When it comes to defence business in Australia, the big players are often subsidiaries of foreign firms. But now an Aussie veteran-owned small to medium enterprise (SME) is taking a shot at the big time.
by Max Blenkin
Canberra-based ECLIPS, best known as a supplier of innovative logistics equipment to the ADF and to the Australian resources sector, wants to become a prime on a significant Defence contract.
That contract is LAND 8120 Phase 1, Army’s effort to recapitalise the its ageing field engineering equipment with new commercial off-the-shelf (COTS)-based equipment, with modifications where needed to meet the inherent requirements of Defence.
There is a long list of equipment required for the project – cranes, excavators, front-end loaders, tractors, bulldozers, rollers, graders, skid-steer loaders, tele-handlers, concrete production plants, rock crushers, and even a beach recovery vehicle to support amphibious operations.
Defence cites a very wide range of uses for this kit, including construction, demolition, development of protective earthworks, route development and maintenance, airfield and port construction and repair, port operations, supply and distribution, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and beach recovery. All up, Defence requires 312 items of machinery in 17 groups.
The 2016 Defence Integrated Investment Program (IIP) refers to these as “engineer support platforms,” and notes a projected cost of $200-300 million and a program timeframe of 2017-2026.
This is the least sexy and the least costly end of the defence procurement spectrum. What’s being acquired will often be, more-or-less, the same type of equipment commonly seen on civil construction and mining sites across the country, just painted green.
Eclips managing director Shaun Moore said ECLIPS was a unique company well-positioned to win this deal. “Since our formation 12 years ago we have been immersed in the mining, oil and gas industry, and military markets,” he told ADBR.
“We are unique because we have been learning, innovating, developing and sharing practical solutions across multiple Australian and international markets,” he added. “I was recently told that one of the challenges that the Australian defence industry faces is competition from the other markets – ECLIPS is living proof that this does not have to be the case.
“ECLIPS synchronises with other sectors to ensure that the knowledge of best technology, best value for money deliverables, proven in Australia, is shared across our Australian Industries. We are perfect for this project because we understand military and we understand commercial civil engineering and we have deep relationships in both.”
“Australia has a world leading civil engineering industry. We move more dirt and dig bigger holes than anybody in the world. We are the world leaders even if the machines are not manufactured here.”
The ECLIPS team is a mix of ADF veterans and young engineers. Moore said this combination of engineers is always looking for new and inventive solutions, and the disciplined practical and contextual knowledge of veterans provided remarkable outcomes.
That approach has already attracted high praise. Moore said he was recently told by a very senior officer from the UK Ministry of Defence that ECLIPS’s military logistics solutions were unique and world leading.
“I put this down to amazing synergies that we get from our dedicated and diverse team, and the privilege of working and learning across multiple Australian Industries,” he said.
Shaun Moore founded ECLIPS in 2007. He’s a former soldier who spent 22 years in the Army, deploying to Somalia in 1993 and then twice to East Timor. He started out as a digger and was eventually promoted to warrant officer class two then commissioned to captain, and departed the Army as a Major to run his own business.
ECLIPS started out building an urban training facility for the Army at Townsville, then smaller facilities for the Navy, Australian Federal Police, and the Defence Science and Technology Group.
But the ADF and others only needed so many modular training facilities and, once built, they have a long life and require minimal upkeep. But resources firms also need this kind of facility, and ECLIPS won a number of contracts for work on remote mining sites in Western Australia.
That led to their current bread and butter – purpose-designed logistics platforms to move problematic cargo to remote and harsh locations.
Moore said their work on the Gorgon Gas Project was a life changer. “The customer approached us looking to leverage military logistics ideology and urgently develop a solution to transport and store equipment in work packs for vast material movement from Perth to Barrow Island.”
The result was what’s called CROWS – the container rollout warehousing system – since sold to other global oil and gas companies and now being marketed around the world. To this end, ECLIPS has established an office in Mexico City to tap into the South American resources sector.
As innovative as CROWS has been, it wasn’t likely to attract mainstream media attention. But what has is ECLIPS’s deployable Container Roll Out Solar System (CROSS), with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) providing $289,725 for design, manufacture and testing.
This is a series of solar panels mounted on CROWS, stored and transported inside 20 or 40 foot shipping container. Seven CROWS, each with five solar panels, go inside a 20-foot container.
These can be speedily deployed to produce instant power – more than 15 kilowatts per 20 foot container, and more than 30 kilowatts per 40 foot container. This has obvious applications for deployed forces and remote bases, and also to provide emergency power for humanitarian and disaster relief (HADR) applications.
Fortunately for ECLIPS, the end of the resource development boom has coincided with ramp up of the ADF’s recapitalisation of much of its capability.
ECLIPS designed and then delivered more than 2,000 ISO1C flatracks for Land 121 Phase 3, the project to replace Army’s Mack heavy trucks and Unimog medium trucks with a fleet of 2,500 Rheinmetall medium and heavy vehicles, along with 3,858 modules and 1,753 trailers.
ECLIPS then developed JMILS – the Joint Intermodal Logistics System – a wholly-Australian system for warehousing and transporting military stores which is also attracting interest from overseas defence forces.
ECLIPS first introduced JMILS though the rapid prototyping program to develop a capability to transport and warehouse 155mm artillery shells and charge bags so that they don’t need to be touched by human hands between factory and firing point.
Next came an Army requirement to store and transport ancillary equipment and spares for their new Grove cranes. ECLIPS designed an interface platform to hold all the Grove equipment on the standard ADF flat rack.
“Again our team looked deeper into the environment and not only created a transport system but leveraging our commercial experience the team developed a solution that provided Army with a barracks and field warehousing system, as well as field distribution system,” Moore said.
Moore said LAND 8120 is also a logical fit for ECLIPS. “We have looked at this very carefully. It is indeed a significant investment to pursue this important project. There are many good reasons for us to put our hat in the ring.
“It is time for a 100 per cent Australian-owned company to take some leadership in breaking the foreign-owned prime monopoly we have in the Defence industry. We have been converging best practice ideologies and technologies of the two industries for 10 years now and we have a track record of doing it. This project is perfect for us.”
Moore said ECLIPS understood how difficult it could be for Australian companies to be involved in programs like this. “ECLIPS commits to maximising opportunities for innovation and competitive Australian companies. To do this we have created a supplier industry portal where Australian companies can register their interest to be involved in LAND 8120 as well as other ECLIPS programs.”
Moore said once ECLIPS had cracked being a Prime Systems Integrator (PSI) in Australia, the company would be taking innovative Australian engineering overseas, a move that aligns closely with that of the recently re-elected Morrison Coalition government and the initiatives put in place by former Defence Minister, Christopher Pyne. To this end, he said ECLIPS was recently invited to submit a proposal for a major contract in Europe.
But LAND 8120 is much bigger than any deals ECLIPS has done before, easily surpassing its previous largest contracts of $36 million for Defence and $40 million for the resources sector.
“It is bigger,” said Moore. “The message we want to get across is that when we do an oil and gas project, it’s $40 million and it’s done in 12 months. This is $200 million over six years. That’s $33 million a year – in the oil and gas sector we do that quantity per year.”
Defence has released some information on how it wants to proceed. The initial request for information (RFI) envisaged a single prime with a number of sub-contractors providing particular pieces of equipment. It also initially envisaged an option to lease or hire, but now seeks outright acquisition.
The request for tender (RFT) was released in March, and closes on July 30. Tender evaluation will be conducted in the third and fourth quarters of 2019, and will be followed by a decision. Contract signature is scheduled for the second quarter of next year.
Significantly, Defence stipulated that it is just looking to acquire the equipment in this deal, and that it may look at longer-term support later.
“The Commonwealth intends that Defence will support these platforms using original equipment manufacturer (OEM) data such as operating and maintenance manuals and parts lists,” Defence said. “The Commonwealth is not seeking to establish a contract to outsource the support of these vehicles at this time.”
The existing field engineering fleet comprises some 600 vehicles in 60 variants, many of which are 20 years old which makes them elderly compared to industry which typically retains such vehicles for an average seven years.
Initially Defence thought to acquire some equipment such as bulldozers and excavators equipped with operator ballistic protection, and even a capability for remote operation during deployed operations in contested environments, especially urban areas.
But the current RFT specifies only COTS equipment with some modest modification to meet particular Army requirements.
Specialised armoured and robotic earth moving machinery could be the subject of a future procurement.