This utopian scenario for South Korean giant Hanwha Defence might seem at first glimpse to be rather optimistic – but there are several factors at play that might make this work for LAND 121 Phase 3. It transpires that the Army of the Republic of Korea (RoK) has also embarked on a program to acquire up to 1,000 IFVs – and their needs look quite similar to those of Australia. If the two militaries could harmonise their requirements, it could see major opportunities for local companies – as well as delivering leading edge technology to the ADF.
Hanwha Defence supplies the RoK with its current generation K-21 IFV, regarded as a proven, capable product and which entered service in 2009. However, South Korea tends to introduce new equipment more quickly than is the Australian trend, mainly because of the far more immediate threat sitting just across the DMZ. The RoK also has a tendency to favour solutions with an emphasis on firepower because their various threat scenarios can involve China and Russia. Japan is probably on the list as well, if only for unhappy reasons of history.
So even though the K-21 is still in production, Hanwha, the RoK Army and – perhaps most importantly – the government Agency for Defense Development (ADD) – have started work on its replacement, the K-31. The version that will be offered for Australia has the marketing name REDBACK. In essence, this will have an empty weight of 36 tonnes and a combat weight of around 40 tonnes. The standard configuration will have a crew of three and carry six fully equipped soldiers with ease – or eight dismounts with some changes to their internal layout.
The only significant difference in the two vehicles could be in the turret selection. The RoK has a strong preference for the greater stopping power of the 40mm automatic cannon on the K-21 than the 30mm solution that Australia has selected for the Phase 2 vehicles and which might also be preferred for Phase 3. If the IFV is designed to accommodate the larger and heavier 40mm turret, then putting on the smaller and lighter 30mm variant that might be required for Australia will be relatively straightforward, even though the magazines and ammunition handling systems will also be different.
The K-31 / REDBACK will have blast protection in the STANAG 5/6 range and therefore ticks the all-important survivability box. It will be designed to meet all of the other essential requirements for both armies.
A prototype vehicle has been developed by Hanwha and will be unveiled early in 2019, adding to the level of confidence in the entire project. This is still in the ‘sweet spot’ of design and production because it is still early enough in the process for Australian requirements to be taken into account – and perhaps also accepted by the RoK for their vehicles as well.
From the perspective of joint production, the opportunity could be very exciting for Australian companies. As Hanwha Defence has discovered to their surprise, South Korea can be a more expensive place to build things than in western countries. This is because of different industrial structures: if someone went to Samsung and asked for 20 specifically designed televisions they would be totally uneconomical to produce. Even 20,000 would not be a large enough volume – it would need to be 20 million to start making sense.
The same principles can apply to defence technology, where production is often in relatively small batches of high technology equipment – something the rapidly expanding Australian defence manufacturing sector might be very good at doing. This opportunity is also unfolding at a time when the South Koreans are becoming interested in the concept of having secondary sources of supply for military equipment, just in case their own factories are targeted by the North, or other aggressors.
In the meantime, the other three bidders are adopting a steady-as-she-goes approach. Rheinmetall indicate that they are continuing to work on offering the Lynx IFV. General Dynamics UK say that they have nothing further to add about their Ajax family of vehicles – but they hint at a major announcement early in 2019.
The final bidder, BAE Systems, is being extremely coy, saying:
“We are currently assessing our position based on the Commonwealth’s request for tender; and, this assessment is subject to our routine processes and approvals.
“If we do bid LAND 400 Phase 3, our offer will be the BAE Systems Hägglunds CV90, well recognised as the world’s exemplar Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
- The CV90 is a combat proven in operation infantry fighting vehicle. It is a versatile and modern vehicle using the latest technology and innovation to help keep soldiers safe.
- As always, we look to support the Commonwealth to protect and enable our military forces where we can offer value for money, high performance system solutions that meet their needs.
“We are assessing the RFT and will make a decision in due course.”