Although single base propellants have been around for over 100 years, production of this type of propellant only began in Australia during World War 2, when appropriate equipment and know-how were provided under the USA’s Lend Lease Scheme. Prior to this date, all propellants had been of the British double base type. The Mulwala gun propellant facility in New South Wales was set up to produce these commodities, and remains the sole supplier of military-grade propellants and high explosives to the Benalla ammunition plant in northern Victoria. These plants are deemed to be strategic national assets, and produce ammunition for Australia’s Defence Forces; Mulwala also produces low-grade explosives and propellants for a few other customers, including America’s NASA.
Australia isn’t the only country looking to modernize single-source ammunition facilities from World War 2 or earlier. The USA is in the same boat. The Mulwala redevelopment project has finally received full approval, and work is underway – with the assistance of the same firm that owns the USA’s prime (and until recently, only) small caliber military ammunition production facility. Now, Thales will have the assistance of America’s 2nd supplier as well.
The Mulwala Redevelopment Program will design and construct new facilities within the existing plant at Mulwala for the production of military-grade gun propellants and explosives. The project is scheduled to commence construction on site in the second quarter 2008, with completion in mid-2011. The new plant facilities are scheduled to become fully operational in 2012.
The A$ 263 million (about $222 million) contract was announced on June 8, 2007, and will provide for technology transfer, design and construction of the new propellant manufacturing plant, and supporting infrastructure. The funding will also allow for performance testing of the new plant and training of the workforce to run the new facility.
Bovis Lend Lease is the prime contractor on the project. ADI Ltd. Selected Lend Lease Corp’s subsidiary for this role in September 2005, after a 2003 Deed of Cooperation between Defence and ADI placed them in charge of the Mulwala modernization project and set out the obligations of each party.
Its subcontractor is Alliant Techsystems (ATK), who operates and is modernizing the USA’s ammunition production facility in Lake City, MO. ATK’s portion of the contract is valued at approximately US$ 54 million. ATK will provide the production process design, critical equipment and support for start-up, product qualification and performance testing of the new facilities.
Up to 250 jobs are expected to be created during the construction phase of the project, with approximately A$ 150 million of work available to Australian industry during design and construction. There will be continued long term employment opportunities during its operation, but testimony to the Parliamentary Public Works Committee indicates that the process of modernization and automation will involve smaller workforce in future, dropping from the current total of about 370 people to 320-340.
Feb 23/11: Thales Australia and the USA’s General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GD OTS) sign a long-term strategic teaming agreement to cooperate in the Australian ordnance market. Under the 10-year agreement, General Dynamics will deliver “significant technology transfer” to Thales in Australia, while Thales will leverage its U.S. partner’s expertise through its existing munitions contracts. GD OTS.
Jan 18/10: Thales Group announces that it has received a multi-year contract to supply various types of small arms ammunition to the New Zealand Army. The ammunition will be supplied from the company’s Benalla facility in Victoria, Australia. Its propellant will be supplied from its operation in Mulwala, New South Wales, Australia.
The amount of the contract is not disclosed.
Oct 4/07: The Australian Government decides to expand the propellant production capacity of the modernised facility from 360 to 530 tonnes per annum (single shift) and from 530 to a minimum 800 tonnes per annum (surge capacity). The announcement states that “the cost of this increase in production capacity can be met from within the existing project budget.”
“The expanded propellant production capacity will enable the modernised Mulwala facility to better match the production capacity of the Benalla ammunition filling factory, especially in times of increased military tempo. It will also increase the viability of commercial operations at the Mulwala facility, providing improved regional employment opportunities into the future. The Government will also benefit directly from any additional commercial sales through a sharing of the facility’s profits.”
Sept 28/05: Lend Lease Corporation Ltd. announces that:
“ADI Limited has selected its subsidiary, Bovis Lend Lease Pty Limited, as the preferred tenderer for the A$ 200 million redevelopment of the Department of Defence’s propellant manufacturing facility at Mulwala in southern NSW.”
Additional Readings & Sources
* Australian DoD, Minister’s Statement (June 8/07) – $263M Modernisation Of Mulwala Propellant Facility
* Alliant Techsystems (June 8/07) – ATK Team Selected to Develop Australian Propellent Manufacturing Facility
* Australian Joint Standing Parliamentary Committee on Public Works (March 28/07) – Report: Redevelopment of the Propellant Manufacturing Facility at Mulwala, NSW. The Committee had some issues with the proposal, including environmental issues and the proposed setup of financial arrangements, rent charges, and “capability payments” to Thales Australia. They also called attention to a likely workforce reduction of 30-50 people once the modifications are finished. Estimated total cost is A$338.7 million, including remediation but excluding value-added tax.
* Australian Defence Report (Oct 12/06) – $300 million redevelopment of propellant manufacturing facility at Mulwala. Proposal now heads to the Australian Joint Standing Parliamentary Committee on Public Works.
* Bovis Lend Lease (Sept 28/05) – Bovis Lend Lease and Mulwala Propellant Manufacturing Facility. ADI selects its subsidiary as the preferred bidder. Project lists as A$ 200 million at this point.
* The Australian, via Bad Developers (May 14/04) – Explosives plant polluting Murray. Also includes an explanation re: nitrocellulose.
* Australian DoD, Minister’s Statement (Oct 31/03) – Mulwala Rifle And Gun Propellants Factory A Step Closer To Modernisation
* Australian DoD, via US Defense Technical Information Center (Aug 1984) – Destruction of Propellant Magazine, November 1982