Singapore Airshow

The last piece of Army’s combined arms operations hardware is now in place with South Korea the winner of LAND 400 Phase 3.  Even with the number of vehicles reduced by the Defence Strategic Review from an aspirational 450 down to 129, the order is expected to be in the $5 billion – $8 billion.  This will make it the largest single contract in the history of the Australian Army.

Getting to this point has not been easy with both bidders – Rheinmetall and Hanwha – having to reprice their offers twice. The initial reduction was to 300 units and then to the final figure dictated by the DSR.  The Best and Final Offer (BAFO) process concluded on June 30 and for a decision to be taken so quickly is remarkable after so much foot dragging.  In fact, it’s almost unprecedented with many, including APDR – predicting it would take months of further study.

These sorts of rare rapid decisions usually occur in circumstances where the preferred bidder is unambiguously ahead on everything – price, performance, risk, schedule and Australian Industry Content.  It is not at all implausible that this applied to the Hanwha bid, as much as that might hurt the feelings of Rheinmetall.

The critical part of the evaluation was the Risk Mitigation Activity (RMA) which started soon after the downselect of the two contenders in September 2019 and concluded in November 2021.  They each had to build three vehicles at great speed – the Hanwha Redback and the Rheinmetall Lynx – bring them to Australia and then hand them over to Army for extremely thorough testing. This effort also involved manufacturing complex turrets with integrated weapons and sensors.

Hanwha might have embarked on this process with a slight advantage in that they were able to start with a clean sheet of paper and designed their IFV specifically around Australian requirements – and to do this in just six months was a remarkable engineering achievement. Rheinmetall might have started looking like the favourite because they were successful in LAND 400 Phase 2 with the selection of their Boxer 8×8 – and were offering a common turret for both vehicles – but the Lynx always looked like a generic design rather than one specifically for Australian needs.

Whether this is true or not we will never know because Rheinmetall adopted an unusual bidding strategy of complete non-cooperation with the local media.  Hanwha on the other hand got their campaign right with a lot of interactions taking place and a great deal of unclassified information being conveyed.

The end result was that Hanwha generated the impression of wanting to work with Australia while Rheinmetall acted as if they deserved to win simply because of who they were.  For the record, this is not at all how Rheinmetall behaved for Phase 2, when they were very helpful, but obviously someone, somewhere, decided to do the opposite of what had been a successful strategy. Good luck with that.

While the RMA was conducted in secrecy – and that’s fine to maintain an even-handed approach to the competition – information about such a large activity involving so many people in numerous locations eventually seeps out.  All of the leaks had a certain consistency to them: namely that the Redback was proving to be exceptionally reliable and robust.  This in turn was probably related to the use of rubber tracks – more accurately steel mesh coated in rubber – which greatly reduced vibration when driving across almost all surfaces.  They also proved to be more durable and easier to repair than conventional steel link tracks used by the Lynx.

This has never been confirmed – and probably never will be – but there was also a suggestion that the Redback had an advantage in the critically important blast test requirements.  Both vehicles passed but apparently one of them did so with a greater margin of safety.  Hanwha used Israel’s Plasan – a world leader in armour protection – to develop their solution.

This might be a coincidence, but APDR has seen evidence of Redback undergoing preliminary blast testing in Israel with a number of 155mm artillery shells being detonated near a test vehicle, with impressive survivability results.

As we have discussed before in these pages, the main armament for the Redback is the ATK/Northrop Grumman 30mm Bushmaster externally powered chain gun, which is in widespread use not only with US forces throughout the region but also by a number of allied nations such as Singapore, Japan and South Korea.  It fires programmable ammunition with a high rate of fire.

The Lynx also has a highly accurate 30mm cannon from Rheinmetall subsidiary Mauser, but it is gas operated and requires proprietary steel cased ammunition, unlike the aluminium cased rounds used by the Bushmaster.  This means that in-theatre supply would probably be more complex for the Lynx because it needs its own ammunition.  While the Mauser can only fire steel cased ammunition – softer aluminium risks being shredded in the breech and jamming it – the Bushmaster can use both types.

Hanwha might also have achieved a higher level of local content, especially if Defence exercised the “enhanced Australian content” option of a turret from Canberra’s EOS.  The baseline solution is from Israel’s Elbit, but a move to EOS would have a major impact on AIC since about half of the value of the vehicle is in the turret.

This is because it contains sensors, the main gun, a remote weapon station, the two SPIKE ATGMs – and all that needs to be protected to a very high degree because of Army’s bizarre decision to stay with a crewed system when the rest of the world is moving to remotely operated ones with everyone inside the hull of the IFV.

Once the people are removed from the equation the turret becomes lighter and cheaper with no degradation in performance because looking at an image from a thermal sight is still the same where one is viewing it while in the turret or from inside the vehicle.  The same logic applies to all the weapons and countermeasures.

The decision will undoubtedly have been greeted with relief by Hanwha – as well as euphoria – because of the unfortunate cancellation of Tranche 2 of the Huntsman Self Propelled Howitzer contract, which was due to come into effect later this decade.  We will have more to say about this in future editions because it seems capricious and might well be reversed by a future government.

The decision will also be welcomed by the government of South Korea, which was blindsided by the SPH cancellation and spooked by the strength of the political pressure from Germany.  The relationship is now well and truly back on track as both Canberra and Seoul look for ways to further strengthen the security relationship – and we will have more on that in a future article.

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