Digital network key to Huntsman howitzer fire power
Hanwha Defence Australia has announced that it will team with Kongsberg Defence Australia on the Australian Army’s LAND 8116 Phase 1 Protected Mobility Fires requirement.
The Australian Army will acquire 30 new Hanwha AS9 Huntsman 155mm self-propelled howitzers (SPH) for the requirement, and a critical feature of this capability will be its ability to network into the Army’s battle management system – fires (BMS-F).
This means a circling UAV – such as those being acquired for LAND 129 Phase 3 or the RAAF’s AIR 7003 MQ-9B SkyGuardian – could send imagery of an enemy position to a command centre, which could in turn distribute a fire mission to a battery of SPH via an uninterrupted digital chain.
That chain includes a direct link to the gun laying system in each SPH, significantly reducing the AS9’s engagement times. That networking capability allows for more effective employment of each gun, supporting a distributed and mobile operational concept providing tactical flexibility and improved survivability.
The AS9 and accompanying AS10 Armoured Ammunition Resupply Vehicle (AARV) are also networked to ensure speedy ammunition resupply.
Under the deal announced in November 2020, KONGSBERG will team up with Hanwha as their command, control, communications and computing (C4) integration partner for the AS9 Huntsman SPH and the AS10 tracked AARV.
Project LAND 8116 Phase 1 will see the Australian subsidiary of South Korean defence company Hanwha Defense Corporation build 30 AS9s and 15 AS10s at a plant in the Geelong area of Victoria. LAND 8116 Phase 2 is planned for later this decade and will involve the acquisition of additional vehicles.
As yet, there is no contract. In September, the government issued a sole-source request for tender (RFT) under its Smart Buyer initiative which is intended to be used when a capability requirement can be best delivered by a single supplier. That followed a surprise announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the 2019 election campaign that new SPH would be built in Geelong creating some 350 jobs.
The immediate objective of the pre-election announcement appeared to have been to bolster support for Liberal MP Sarah Henderson in the seat of Corangamite and to wedge Labor deputy Richard Marles who holds the neighbouring seat of Corio. Ms Henderson lost her seat, but the government has proceeded with the plan for new SPH and the Geelong build location at a cost of around $1 billion.
The 2020 Force Structure Plan (FSP) says the Army will acquire two regiments of SPH, delivering a capability to shape the battlefield and strike in a contested environment. The current towed M777 guns will be replaced or enhanced by the SPH which will provide improved artillery deployability and flexibility. The Army will also augment the SPH with long-range rockets under Project LAND 8113.
Hanwha’s SPH have been a long time coming to Australia. In the intervening years since the cancelled Project LAND 17 Phase, 2 Hanwha’s gun has substantially matured, moving from a near orphan capability in service only with South Korea to one that is widely used and highly-regarded. Hanwha has sold its guns to Turkey, India, Finland, Estonia, and Norway, while others are interested.
The Norwegian military conducted a comprehensive trials program, pitting Hanwha against the Swiss RUAG M109 Krait, KMW Panzerhaubitze 2000, and the Nexter Caesar. Hanwha was selected as the winner, and the Norwegian military placed an order for 24 K-9 SPH and six K-10 AARVs.
Kongsberg Defence Australia general manager John Fry said the Hanwha SPH was now an even better product than that originally tested by Army. “It has significantly evolved out of the Norwegian program,” he told ADBR.
For their program, the Norwegians digitised the platform using the KONGSBERG digital backbone architecture and the KONGSBERG Odin fire control system which provides on-board ballistic calculations to the gun. This same technology will be used on the Australian Huntsman SPH, and the platform will interface with the Australian Army’s Battle Management System – Fires (AFATDS) as well as with the Army’s BMS-Manoeuvre.
“Essentially our job is to be the command, control, communications, and computers (C4) partner on the program,” Fry told us. “We provide the digital architecture, the backbone, and so we will integrate Army’s communications systems into that. This enables the fire control system.
Kongsberg Defence Australian Director of Business Development and Strategy Paul Straughair added, “As far as looking at local suppliers and those type of things, we have already started doing that and have sent RFPs to a number of companies. We intend to build the hardware here and will transfer software capability to allow us to support, maintain and develop the system here.”
Kongsberg Defence Australia is a modest but growing player in the Australian defence sector. The company’s remote weapon stations are aboard Australian Army ASLAVs, 2 Commando (2Cdo) Supacats, and on the first delivery of Rheinmetall Boxer Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (CRV). KONGSBERG is also a key sub-contractor to Raytheon Australia, providing major elements of the NASAMS short-range ground-based air-defence (SRGBAD) system under Project LAND 19 Phase 7B.
KONGSBERG Defence and Aerospace is Norway’s largest defence company, with about 3,000 employees. Founded in 1814 at the town of KONGSBERG (‘king’s hill’ in Norwegian), it is one of the world’s oldest defence companies. The company is listed on the Norwegian stock exchange with the Norwegian government holding 50.001 per cent of stock.
“Together with Hanwha Defence Australia, KONGSBERG is committed to the establishment of a sovereign industry capability to support the Australian Protected Mobile Fires capability throughout its service life,” Fry said. “We’ll continue to source as much C4 hardware as possible through Australian and New Zealand-based suppliers.”
Hanwha Defense Australia Managing Director Richard Cho said cooperation between Hanwha and KONGSBERG had already proven highly successful for the Norwegian Vidar K9 and K10 Program and in the delivery of K9 vehicles to Finland and Estonia.
“The selection of KONGSBERG as a central part of our LAND 8116 Phase 1 industry team will make a very important contribution to Hanwha’s capacity to deliver effective capability for the ADF while fulfilling our extensive Australian Industry Capability commitments,” Cho said.
This article first appeared in the November-December 2020 issue of ADBR.