The Australian Defence has selected Hawkei light tactical vehicle design from Thales Australia as the preferred design for LAND 121 Phase 4. Subject to successful testing of the vehicles, final Government approval of the project is expected in 2015, and production work could potentially commence in Australia as early as 2016. Part of Project Overlander, the acquisition of 1,300 modern, protected light tactical vehicles represent a $1.5 billion part of the $7.5 billion project. The selection of an indigenous Australian design derails previous plans to join the U.S. Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program, which Australia has been part of in recent years. ‘Defence will continue to monitor progress of the US JLTV program’ the announcement said, but no additional funding commitments have been made at this stage.
Australia evaluated two candidates for this program – the Hawkei and Ocelot, provided by Force Protection International. The Government required the vehicle to be manufactured in Australia, and both contenders have relied on local subsidiaries and subcontractors to fulfill this requirement.
The next stage in the program will include funding for further development and testing of the Hawkei, including the manufacture of prototype vehicles. Thales designed this vehicle specifically to meet Australian specification; the Israeli armor protection expert Plasan has joined as a team member, to provide the protection suite for the vehicle.
Thales Australia is currently manufacturing the Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles at its factory in Bendigo. This manufacturing capability, and the skills of the workforce, is an important national security capability. On current plans, manufacture of Bushmasters at Bendigois expected to be completed before the end of 2013, in time to begin serial production of the new vehicle.
In order to retain critical skills in Bendigo while the design of the Hawkei is finalized and proven, the production of additional Bushmaster vehicles is being considered. “It is very important that we keep that industrial technical development capacity in Bendigo, and as the materials indicate we’ll be in discussions with Thales so far as additional Bushmasters are concerned to ensure that we retain that industrial capacity linked to the development of the Hawkei.” said Minister for Defense & Defense Material, Stephen Smith.