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Aussie military vehicle-maker wins NZ Army contract
Local manufacturing export boost as Thales to supply Bushmasters to New Zealand
17 Jul 2020
By NEIL DOWLING
AUSTRALIAN military vehicle manufacturer Thales has won a $NZ102.9 million ($A96.5 million) contract to supply and support 43 Bushmaster vehicles to the New Zealand Army.
Based in Bendigo, Victoria, Thales Australia also manufactures the smaller Hawkei seven-tonne 4x4 military vehicle for the Australian Army and is completing production of 1100 units and 1058 trailers in a contract worth $1.3 billion.
Thales Australia has also exported almost 180 units of the larger 11-tonne Bushmaster 4x4 in recent years, with the New Zealand contract coming just after the Netherlands ordered an additional six vehicles to its existing fleet of 100.
Thales, part of the French military and aerospace company Thales Group, manufactures in Bendigo but sources components from Australian subcontractors including Wollongong-based Bisalloy Steels, AME Systems in Ararat, DVR Engineering in Melbourne and KAB Seating in Dandenong.
The latest deal is understood to have secured 300 jobs at the Bendigo factory for the next two years, if not longer, and about 200 other jobs in the supply chain.
The New Zealand contract for the Bushmaster vehicles will replace its fleet of armoured Steyr Pinzgauer vehicles.
NZ defence minister Ron Mark said the new fleet of 43 Australian-designed and -built Bushmaster NZ5.5 vehicles would provide better protection for personnel and improved carrying capacity.
“The age and lack of protection offered by the old fleet make this another investment in New Zealand Defence Force capability that must be made in order to protect our service people,” he said when announcing the contract.
“The need to replace the army’s fleet of land vehicles was outlined in last year’s Defence Capability Plan, with the armoured Pinzgauer highlighted as a vehicle type reaching the end of its operational life and prioritised for replacement.
“The New Zealand Army operates in diverse and challenging environments, so a multipurpose, highly mobile vehicle has been selected, one that has proven its ability to provide a high level of protection.”
The substantial contract covers the vehicles, training, a desktop simulator, support equipment and infrastructure upgrades at Linton Military Camp near Palmerston North on New Zealand’s North Island.
“The versatility of this vehicle will increase the defence force’s ability to help our communities during a time of need such as a natural disaster, and contribute to supporting vital peacekeeping operations with our global partners,” Mr Mark said.
The Bushmaster is used in Australia and the other Five Eyes military intelligence nations – NZ, Canada, the US and UK – and is already in service with New Zealand’s Special Operations Forces.
The new Bushmaster fleet will supplement other vehicles and provide new capabilities, such as a protected ambulance that is a new addition to the NZ Army.
The Bushmaster’s high levels of blast and ballistic protection makes it suitable for deployment as a troop transport, operating as a command and communication hub.
Mr Mark said it was the second fleet of protected mobility vehicles approved for purchase by the government following the delivery this year of the Polaris MRZR fleet of side-by-side all-terrain vehicles to replace quad bikes and other small vehicles used by the Kiwi army.
Deliveries of the Bushmaster are expected to start in late 2022, with the full fleet beginning operational introduction from late 2023.
In early 2019, Thales Australia doubled output of the Hawkei vehicle from one to two vehicles a day to bring it up to full production capacity.
In late 2019, the outlook for the Hawkei – named after an Australian death adder snake which in turn was named after former prime minister Bob Hawke – was in doubt after engine supplier Steyr Motors went into receivership.
Thales, which had been a Steyr customer for more than 10 years, then bought the Austrian engine maker to secure the Hawkei program and hundreds of jobs at the Bendigo plant.
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