Ar­moured ve­hi­cle eval­u­a­tion a mine­field

The Australian - - THE NATION - RORY CAL­LI­NAN DE­FENCE WRITER

‘Both ve­hi­cles could move them­selves (af­ter) main­te­nance ac­tions’ MAJ GEN DAVID COGHLAN LAND SYS­TEMS DI­VI­SION HEAD

Al­le­ga­tions of se­lec­tive me­dia leaks, un­fair test­ing and com­plaints from a high-level de­fence com­pany ex­ec­u­tive have marred the se­lec­tion process for the $4 bil­lion-plus con­tract to sup­ply Aus­tralian soldiers with ar­moured fight­ing ve­hi­cles.

In­ter­na­tional de­fence com­pa­nies BAE Sys­tems and Pa­tria joined to­gether to com­pete with con­trac­tor Rhein­metall De­fence to sup­ply the re­place­ment for Aus­tralia’s age­ing fleet of Aus­tralian light ar­moured ve­hi­cles (ASLAV), which have seen ex­ten­sive service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Last month, as part of the eval­u­a­tion regime, Rhein­metall’s Boxer and the joint BAE Sys­tem­sPa­tria AMV35 were ex­posed to blast­ing to cal­cu­late the ve­hi­cles’ abil­ity to with­stand threats such as land­mines and im­pro­vised ex­plo­sive de­vices.

Fol­low­ing the eval­u­a­tion, claims emerged that the Boxer was able to be driven off a blast site af­ter the tests while the AMV35 had to be towed away.

An in­dus­try source said the in­ci­dent led to com­plaints that the Boxer was able to be driven away be­cause it had not been drained of all flu­ids such as fuel — a stan­dard re­quire­ment to pre­vent con­tami- na­tion of the site. While the AMV35, how­ever, was un­able to be driven off the pad be­cause, as per normal, it had all flu­ids such as fuel drained and could not be started. The sce­nario of the Boxer be­ing able to be driven away from the site ap­peared to have leaked to a me­dia out­let, im­ply­ing su­pe­rior per­for­mance.

This sit­u­a­tion then led to a BAE Sys­tems ex­ec­u­tive mak­ing a com­plaint to De­fence about the test­ing con­di­tions and the leak.

De­fence last week de­clined to com­ment in de­tail about the tests, cit­ing com­mer­cial-in-con­fi­dence, but did say that “any con­cerns raised through the process have been in­ves­ti­gated as ap­pro­pri­ate, with suit­able ac­tion taken to re­move any pos­si­ble per­cep­tion of bias and en­sure pro­bity of the ten­der process”.

Last month, in a highly un­usual move that ap­peared to con­firm con­cerns had been raised about the test­ing and the me­dia cov­er­age, De­fence is­sued an ex­tra­or­di­nary on­line state­ment quot­ing Land Sys­tems Di­vi­sion head Ma­jor Gen­eral David Coghlan as say­ing that not all cov­er­age of the blast-test­ing re­sults had “been as ac­cu­rate as pos­si­ble and some com­men­tary re­quires clar­i­fi­ca­tion”.

He stated that dur­ing the test and eval­u­a­tion ac­tiv­i­ties both ve­hi­cles had been sub­jected to sim­u­lated mine-blast tests that were de­signed to “test the sur­vival of the peo­ple, not the ve­hi­cle”.

“The com­mon­wealth con­sid­ers that both ve­hi­cles could move them­selves once they con­ducted nec­es­sary main­te­nance ac­tions from the test site to a nearby low loader for trans­port to re­pair and as­sess­ment work­shops,’’ Gen­eral Coghlan said in the Au­gust 26 state­ment.

BAE Sys­tems and Rhein­metall de­clined to com­ment.

The con­tract is part of De­fence’s Land 400 project that in­volves sup­ply­ing the mil­i­tary with 225 ve­hi­cles to re­place the ex­ist­ing ASLAVs by the next decade. The win­ning ten­der is be an­nounced next year.

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