Soldier systems

Integrating a solution for Australian soldiers: Land 125 phase 4

Land 125 Phase 4 is a programme to deliver an integrated soldier system to Australian Defence Force troops, using technology sourced from local suppliers. Berenice Healey talks to two of the downselected teams about their bids.

Alexandra Stickings: 

// Alex Giles, CCO at Iceni Labs

In September 2018, Australia’s Morrison Government approved a project to enhance and continuously improve the equipment used by the Australian Defence Force (ADF). The project, valued at up to AUD1bn over 13 years, aims to deliver an integrated solider system (ISS) of components to be carried or worn by ADF soldiers, supporting operations of up to 72 hours without resupply.

Four teams were downselected for the tender process in June 2021: Babcock Australasia, Rheinmetall Defence Australia, Elbit Systems of Australia and Team Sabre, which consists of Safran, Australian consultancy Nova and BAE Systems. We caught up with Babcock and Rheinmetall to find out more about their bids.

Incorporating local industry

A key component of Land 125 phase 4 is Australian Industry Capability (AIC), a government policy that calls on contractors to actively seek out Australian solutions, stimulate local industry and provide opportunity for capability to grow locally.

Babcock's making a conscious choice not to make any of its own products for the Land 125 Phase 4 programme.

Babcock Australia head of customer solutions, (defence & security) land Craig Schwartz explains that it's also about recognising the capabilities within the local landscape and being able to share that capability internationally as well where possible.

“In terms of how we're going to attract and bring together that capability, Babcock's making a conscious choice not to make any of its own products for the Land 125 Phase 4 programme,” he says.

“There's enough capability out there already; why would you go out and then try to find another version that somebody else makes when you can access what we call best of breed across a range of categories, and provide that to the customer in a way that is aligned to their requirements?

“We believe that the Australian industry is supported by capable international organisations as well, so we can pull together a solution that meets the requirements today, but then also has flexibility.”

Rheinmetall general manager electronic solutions Andre Neumann says that the company is also committed to enhancing Australian sovereign capability for defence.

Rheinmetall has a strong, dedicated AIC team, with leading local companies, developers and innovators in this space.

“The approach to Land 125-4 will deliver an Australian-vendor-first solution that leverages best ISS technologies delivered by Australian SMEs,” he says.

“Rheinmetall has a strong, dedicated AIC team, with leading local companies, developers and innovators in this space. Our approach to Land 125-4 is to provide a vendor solution that leverages best of breed technologies delivered by Australian providers.”

One of the reasons that the ADF isn’t looking to adapt an extant soldier system is due to the unique challenges of Australia.

As Schwartz says: “Look at the size of the country; from Perth to Sydney is London to Moscow. From the northernmost tip in far north Queensland to the southernmost point in Tasmania, we're very close to the equator and then below the Tropic of Capricorn in terms of climate and climatic conditions, and also within the changing operational context as well.”

However, he concedes that while Australia operates in a particular way, ADF requirements have a degree of overlap with allied countries.

Integrating solutions

Working to integrate solutions from a number of providers through the AIC will create challenges as well as opportunities. Neumann explains that Rheinmetall’s approach is to work collaboratively to provide open architecture solutions, which leverage the strengths of Australian industry and the company’s previous experience in delivering ISS.

“SMEs will be invited to provide their technology for inclusion into the programme. Rheinmetall will assist in all facets of support, development and integration where it’s required,” he says. “Our approach seeks to identify the best Australian solutions through a comprehensive evaluation of system components.”

Schwartz says AIC is a worthwhile approach as no single entity has all the answers to the questions ADF is asking.

“As soon as you can suspend that inherent desire to say ‘right, cover it all’ you suspend that hubris,” he explains. “You realise that you need to collaborate, whether they're international or local partners and combinations that are in between.”

// Land 125 phase 4 aims to deliver an integrated solider system to be carried or worn by ADF soldiers to support operations. Credit: Babcock Australasia.

High-tech methodologies

Babcock plans to use virtual reality and digital prototyping to accelerate the integration process.

“We can look at a large number of combinations and permutations of soldier systems, helmets, armour and other accompaniments that they need to carry.

"When you look at each capability in isolation, they might look impressive, but when you put them all together, you might find that you're five kilos too heavy, or that you are unable to carry out certain actions or mobility like jumping out of the back of an infantry fighting vehicle,” Schwartz explains.

Similarly, Rheinmetall plans to exploit the technology at its Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence in Queensland. It hosts a range of technical services to support AI, autonomous and emerging technology vehicle enhancements, and delivers effector and detector services to current programmes including Land 121 MAN trucks and Boxer.

“The facility is the site of a broad range of R&D activities, including the development of the Lynx Combat Support Vehicle,” adds Neumann.

ISS components

The specifics of what will be included in a delivered tender for each proposed ISS are yet to be determined, but the ADF has stated that the tenders will need to define an architecture for the system and to translate it into engineering terms.

“The Commonwealth has been very clear in identifying the areas of the soldier system they want to improve upon,” says Schwartz.

“But they also want industry to help understand how you characterise a soldier; so there's an individual, they have a weapon, they talk, they use hand signals to work with other teams and colleagues, and there's a supply chain. We will identify the solutions to the physical products we'll need from the partnerships, and the capabilities once we get through that process.”

For Rheinmetall’s approach, Neumann says: “Rheinmetall is committed to providing a support service for the existing ISS, as well as a broad range of digital battlespace technology. All of this will be designed to provide overmatch in operations, as well as full integration of existing in-use technology.”

All four bidders will submit their tenders by the end of April 2022. The Commonwealth will then evaluate and downselect one or more parties to go through the next phase, known as offer definition and improvement. That will lead to a series of evaluations that will ultimately lead to a contract, potentially during the second half of 2023.

// Main image: Private Eric Curll, from the 8th/9th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, scans the Enoggera Close Training Area for enemy role-players during Exercise Ram Strike. Credit: Private Jacob Hilton.