The M113A1 family of vehicles was introduced into service in Australia in the mid 1960s, and arrived in time to see service in Vietnam. Additional vehicle variants were added until 1979, and there are 766 M113A1 vehicles currently in the Australian Army fleet. By February 2005, however, only 520 remained in service.
A number of upgrades have been suggested for Australia’s APCs(Armoured Personnel Carrier) over the years, with a number of different reviews and upgrade proposals submitted. Many of Australia’s M113s remained in the old M113A1 configuration, though some had at least been repaired and overhauled at 25,000 km. Bushmaster wheeled mine-resistant vehicles have replaced some M113s in the ADF, but the M113’s lightweight, tracked, off-road mobility remains important to Australian mechanized formations, and to troops deployed in combat zones. A plan approved in the 1990s involved a “minimum upgrade” of 537 vehicles from 1996-1998, at a cost of about A$ 40 million in 1993 dollars, with a major upgrade to follow. That major upgrade did follow – along with schedule slips, and cost increases from around A$ 594 million to nearly A$ 1 billion.
New-Old Vehicles: The M113-AS4s
There are 7 variants of the upgraded M113AS family being produced under LAND 106. Enhancements are being made to a variety of areas.
Protection: Add-on external armor kits to protect against weapons up to 14.5mm; internal spall liners; hull reinforcement to improve mine protection; fuel tanks moved from inside to outside. The change in configuration also allowed the introduction of stealth characteristics into the design by decreasing the overall turret profile, and reducing the vehicle’s radar cross-section and infra-red signature.
Firepower: A new Australian designed and built electrical turret, with improvements designed to lessen the battering its occupant takes. It will host a new .50 caliber weapon that sports a quick change barrel and day/night sights.
Mobility: Replacement of the engine, transmission, drive train and driver’s controls. To maximize the benefits of this new driveline, the suspension, track and road wheels are also being replaced.
Internal: Compartment improvements like heat mitigation measures and better stowage of equipment externally where it isn’t so much in the way. New electrical and fuel systems; a land navigation system that combines GPS and INS.
The exact designations refer to the upgraded vehicles’ general characteristics. M113-AS3 variants have 5 road wheel stations per side, and a Recommended Gross Vehicle Mass of 15,000 kg/ 33,069 pounds. AS4 variants are stretched by 666 mm/ 26.2″, with 6 road wheel stations per side, and an RGVM of 18,000 kg/ 39,683 pounds. Variants include:
* Armoured Personnel Carrier (M113-AS4 APC). Most common variant.
* Armoured Fitters (M113-AS4 AF). Includes a new Hiab crane with a significantly enhanced 2.4-tonne lift at 4 meters. 38 planned of 350.
* Armoured Recovery Vehicle Light (M806-AS4 ARVL). Includes a Sepson winch capable of a 13-tonne single line pull. 12 planned of 350.
* Armoured Ambulance (M113-AS4 AA)
* Armoured Command Vehicle (M113-AS4 ACV)
* Armoured Logistic Vehicle (M113-AS4 ALV)
* Armoured Mortar (M125-AS3 AM)
The final vehicles will be transportable in the RAAF’s C-17A heavy-lift aircraft (4 per plane, vs. 3 for larger armored vehicles), though that hasn’t been certified as of March 2012. One M113AS4 may be transportable in an Australian C-130J tactical transport aircraft if enough equipment is removed, but it hasn’t been certified, even though the initial test took place 6 years ago in March 2006. ANAO is correct to cite that gap as possible evidence of a problem.
On land, the upgraded M113s will have to wait for the arrival of its LAND 121 (“Overlander”) Phase 3 heavy trucks to transport them, and the ADF will need to lease commercial vehicles until then.
Australia’s LAND 106
A plan approved in the late 1990s involved a “minimum upgrade” of 537 vehicles from 1996-1998, at a cost of about A$ 40 million in 1993 dollars, with a major upgrade to follow. That initial plan was derailed mid-stream by an unsolicited contractor proposal to combine the 2 phases. The end result was Australia’s LAND 106 project, which aimed to perform major upgrades to a smaller set of 350 M113 APCs. That program suffered from problems in its early stages, delaying any fielded modernization until 2007.
The operational effect of that switch has been to delay fleet upgrades by about a decade. Final delivery is now expected to take place at the end of 2012.
The LAND 106 M113 Upgrade was scheduled to be completed in 3 stages, and delivery of the first company group of upgraded M113s was scheduled for 2006.
Stage 1: Development and preliminary testing of 2 Demonstration vehicles. Completed in 2004.
Stage 2: Design, construction and testing of the first 14 of the Initial Production Vehicles (IPV). This stage encountered a number of technical difficulties, resulting in an extensive Test and Evaluation Phase. Delivery of the initial 16 Phase 1 & 2 vehicles (14 APCs, 1 AF and 1 ARVL) to the 1st Brigade in Darwin was completed in December 2007.
Design development of the remaining 4 vehicle variants will continue through to the end of 2009.
Stage 3: Design, construction and testing of the remaining IPVs, and the delivery of 336 production standard vehicles. Began with successful completion of the Production Readiness Review for the base M113 APC variant in November 2007.
When Tenix’s land systems business was acquired by BAE Systems, it was easy for the vehicle’s original manufacturer (United Defense, now the largest part of BAE Land Systems) to assume leadership of the project via its new subsidiary. Tenix had chosen Germany’s FFG as the major technology partner for the program. Other key subcontractors and suppliers include Thales Optronics, Moog GmbH, SKF Australia, Bisalloy and a number of Australian SMEs including Imag Australia Pty. Limited.
The ANAO’s 2012 Report
Australia’s independent audit department, the ANAO, has issued a number of reports covering the LAND 106 program, with the program nearing its end, the 2012 audit offers a solid retrospective of the program, its progress, and the lessons learned from its problems. The core of its conclusions:
“Deficiencies in the  Major Upgrade Contract meant that technical problems with the vehicles’ design and production could not be effectively managed under its provisions. Contrary to the advice tendered to government when the major upgrade was initially approved, critical milestones were not effectively incorporated into the contract, which also failed to properly specify vehicle payloads, prioritise vehicle technical specifications in order of necessity and desirability, or establish clear terms for liquidated damages.”
The project subsequently failed to perform, but the government found that it was in a poor position to collect damages, and so ended up renegotiating the contract in 2 global settlements, in an attempt to fix the contract’s original problems. What the November 2007 and August 2011 settlements could not fix, was the time, effort, and money wasted as a result of those omissions.
Defence considers that the Prime Contractor is currently on course to deliver all 431 vehicles by October 2012, after the delivery date has been revised several times.
According to the ANAO, a range of factors hurt project schedule performance, including:
* Delays in the preparation and stretching of M113 hulls under the CSP Contract, which are needed to feed into the major upgrade production line.
* Missing/broken lifting eyes on existing M113, which caused delays in moving hulls through the CSP process).
* Poor quality, with more vehicles than expected needing rework after quality inspections. That was an especial problem, because the production facilities at Bandiana had limited room for rework.
* The ANAO refers to “facility failures at the Defence-owned facilities in Bandiana.”
* Hull de-lamination, resulting in additional preparation work, and laminar cracking, which resulted in hulls being set aside until a suitable repair technique could be developed.
* Delays in the technical development of the ALV [cargo variant] and AM [mortar variant]; and
* Shortages of VIC 3 vehicle communication harnesses, supplied by Defence as government furnished equipment, and required to finish the vehicle.
According the ANAO, the full cost of the M113 upgrades is close to A$ 1 billion for 431 vehicles. A$ 2.32 million per vehicle isn’t small change, though in fairness, it is half or less of the cost of a new, modern tracked IFV like BAE’s M2 Bradley, or its CV90. Australia’s Chief of Army responded to the ANAO by saying that:
“…as the Capability Manager … I am satisfied that the [upgraded M113] provides a significantly enhanced capability to Army and that it is a potent and capable platform. I am also satisfied that the delivery of [the upgrade project] satisfies the original requirement specified by the Capability Manager.”
The question ANAO asks is whether the project’s long delays, and 20-year run, have left those requirements behind. The M113AS4 is much less capable than modern IFVs. It has weaker armor protection, less formidable weaponry, and remains stuck with old communication gear. That last issue will be a problem going forward. ANAO:
“The M113 relies on the VIC 3 model communications harness as its main electronic communication system. There are currently a limited number of these harnesses available, and priority… is given to the ASLAV vehicles, currently deployed to Afghanistan… Army aims to rectify this shortage by December 2012 through fitting the Bushmaster fleet… with updated SOTAS communications systems, which will make an increased number of VIC 3 harnesses available… [Even so,] the electronic systems fitted to the upgraded vehicles do not permit optimal communication and data transfer with heavy tanks and the other force elements, such as artillery and aircraft, with which they are intended to operate… Army originally expected to address the current communications limitations of the M113 by fitting to these vehicles the systems to be developed under projects LAND 75 and LAND 125.64 However, in the context of the 2012-13 Federal Budget, the relevant phases… will not now proceed.”
An even more alarming problem involves the M113s’ reliability. ANAO:
“Maintenance records classify the vehicles as ‘Fully Functional’; ‘Restricted Use’; or ‘Unserviceable’. Over the three years to December 2010, the proportion of vehicles at the School of Armour classified as ‘Fully Functional’ decreased from an average of 62 per cent in 2008 to 38 per cent in 2010. Since 2010, this has not improved: Defence advised that as at 19 March 2012 the proportion of vehicles classed as ‘Fully Functional’ was 39 per cent across Army. The main factors affecting vehicle availability have been a lack of supplies (spare parts) and mechanical failures.”
That reliability level would become a serious problem if the upgraded M113s had to be deployed. It also affects the math of a comparison with more expensive IFVs. Assume that buying a new IFV would be 225% of the final upgrade cost, that the budget to buy them remains the same, and that we use reliability benchmarks met by those modern IFVs:
* 431 M113-AS4s x 39% fully functional = 168 available IFVs.
* 192 modern IFVs x 70% fully functional = 134 available IFVs
At similar availability rates, Australia’s DoD would have a strong argument for its choice. Given the actual number of available machines, however, a good counter-argument can be made that it would have been better to own 134 IFVs that are much more capable. What is certain, is that neglecting this key performance parameter seems to have cost Australia hard.
Contracts and Key Events
August 2/16: BAE and Rheinmetall have both been shortlisted by the Australian government to participate in the second phase of their LAND 400 program. The vehicles offered, AMV35 (BAE) and the Boxer 8×8 (RM), will now be assessed on their mounted combat reconnaissance capabilities. Once selected, the winning company will provide replacements for the Australian light armored vehicle and M113 armored personnel carrier fleets.
November 17/15: The Australian Department of Defense have issued a request for information for 450 tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) as part of the Australian Defence Force’s largest ever land systems acquisition program. Project LAND 400, which is now in its third phase, has been a major overhaul of existing aging equipment of the ADF and in total will cost approximately USD $7.1 billion. Phase Three will aim to replace the existing M113AS4 and it is hoped that these will be replaced by 2025 and the M113AS4 LOT by 2030, but the Australian DoD find the machinery decaying given current and emerging threats.
May 24/12: The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) issues “Upgrade of the M113 Fleet of Armoured Vehicles.”
Specific conclusions are covered in the previous section, but its overall tone is that many of the program’s problems and cost increases were avoidable. They also point out that the final product is an APC that’s under the capability standard of modern alternatives, despite its costs. This is true, and was known in advance. Australia accepted that trade, in exchange for what it saw as a lower-cost option, with better transportability. Limited communications compatibility with its companion M1 tanks, and the withdrawal of the M113s from plans for Australia’s new battlefield management C4I systems, is a more serious issue. Most serious of all is the fact that availability rates for the upgraded M113s remain abysmal – under 40%! That will impact training, and unless it’s corrected, it will become a serious problem if the armored vehicles ever get deployed.
Meanwhile, BAE has qualified for the first 3 incentive payments under the August 2011 re-negotiation, and looks to be on target to deliver all M113s by the end of October 2012.
May 10/12: Australia’s budget features a series of reductions. From the Chief of Army’s Budget Message:
“M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carriers. One hundred M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carriers will be placed into temporary storage [along with 15 M1A1 Abrams tanks]. The APCs will be placed into temporary storage in a condition where they can be rapidly returned to service when Army’s fiscal situation improves. Army will need to develop an equipment and training methodology to ensure an adequate number of crews are maintained to meet contingency requirements.”
Lt. Gen. D.L. Morrison later pens a letter to the editor of The West Australian, reiterating his confidence in the M113AS4, and citing the current measures as “informed solely by a need to reduce operating costs in order to focus key resources to operational priorities and linked training support.”
August 2011: 2nd global settlement. Dissatisfaction with BAE’s performance led Australia’s DoD to begun reviewing its legal contractual options in June 2010, but it eventually decided that it was on softer ground than it thought, and decided to negotiate a solution instead. The new agreement involves a number of concessions from Defence, and according to the ANAO, key provisions included:
* BAE withdraws A$ 5 million in postponement claims.
* Australia’s DoD won’t exercise contractual rights to liquidated damages of approximately A$ 1 million for late delivery.
* Final delivery date for all vehicles moves from April 2012 to Dec 9/12.
* Incentive payments totaling A$ 2.8 million are available to BAE if certain production targets are met between August 2011 – October 2012, including delivery of the last vehicle by the end of October. Defence says this was done to avoid having BAE close some of its facilities early, and set LAND 106’s schedule back even further.