND400. A lot of fuss over a couple of hundred armoured trucks? The ‘world’s biggest military project’ or the ‘saviour of the Australian automotive industry’? There has certainly been plenty of hype about this planned close-combat vehicle for the country’s defence forces through the middle of the century.

LAND400 is the Land Combat Vehicle System (LCVS) which, according to the Defence Materiel (DMO), “will provide the mounted close combat capability within the Combined Arms Fighting System (CAFS). The LCVS will be able to be employed across the full spectrum of conflict in all environments up to and including close combat as part of the combined arms team (CAT). LCVS will be capable of integration with legacy and new equipments in order to contribute to the overall commanders’ situational awareness and combat power as part of a networked capability. LCVS will be characterised by precision lethality, land combat survivability, situational awareness, and combat capability integration to deliver a system that enables the successful conduct of sustained close combat against emerging and future threats.”

The project “is one of Defence’s most significant capability programs both in terms of acquisition cost and its impact on the Army’s war fighting capability. The program seeks to address the emerging mounted close combat capability gap that exists between the current in service vehicles and increasingly capable weapons that could be used against Australian forces.”

As ever, the gestation of LCVS is slow. It has been talked about seriously since 2006, but the government’s ‘first pass’ is not expected until this November, soon after which DMO hopes to release a draft Request for Tender for industry to comment. It will take as long as it takes. Governments move at their own pace and high profile spending is hardly in vogue right now. As a parallel, Germany’s Boxer programme began in earnest in 1994, with early prototypes being trialled in 2010 (coincidentally, in Australia). Boxer is a bilateral (Germany and Netherlands) programme to produce a modular armoured vehicle primarily intended as a personnel transport. There are nine interchangeable modules that can be slotted onto a base ‘chassis-cab’. Production hovers around the 500-unit mark.

Reality check 1: As it stands, the LAND400 project appears to be worth just a few hundred vehicles; one estimate says 200 to 250 units, although nothing is yet set in stone. Replacements will be needed, of course – fewer in peacetime, more in war. The LAND121 project (see Business in Focus Nov, Dec 2012) is for just over one thousand more general support vehicles. This is hardly the kind of investment potential to have big-name corporations diverting capital to Victoria or South Australia. Yet DMO and the government have spoken strongly in favour of trying to ensure a high degree of local content in the eventual fleet.

Speaking in March, Major General Paul McLachlan, AM, CSC said the project must:

  • Ensure that local industry is provided with full, fair, and reasonable opportunities to tender for work
  • Identify opportunities for Australian industry and encourage Original Equipment Manufacturers to deliver cost-effective local work to Australia’s Defence Industry
  • Facilitate local industry opportunities within prospective global supply chains to establish long-term alliances and;
  • Ensure that necessary Intellectual Property and technology is transferred to capable local companies to enable effective local support arrangements and ongoing development.

The admirably active authorities of Geelong, where Ford’s impending closure has forced a rethink of industrial policy, briefed major Australian defence force contractors in April on the city’s bid to become the hub for LAND400. Mayor Darryn Lyons said: “We made the case that Geelong has the necessary infrastructure to deliver the Land 400 project including transport logistics that encompasses air, road, rail and sea and existing industry capacity. We have existing firms with the specialist skills necessary to support the Land 400 project coupled with high level research facilities.” Those present included Rheinmetall, Raytheon, Elbit, Marshall Land Systems, British Aerospace Systems, and General Dynamics.

Local firms that participated in the briefing were BOC, which does specialist welding and manufacturing; Marand Precision Engineering, which already has several defence force contracts and operates out of the old tooling plant at Ford’s premises; and RPC Technologies – a company that specialises in advanced composite manufacturing including carbon fibre.

The big names are certainly circling, shark-like. A probable front-runner is Rheinmetall, whose RMMVA subsidiary (a joint venture with MAN Truck) has a Canberra office to liaise with government as well as headquarters in Melbourne with more than 60 technicians and project engineers. Rheinmetall has been a central pillar of the Boxer project and eyes LAND400 with interest. But, says its Managing Director Peter Hardisty, there are limits to what can be done with a project of such modest scale within the boundaries of Australia.

Reality check 2: “Australia is an expensive place to do business. The government needs to understand that and be prepared to pay the price for the level of [local] involvement they seek to achieve.” So says Peter Hardisty, who explains that LAND400 is not as simple as taking a Toyota or Mercedes chassis and glueing on some armour and a gun or two. Rheinmetall has a number of ‘off-the-shelf’ products, such as the AMPV, Boxer or Fuchs (they can offer both wheeled and tracked vehicles and it is known the DMO is looking for both), but if Australia’s armed forces want something tailor-made to suit its own conditions and likely combat arenas, something designed from scratch is required. Where Rheinmetall can help is with the ‘modularity’ of the various systems – communications, weaponry, etc – as well as its extensive database of how to armour for greatest protection.

An intriguing factor in the mix is emissions – initially not something you would think to be a big factor when fighting a war, but remember these LCVSs must travel on public roads in peacetime for most of their lives. One specification already known is that engines must pass EURO 5 emission tests – even the Boxer programme only specifies EURO 4. Thus no one in Australia currently has the expertise that will be required in the realm of fuel efficiency and specific performance factors under varying loads.

LAND400 is far from just a delivery of trucks. It is a fully fledged support system, with attendant communications, surveillance and repair facilities and ongoing support for as long as the fleet is required – at least 30 or 40 years, one assumes. But government faces a dilemma, and it’s one with which Australian industry is all too familiar: the nation’s scale conflicts with its requirements. Should we arm our forces with something based on other countries’ needs (Rheinmetall’s Hardisty points out that Sweden, for example, has a number of unique requirements, such as snowploughs, that it has managed to incorporate on variants of its existing product range) or start with a clean sheet of paper?

Just as important, should we insist on local content? And can we afford to (or can we afford not to, as Geelong or Adelaide would suggest)? The cost will inevitably be substantial, as Peter Hardisty says. “This is not a political point – it’s just a statement of fact. If we [Australians] want a high level of participation, the government must understand that the price will be high – irrespective of the bidder.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 25, 2018, 8:17 AM AEST