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Land 400: Seven success factors underpinning the plan to modernise Army’s armoured fighting vehicle

Light armoured vehicle

Army's combat reconnaissance vehicle (CRV) and infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), procured under the Defence project Land 400, will provide the core Army capabilities for land force operations as part of Joint and multi-agency operations for the security of Australia, the region and in support of our global interests. On 19 February 2015, Minister for Defence, the Hon Kevin Andrews, MP, announced that government had given first-pass approval and released an open request for tender for Phase 2 of Project Land 400. The Defence Minister's announcement represented not just a step forward in Army's plan to replace its ageing fleet of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs), but for a suite of capabilities that will provide much greater levels of protection, firepower and mobility for our soldiers, more effective Army contributions to ADF operations and more flexible and capable military response options for government. 

In many ways, the project to procure CRV and IFV breaks new ground for Army. The acquisition and introduction into service of the vehicles will likely extend into the 2030s. It is a project that will endure five or six federal elections and be overseen by the next six chiefs of Army before the final capability is fully realised. And it is a project that comes with the price tag reflective of the sophisticated capabilities resident in modern AFVs. It is not an overstatement to suggest the current program to modernise Army's AFVs represents our most comprehensive and enduring project to date.

Given the centrality of Project Land 400 to the ADF's joint warfighting functions, [1] it is important to reflect on the key factors that will continue to underpin the success of this key modernisation initiative.

  1. Strategic Coherence. The Defence White Paper 2009 committed to replacing and enhancing the Army's fleet of combat vehicles and other land force capabilities with the objective of furnishing the ADF with greatly improved firepower, protection and mobility in response to the increasing complexity and lethality of contemporary and future conflict. This commitment was reaffirmed in Defence White Paper 2013 and we expect similar guidance in the upcoming Defence White Paper 2015. Land 400 represents the realisation of this strategic guidance.

    Our understanding of the evolving security environment and combat operations has been informed by more than a decade of war. Any notion that armoured vehicles are a relic of cold war tensions has been replaced by an understanding of the need to protect Australian soldiers from lethal blast weapons, while providing accurate direct fire power linked to highly capable optics and sensors. The 'democratisation' of access to lethal weapons means that, even in relatively 'low level' threat scenarios, potential adversaries are capable of defeating older generation vehicles such as the ASLAV and M113 with hand-held anti-armour weapons or improvised explosive devices. Operated by some of the most capable soldiers and junior leaders in the world, the CRV and IFV acquired under Land 400 will be key to the successful conduct of joint land combat, population protection and information actions likely to remain central to ADF operations in the foreseeable future.

  2. Engaged with Industry.  Industry will continue to be a key partner in the process of modernising the AFV fleet. The manufacture of AFVs is a highly competitive segment of Defence industry, so we are seeking a fleet of vehicles that are already in production — a military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) capability.[2] In order to achieve a broad competition between MOTS vehicles, Army has not specified any 'essential' requirements in the released capability documentation which, if not met, would automatically discount a potential platform from tender consideration. It is our intention to assess MOTS-based solutions against capabilities and characteristics outlined in the key requirements matrix. The use of a key requirements matrix gives industry the flexibility to include options such as manned or unmanned turrets in their tender responses or look at active protection systems as part of their overall protection requirements. We have approved an extension to the request for tender period to allow industry the opportunity to adequately prepare their best platforms for consideration and to maximise opportunities to include Australian industry content. We have outlined clear priorities for the traditional trade off in AFVs between mobility, firepower and protection, and amended requirements where industry has made a compelling case to do so. We are seeking a long-term partnership with industry for the support of the various AFV fleets acquired under Land 400 to ensure enduring operational relevance on the battlefield.

  3. Replace Current Platforms. At its heart, Land 400 seeks to replace the current fleet of 253 Australian Light Armoured Vehicles (ASLAV) with a modern fleet of around 225 CRVs, acquire a fleet of about 450 infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and manoeuvre support vehicles (MSVs) to replace the 1960s-era M113AS4 armoured personnel carriers and deliver an integrated training system for the new fleet of vehicles. The rapidly approaching 'life of type' of the current AFV fleet is a key driver in the time frames for Land 400 acquisitions.  From early next decade, we will see the delivery of the first CRV platforms with the IFV’s replacing the M113 variants from about 2025. Far from representing a 'crusade to preserve the true fighting spirit of the army' or a desire to 'undertake large-scale, high-intensity operations' against highly sophisticated adversaries, Land 400 seeks to replace our increasingly obsolete platforms and underwrite Army’s contribution to the flexible and capable military options Government demands from the ADF well into the twenty-first century.

  4. Integrate ADF Capabilities.  The platforms delivered through Land 400 will integrate not only the array of future capabilities and systems being pursued by Army, but will capitalise on key developments in ADF joint capabilities. The digital battlespace management and communications systems being delivered through Land 200 will form the communications backbone of the Land 400 vehicles and Army’s deployed forces. Both the CRV and the IFV will be transportable on trailers acquired through Land 121 and will carry soldiers equipped with the latest weapons and personal equipment delivered through Land 125. In conjunction with wider Army and ADF assets, the suite of AFV variants procured under Land 400 will enable protected transportation and tactical movement, the coordination of indirect fire, obstacle reduction, mission command and communications, medical evacuation and treatment and maintenance and recovery. They will be able to harness the collective capabilities and effects of unmanned aerial sensors, armed reconnaissance helicopters, growler and joint strike fighter platforms. This is not to say Land 400 subscribes to what US Lieutenant General H R McMaster refers to as the 'Vampire Fallacy', but Land 400 vehicles will represent a major step towards more capable, 'joined up' Army contributions to ADF operations.

    Just as importantly, the vehicles will enhance the options the ADF can provide to government. The ADF will retain the operational reach to rapidly deploy to theatres where Australia's interests are at stake on board Navy's Landing Helicopter Docks or Air Force C-17 aircraft – and Land 400 will make us more effective when we get there. The vehicles will be capable of providing protection and mobility for embassy staff, for civilian members of aid and development agencies, and for assigned coalition personnel in a variety of operational contexts. The Army never fights alone and Land 400 is very much 'in step' with broader ADF modernisation initiatives and capability upgrades. Viewed as part of a broader joint, coalition or whole-of-government effort, Land 400 represents an essential ADF capability in underwriting Australia's position as a middle power with global interests.

  5. Relatively Modest. The costs associated with this AFV modernisation program are not insignificant. But the project represents a more incremental than revolutionary approach to modernising Army's AFV fleet.  The requirements of the respective platforms are more modest than ambitious. The decision to acquire MOTS vehicles means we deliberately avoid the risks and potential cost blowouts typically associated with developmental projects. Where requirements allow, there may be scope for synergies between the platforms in areas such as ammunition calibre, weapon systems, vehicle components or spare parts. While we will seek a series of through-life capability upgrades in any platform acquired under Land 400, we are not pursuing capabilities that break new ground or that test the bounds of physics. When the final vehicles have been delivered, we are still likely to have a regular Army based around three reinforced combat brigades with a Reserve in the order of 10,000 part-time soldiers.  Land 400 is not a project that seeks to fundamentally redesign the Army.

  6. Underpin Plan Beersheba. The modernisation of our AFV fleet is central to Plan Beersheba, a series of coordinated and ongoing initiatives that will greatly enhance the Army's ability to generate credible land power and provide scalable, responsive land force options to government. The core capabilities of Plan Beersheba will be three similarly structured combat brigades, each able to deploy and sustain combined arms teams (consisting of armour, infantry, artillery and engineers) directly supported by specialised enabling functions (such as intelligence, logistics and aviation). Every 12 months, a given combat brigade will rotate through a 'reset', 'readying' and 'ready' training phase, referred to collectively as the force generation cycle. Each phase progressively increases the intensity and complexity of training, from individual and small team education and training to a series of rigorous collective training activities and evaluations, before culminating in mission-specific operational training. These changes in Army’s approach to force generation ensure that there is always one reinforced combat brigade — the Army’s 'unit of action' — available to meet the range of government-directed levels of capability.  The vehicles and systems being acquired under Land 400 are central to the fighting power of the combat brigades.

  7. Informed by Lessons Learned. The process of modernising our AFV fleet is constantly informed by a variety of sources. Threat assessments from the Defence Intelligence Organisation and the views of our friends and alliesare essential in developing and refining the user requirements of the respective platforms. Experimentation from Defence Science and Technology Organisation and Army's experimentation unit have informed key decisions on numbers of vehicles and methods of operation. AFV programs undertaken in other nations have yielded key observations and lessons on the management of project costs, risks associated with setting aspirational capability requirements and the need for constant engagement with key stakeholder audiences. And a rigorous program of risk mitigation, tests and evaluation is planned to ensure the vehicles can do what manufacturers say they can do and meet the key requirements of Australia's operational circumstances. Perhaps most importantly, the utility and flexibility of AFVs being pursued under Land 400 has been proven over the last decades of operations, from peace support operations in Somalia and East Timor (Timor-Leste) to high-end warfighting in Afghanistan … and continues to be proven in current operations across the globe.

The capabilities delivered through Land 400 will remain central to the ADF's fighting power well into the twenty-first century. As we ask our soldiers to undertake more complex and varied missions, in more austere and uncertain environments against increasingly lethal and opaque threats, it is vital that they have the firepower, protection and mobility to fight effectively and flexibly as part of a joint and whole-of-government effort. Land 400 is central to this endeavour.

Brigadier Ben James is the Director General of Land 400 in the Modernisation and Strategic Planning Branch of Army Headquarters. 

[1] The ADF's six warfighting functions are: command, situational understanding, force generation and sustainment, force projection, force protection and force application.

[2] Military-off-the-shelf or MOTS means AFVs that are currently in service with other nations and can be sourced from existing production facilities.

Last updated
21 December 2016
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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