Patchy progress on firepower

Kym Bergmann / Canberra

Arguably Army’s most important indirect firepower project – LAND 17 – seems to be making patchy progress. As an essential part of Hardening & Networking the Army, having a capability that can be used in combat operations seems to be some way from fruition.

The easy part.

The Defence Capability Plan (DCP) of 2006 described LAND 17 as the project that will replace Army’s ageing towed 155mm and 105mm howitzers with a new generation of artillery standardized on the larger calibre. In-service delivery was scheduled to occur in the 2011 – 13 timeframe. By the time of the 2009 DCP the situation had become more complicated, with the project in three phases: the acquisition of towed howitzers; the purchase of Digital Terminal Control Systems; and, finally, the acquisition of two batteries of self-propelled artillery.

The first part of the plan has been easy to achieve – the Foreign Military Sales purchase of 35 M-777 155mm towed lightweight howitzers and the concurrent acquisition of Raytheon’s Advanced Field Artillery Tactical Data (AFATADS) targeting system. 15 of the guns have now been delivered, with the balance due next calendar year.

The M-777 is a formidable piece of equipment and is easily the lightest 155mm howitzer in its class through the extensive use of metals such as titanium in its construction. The low weight is important because it means that it can be carried in a sling load under a CH-47 ‘Chinook’ and on this basis are easier to deploy than earlier, heavier howitzers.

The Department of Defence informs us that:

“The M777A2 howitzers are located at Enoggera (1 Regiment RAA), Puckapunyal (School of Artillery), and Bandiana (Army School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering). All fifteen (15) M777A2 howitzers are currently being used to support Introduction Into Service activities including operator and maintainer training courses; conduct of road and air transport trials; and operational test and evaluation.”

Digital Terminal Control Systems (DGTS).

The purpose of this digital technology is to provide accurate targeting information to AFATADS, which in turn can decide the best assets to employ. This could be a 155mm towed battery, self-propelled howitzers, mortars, aircraft – basically any other firepower source. Typically, DGTS use sensors such as laser rangefinders and a variety of sights to be able to geolocate targets with as much precision as possible. This is especially important during urban operations, when avoiding civilian casualties becomes more difficult.

According to the 2009 DCP, the choice of system was scheduled to occur no later than 2010 – 11. Clearly that financial year has passed and no decision has been taken. The current DCP has been amended to make this financial year the one of decision.

Defence tried to make things easy for itself by inviting three bidders to respond to the RFT: Rockwell Collins, who seem to have a major advantage because they have already interfaced their ‘Firestorm’ solution with AFATADS; the little-known Stauder Technologies, who have provided similar products to the US Marine Corps; and finally Elbit, who are providing the Australian Army with their new Battlefield Management System.

Tenders closed two years ago.

Self-Propelled Howitzers.

APDR has written previously about the inordinate amount of time it is taking to announce this decision, with the latest DCP indicating it could drag on until 2012 – 13 for reasons that remain opaque. Asked for an update, Defence responded:

“Defence has conducted a normal tender evaluation, the outcome of which remains Commercial-in-Confidence. The activities completed in 2011 have been addressing the aspects of the capability that lie outside the tender and the completion of the acquisition business case. The Public DCP lists the year of decision for Land 17 Phase 1C as FY 2010-11 to FY 2012-13. The Land 17 Phase 1C acquisition business case is being prepared for government consideration in accordance with this schedule.”

It is now abundantly clear – and has been so for the past two years – that the preferred bidder is Raytheon Australia with the Samsung Techwin AS-9. This cannot be confirmed with either the Department or the company. Behind the scenes the Raytheon solution has received an almost unprecedented amount of slandering – much of it coming from within Defence itself. Of the lies told about the AS-9, the most outrageous are that it is unsafe; that Australian won’t fit in it; that it did not work when employed against North Korea rocket artillery and finally that female soldiers won’t be able to load the gun. In fact the system would appear to meet all of Army’s requirements – and then some. Used in action for the first time against North Korea in November 2010, some of the guns had predictable quirks but otherwise performed well and the army of South Korea has ordered an additional 20 units.

SPH tenders were submitted in 2008 and the evaluation process was completed last year – yet there is still no sign of a decision.


Because we are involved in a conflict in Afghanistan, a logical person would think that there would be a sense of urgency and purpose to LAND 17. The opposite seems to be the case and the more we could make use of a solution, the more it is delayed.

Picture caption: Loading a M777A2 Howitzer at Puckapunyal.
Credit: CoA / Paul Berry


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