Government to revive self-propelled howitzer project
The Morrison Coalition Government used May’s federal election campaign to announce 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.
The requirement has been given the new designation, Project LAND 8112 Protected Mobile Fires, and ADBR understands 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 a self-propelled howitzer (SPH) capability in recent years after studying the results of recent campaigns including that in eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists were able to triangulate and direct counter-fires onto fixed Ukrainian artillery positions. In addition, a SPH 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 see 30 SPHs plus ammunition supply vehicles acquired, and that the manufacturing and sustainment will be centred around Geelong in Victoria with work expected to commence at a greenfields site in 2022-23.
The southern half of Geelong is the main population centre of the federal seat of Corangamite which, before the election was held by the Liberal Party and was the most marginal seat in the country, although it was considered notionally Labor after a redistribution since the last election.
Labor’s shadow Defence minister, Richard Marles held the neighbouring seat of Corio which includes the northern half of Geelong. Corangamite was subsequently narrowly won by Labor in May’s election, while Marles retained Corio with a slightly increased margin.
“By reviving this project – which was cancelled under Labor – we will deliver the Army the capability it needs,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a May 14 statement. “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.”
For the previous LAND 17 Phase 2 requirement, the Samsung K9 tracked vehicle that was offered by a teaming of Raytheon Australian and Samsung was down-selected by Army before the project was cancelled. Now manufactured and reportedly substantially enhanced 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 on May 14. “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.”
But following Raytheon’s statement, Hanwha Defence Australia quickly issued a statement of its own to assert its credentials as a prime for LAND 8112.
On May 15 the company announced it intended to develop its own manufacturing presence in Australia, not only for its K9 SPH for LAND 8112 but also for other projects such as LAND 400 Phase 3 for which it has pitched its Redback IFV and which is currently in the critical tender assessment phase (see article page 42 this issue).
“As the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) of the K9 Thunder, Hanwha is ready to build and assemble 30 K9 Thunder SPHs and supporting systems in Australia,” the company said in a statement. “Hanwha Defence Australia looks forward to the responsibility of being the Australian prime contractor and OEM for the Protected Mobile Fires program and other major combat vehicle programs to support the Australian Army.
“Hanwha Defence Australia is excited at the prospect of developing a significant advanced manufacturing hub and centre of excellence to build and sustain tracked armoured vehicles in the greater Geelong region of Victoria, thus contributing to Australia’s defence self-reliance, manufacturing capacity and industrial skills base.”
The company has stressed the commonality of key dynamic components of the K9 and the Redback, which it says includes “the powerful MTU 1000 hp engine, transmission and suspension system,” and which should provide “significant cross platform synergies and logistics efficiencies.”
Although there is no mention of a self-propelled artillery/howitzer or similar project in the publicly available Integrated Investment Plan (IIP) published in early 2016, Army’s requirement for a SPH never went away, and a watching brief was maintained on developments in the field.
To this end, Hanwha re-engaged with Army to update it on developments with the K9. In 2012 the K9 had been in service with South Korea and Turkey, but since that time it has been selected by or entered service with Poland, Norway, Finland, Estonia, and India.
The Hanwha statement says it has been engaging with the Commonwealth since “…2018 for the provision of 30 K9 Thunder SPHs and 15 K10 ammunition supply vehicles,” which it says was “the catalyst for this government announcement and will be the basis moving forward directly with the Commonwealth as an Australian prime.” That said, the first formal notification Hanwha had of the project’s revival was the Prime Minister’s May 14 announcement.
Despite losing the election, a pre-election statement from Labor was supportive of the announcement. The statement from Mr Marles and then Shadow Minister for Defence Industry and Support Dr Mike Kelly said, “A Shorten Labor Government will work with Army on the decision to acquire 30 self-propelled 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.”
This feature appeared in the May-June 2019 issue of ADBR.