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BAE guns for Holden engine plant

In its sights: Holden’s defunct V6 engine plant in Victoria is still being decommissioned, but proposals are afoot to turn it into an assembly factory for armoured vehicles for the Australian army.

Holden’s former V6 engine plant central to armoured vehicle proposal

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General News logo2 Aug 2017

By RON HAMMERTON

THIS is how military equipment supplier BAE Systems Australia envisages its proposed transformation of the defunct Holden engine plant at Fishermans Bend, Victoria, into a new manufacturing base for armoured vehicles for the Australia Defence Force.

The engine plant is still being stripped of its V6 manufacturing equipment after closing late last year under General Motors’ staged withdrawal from Australian manufacturing.

The site was sold last year to the Victorian government under a $135 million deal covering 37.7 hectares of prime industrial land behind the GM Holden head office and technical centre, 5km from Melbourne’s CBD.

BAE has promised to turn part of this property into a world-class defence technology and equipment hub employing up to 1000 engineers and technicians if it wins a $5 billion federal government contract to supply 225 Patria AMV35 armoured vehicles to the Australian army.

About 200 of the workers would be employed on the AMV35 production line, contributing to 90 per cent Australian content for the vehicles.

BAE and its partner, Patria Land Systems of Finland, are up against a rival bid by Germany’s Rheinmetall Defence that proposes building its Boxer vehicle in Brisbane.

Classed as Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (CRVs), the eight-wheeled armoured vehicles are a kind of cross between a tank and an armoured personnel carrier.

The Patria AMV35 and Boxer were shortlisted by the ADF for final testing in Australia – testing that is nearing completion.

Both vehicles can travel at up to 100km/h, and both are armed with a turret-born cannon – 35mm on the AMV35 and 30mm on the Boxer.

The ADF is expected to make a recommendation on its preference for the new vehicle in the next few months, with the federal government set to sign off on it by about February next year.

The Victorian and Queensland governments have thrown their support behind the rival bids, as have federal MPs from both states.

Among the Queensland pitch’s point are that it would be better to build the vehicles near to where they will be based by the army, in Queensland, and that the state already has a large defence equipment manufacturing industry in the south-east corner of the state.

Victoria points to its much larger manufacturing base and ready supply of workers – including skilled engineers – from the car manufacturing business that grinds to a halt this year.

The Victorian bid’s trump card is the location – a high-tech industrial park that already includes operations such as a Boeing component factory and ADF research centre.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews sees the BAE operation as central to a defence industry hub to create much-needed jobs in the state.

The former Holden engine plant is government owned, making it a simple matter of handing over the keys to BAE for the fit out of a new production line for making the new CRVs.

It is unclear whether BAE would buy or lease the facility, and whether it would be subsidised by the government in a bid to entice the project to create more jobs.

BAE has promised to move its current maritime equipment operation – currently based at Victoria’s Williamstown shipyard – to the Fishermans Bend location, along with its land force equipment operations.

In BAE’s rendering of the refurbished factory, a tram line and dual-carriageway road can be seen running down one side of the building in what is now a driveway into a car-park for Holden workers.

The state government has promised improved public transport for the suburb which is subject to the largest urban renewal project in Australian history.

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