Australian Land 400 (Wheeled Component) Downselect

The Downselect has happened! Just last week, we saw Australia announce the two preferred bidders for the wheeled component of the Land 400 program. They are Rheinmetall (entering a Boxer MRAV with Puma turret)1 and BAE/Patria (entering a Patria AMV with a CV9035 turret).

Land 400 is designed to replace the Australian LAV IIIs and M113s with a new family of tracked and wheeled vehicles (respectively). The choice of the Rheinmetall and BAE/Patria families represent pretty safe choices. Both of these base vehicles (the Boxer MRAV and the Patria AMV) are in use with armies already, both have already met with some export success, and both have seen some combat in Afghanistan. That’s a laundry list of modern ways to be able to slap a big “PROVEN!” sticker on your vehicle. Someone paid for development already, someone else has already bought one, and some half-starved, uneducated baddies-of-the-year have shot at it with 50 year old hardware. Sigh.

Still, that’s more than can be said for the unselected vehicles. The STK Terrex III out of Singapore had some interesting features but didn’t make the cut. On the one hand, the Terrex had really good networking, an excellent camera system for all-round visibility, and plenty of internal volume. On the other hand, that made it big, heavy, and underprotected. Unlike the Lance turret on the Boxer, the Terrex’s turret can’t make STANAG Level 6 protection, at least not in any version currently fielded, and the turret manufacturer (Elbit) hasn’t challenged this. And a bigger vehicle means more armor weight. That said, it’s a wheeled vehicle, so they all have big, vulnerable tires that everyone seems to be forgetting about. The bigger problem for the Terrex is that it’s completely unproven. No one has bought any. It’s in a USMC competition, but that hasn’t concluded yet. Australia wanted MOTS above all else, and Terrex III isn’t off the shelf by any stretch of the term. Hello development costs, hello inevitable delays, hello griping, hello significant chance of legislative budget kill. So the Terrex III got a ‘no thanks’.

General Dynamics’ LAV3++ also got a rejection letter. There’s not a lot of growth room left in that design, and they would have needed to pull out more stops, or really, really play up the savings to get a nod. It would have likely been better to try to preempt the competition with an upgrade offer direct to the Australian MoD. By this point, they’re looking for something new. The upgraded LAV also failed to meet the desired protection levels. Sorry, GD. You’re out.

Let’s also look at the two competitors. Overall, I’d say the Rheinmetall option is better2. The turret has much better electronics, and the turret and vehicle offer much better protection. It’s also going to be the more expensive option. BAE/Patria have their work cut out for them to upgrade the protection, and/or make a big play for local manufacturing. They’d also probably be wise to play up the price, but it’s not clear what each side can offer, since they’d need to do some work to get protection levels to the desired level.

As for Rheinmetall, they have the best entrant in the pageant. In addition to excellent armor on both the Puma turret and the base Boxer vehicle, they’ve added an active protection system with an estimated 26 countermeasures. They’ve also added a .50 caliber HMG in a remote weapons station that’s slaved to the Commander’s sight. Finally, the Lance turrets, like the ones on the Lynx at Eurosatory, had Spike ATGM launchers installed.3 These are properly shock-isolated, so bumps from plenty of cross-country driving won’t damage the missiles over time.

I wish Rheinmetall, Patria, and BAE the best of luck in the next phase of testing. And, I’m in agreement with the Australian MoD on their downselect choices. Good times all around.

1.) That Lance turret again. Score.
2.) Cf. my APC Procurement selection
3.) Why the Pumas in the Bundeswehr don’t have these fitted yet is beyond me. But it’s clear they can be without much trouble. Which will make IFV procurement fun when I actually get around to making that budget challenge for Fishbreath.

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