The Commonwealth government has announced that it will acquire the Lockheed Martin M142 HIMARS long-range artillery system, and that it has signed a contract with KONGSBERG to acquire the Naval Strike Missile (NSM).
The 5 January announcement is said to have been made in line with recommendations from former Chief of Defence Force ACM Angus Houston (Ret’d) and former Defence Minister Prof Stephen Smith, the architects of the forthcoming Defence Strategic Review which is due to be handed down by March.
The M142 has seen recent combat success in Ukraine, and is in high demand particularly from European nations looking to increase their defence spending and capabilities due to the increased Russian threat.
The system is comprised of a five-tonne armoured FMTV truck, and a missile pod capable of firing six Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (GLMRS) rockets out to about 120km, or a single Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) out to 300km. In the future, it will also employ the new 500km+ range Precision Strike Missile (PrSM) currently under cooperative development by the US Army and Australia.
HIMARS is being acquired under the Project LAND 8113 requirement, and is due to enter service from 2026. The system is air deployable by the RAAF’s C-130J and C-17 air mobility fleet, and can also be embarked upon Navy amphibious vessels.
The NSM acquisition follows the April 2022 announcement of the Commonwealth’s intent to replace the RGM-84 Harpoon with the NSM under Project SEA 1300, and the system will be employed from Hobart class DDGs and ANZAC class frigates from 2024, and likely the future Hunter class frigates.
“The Naval Strike Missile is a major step up in capability for our Navy’s warships, while HIMARS launchers have been successfully deployed by the Ukrainian military over recent months and are a substantial new capability for the Army,” he said in a 5 January release
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, Richard Marles added, “In the current strategic environment, it’s important the Australian Defence Force is equipped with high-end, targeted military capabilities.”
But the ministerial announcement was short on detail, with Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy telling media that the budget for the two acquisitions was understandably being closely held in order to not reveal the number of missiles or systems being acquired.
A May 2022 notification from the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said Australia had been approved by the US State Department to acquire 20 M142 systems and a total of about 150 (GMLRS) pods, although these numbers can be arbitrary for the approval process, and often vary.
With KONGSBERG and Lockheed Martin both building local workforces and industry partnerships through their Australian subsidiaries, there is scope for some of the integration work and possibly manufacturing work to be conducted in Australia under the government’s Sovereign Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise initiative.
In a 6 Jan statement, President of Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, Eirik Lie said KONGSBERG is committed to developing sovereign domestic capabilities in support of its systems through knowledge transfer and Australian manufacturing opportunities.
“This is a significant milestone in the pathway to delivering a modern, effective, and survivable precision strike missile capability to the Royal Australian Navy,” he said. “Executing this contract will be achieved through close collaboration between Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, Australian industry, and the Commonwealth.”
General Manager of Kongsberg Defence Australia, John Fry added, “To assist with the delivery and support of current and future acquisition programs, we are increasing our presence in Australia with a new facility at Mawson Lakes, South Australia. In addition to this we have also commenced engaging with Australian suppliers to discuss opportunities to deliver this key capability to the ADF.”