UPDATED WITH STATEMENTS FROM RAYTHEON AUSTRALIA AND THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY:
The Morrison Coalition Government has today announced a revival of the previously cancelled LAND 17 Phase 2 self-propelled artillery project for Army.
The project was originally described by the Howard Coalition government in the 2006 Defence Capability Plan (DCP), before being delayed and then cancelled by the Gillard Labor government in 2012 due to defence funding cuts.
ADBR understands the project will be renamed LAND 8112 Protected Mobile Fires, and that the government is looking to acquire it as a sole source acquisition through Defence’s new Smart Buyer initiative.
Army has reportedly shown a renewed interest in the project in recent years after studying the results of the campaign in eastern Ukraine where Russian backed separatists were able to triangulate and direct counter-fires onto fixed Ukrainian artillery positions. In addition, a self-propelled howitzer has a much smaller footprint than the towed BAE Systems M777 gun, making it easier to deploy aboard the Canberra class LHDs if required.
A Prime Ministerial release says the resurrected project will acquire 30 self-propelled howitzers, and that the manufacturing and sustainment will be centred around Geelong in Victoria. The southern half of Geelong is the main population centre of the federal seat of Corangamite, now the most marginal seat in the country and considered notionally Labor after a redistribution since the last election. Labor’s shadow Defence minister, Richard Marles holds the neighbouring seat of Corio which includes the northern half of Geelong.
“By reviving this project – which was cancelled under Labor – we will deliver the Army the capability it needs,” the statement reads. “By building it in Australia, we will create up to 350 jobs, as part of growing our defence industry across the nation.
“This important Defence capability project was one of the casualties of Labor’s budget mismanagement when they were last in government,” it adds. “Under my government, defence capability is back on track and Australia’s defence industry is growing, creating a high-skilled workforce.”
Work is expected to commence at a green-fields site in Geelong in 2022-23. Although there is no mention of a self-propelled artillery/howitzer or similar project in the publicly available Integrated Investment Plan published in early 2016, Defence Industry Minister Senator Linda Reynolds says the project will be brought forward.
“We will revive the self-propelled artillery project by bringing forward the Defence acquisition project known as ‘Protected Mobile Fires’ to address the capability gap left by Labor,” she said in the statement.
For the previous LAND 17 Phase 2, the Samsung K9 tracked vehicle that was offered by a teaming of Raytheon Australian and Samsung was notionally down-selected by Army before the project was cancelled. Now manufactured by Hanwha, ADBR understands the K9 remains the favoured option for Army.
“When the acquisition process for self-propelled artillery was cancelled in 2012 Raytheon Australia had successfully led a team offering an Australianised version of the Korean K-9 self-propelled howitzer which became known as the AS-9 ‘Aussie Thunder’,” a Raytheon Australia spokesman told ADBR. “As preferred tenderer, the company had won the competition, completed a risk-mitigation process in collaboration with the Commonwealth, finalised the solution and negotiated contracts.
“Following the cancellation announcement, Raytheon Australia formally advised the Commonwealth that, although the company was disappointed with the decision, we would resume the acquisition process should the Commonwealth decide to reconsider acquiring self-propelled artillery. This advice was provided to rapidly deliver a world-class capability for the Australian Army. That offer remains on the table.
“The self-propelled artillery solution agreed upon in 2012 remains as relevant today as it did seven years ago. Should the acquisition process be resumed Raytheon Australia would refresh our offer and seek the involvement of capable Australian small businesses as part of our team.
“Raytheon Australia will respond to the requirement that this work be undertaken in Geelong by working with its partners to establish a new assembly and integration facility that has the potential to create hundreds on local jobs in the region.”
Encouragingly, Labor appears to have provisionally supported the announcement. A joint statement from Shadow Defence Minister Marles and Shadow Minister for Defence Industry and Support Dr Mike Kelly says, “A Shorten Labor Government will work with Army on the decision to acquire 30 self propelling howitzers to make sure it gets the capability it needs, when it needs it. We will seek Army’s advice on this decision to make sure it meets its needs, not a desperate government’s political need.
“Once we have determined this capability is the right one for Australia, a Shorten Labor Government will proceed with the decision to build the capability in Geelong.”