“Bushmaster Bonanza at Bendigo”
Australia’s “Hardened and Networked Army” push led them to adopt the v-hulled, mine resistant Bushmaster vehicles, long before allies like the USA and Britain awoke to the need. Bushmasters have been deployed to East Timor, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
“Bushmaster Bonanza at Bendigo” read the August 2007 DoD headline, as Liberal Party Minister for Defence Dr. Brendan Nelson announced that Australia would buy at least 250 more Bushmaster vehicles. The final contract was actually larger than that, in order to meet Protected Mobility Medium requirements for Project Overlander’s Phase 3. In 2011, the government placed an order for even more Bushmasters. Now 2012 has seen that intention repeated, in order to keep the workforce occupied…
The Project Overlander order joined Australia’s original order for 299 Bushmaster vehicles, 25 of which were sold back to Thales in order to meet an emergency order from the Dutch in July 2006. They were later replaced by another 26 vehicles, bringing the ADF fleet to 300. Another 143 vehicles were bought under the A$ 99 million follow-on Enhanced Land Force (ELF) purchase in June 2007. An additional vehicle from Thales will make it 144, in compensation for Australian deferrals that let them respond to an emergency Dutch follow-on purchase.
With the 293 vehicles added in 2008 under Project Overlander, and another 101 bought in 2011, Australia’s total now stands at 838 ordered, with possible growth to 1052. As of May 12/11, 31 of them have damaged beyond repair.
Though Thales Australia (formerly ADI) does have a partnership with Oshkosh Truck in the USA, all Australian vehicles are built at Thales’ Bendigo, Australia facility. The Bushmaster mine-resistant vehicle received no orders under the USA’s MRAP program, for reasons which remain unclear to this day. Reports from the front lines indicate satisfaction with the vehicle’s protection and mobility, and both existing customers have placed repeat orders.
Contracts and Follow-Ons
Production will begin in October 2012, and orders will be placed as successive tranches of 50 vehicles. If all orders are placed, it would drive total Australian orders to 1052. Those new orders have a catch, though – they’re dependent on Thales meeting key milestones, as they work to develop their smaller Hawkei into a suitable protected patrol vehicle vehicle for the Overlander program’s Phase 4. It will be competing against the eventual winner of the USA’s JLTV competition, and final government approval for a Phase 4 buy is expected in 2015. Until then, the Bushmaster purchases will keep the Bendigo facility running as an option for local production of the winning vehicle. Australian government.
March 19/12: Australia’s government announces that they will spend more than A$ 15.5 million to manufacture Bushmaster components like axles, drive shafts, etc. at Thales Australia’s Bendigo factory, in order to keep the factory active. As they put it:
“This manufacturing capability, and the skills of the workforce, is an important national security capability. In December 2011, the Government announced that in order to retain critical skills in Bendigo the Government would explore the purchase of additional Bushmaster vehicles. Today’s announcement is the next step in that process.”
This would not be necessary if Thales’ Bushmaster had enjoyed robust exports, but that has not been the case.
June 12/11: +101. Thales Australia receives the contract to supply another 101 Bushmaster vehicles to the Australian Department of Defence, bringing Australia’s orders to 838. Australia’s government pegs the total cost at A$ 133 million for the vehicles and for “fitting Middle East Area of Operations protection kits including protected weapons stations.” It also includes funding to evaluate a range of protective enhancements. If results look good, they may be applied to the 101 vehicles.
May 12/11: The Australian government is ordering another 101 Bushmasters for the ADF, which would bring total orders to 838 so far – but this is just intent so far, not a contract. Australia’s DoD:
“The purchase provides for operational attrition. 31 Bushmasters have been damaged beyond repair in recent years and their replacement with a further 70 vehicles will support current and future operations. Defence will also evaluate a range of enhancements to the Bushmaster vehicle to increase the level of protection it provides to ADF personnel. If these enhancements are viable they may be applied to the 101 vehicles.
The purchase of the Bushmasters is subject to the satisfactory negotiation of a contract with acceptable terms and conditions including in relation to performance, cost and schedule. Details of costs will be released on finalisation of contract details. Under standing arrangements, Defence will be supplemented for the cost of Bushmasters damaged on operations, with the remainder to be funded from the Defence Capability Plan.”
April 8/09: Hardened – and now networked. Thales Australia announces a contract with Australia’s Defence Materiel Organisation to supply 700 SOTAS IP next-generation vehicle communications systems, plus spares, for insertion into Australia’s Bushmaster fleet. Installation into operational Bushmasters is scheduled to begin in July 2009, with in-service vehicles retrofitted at Thales’ Vehicle Support Centre in Brisbane, and potentially at ADF bases around the country. The system will also be installed in all new vehicles during production at Thales’ Bendigo facility.
Thales Nederland’s SOTAS IP will form the core of the vehicles’ communications systems. It integrates the Battle Management System, the radios, telephone services and IP services, and provides interoperability between radio networks (UHF, VHF, HF) and with Wide Area Networks. Vehicle intercom, Ethernet LAN and IP routing services are provided, and the system allows further integration of VoIP services, Battle Management System, vetronics services, inter-platform communications, wireless LAN services, video on demand and advanced soldier systems. Ad hoc networking appears to be a particular strength. In addition to wired (fibre and electrical) networks, SOTAS IP provides ad-hoc WLAN networking with multi-hop routing, enabling random network topologies.
The system’s most appreciated capability is likely to be its proprietary Dynamic Noise Reduction (DNR) and human voice recognition algorithms, allowing clear voice communications even in very noisy vehicles or environments. The SOTAS system is designed to scale across multiple vehicles, and even into soldier-carried systems. It has been installed in over 50 vehicle types in more than 30 countries, including Thales Bushmaster vehicles supplied to the Netherlands. Thales release.
Oct 29/08: + 293. The Minister’s release adds that:
“These  vehicles will provide protection by replacing trucks where troops are required to travel in the rear of the vehicle. The Overlander Phase 3 requirement also includes additional vehicles to enable the Enhanced Land Force. These additional Bushmasters will increase the total number of vehicles being acquired under Land 116 Project Bushmaster Phase 3 to 737.”
No prices were announced, but the Aug 18/07 announcement set an expected figure of over A$ 300 million (then about $240 million) fully equipped.