SYDNEY • Australia will spend A$1.3 billion (S$1.32 billion) on next-generation armoured land vehicles for its army, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said yesterday as he announced the latest update to modernise the country's military.
Australian forces are part of the coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militants, but Mr Turnbull denied the procurement of 1,100 blast-resistant Hawkeis from Thales Australia suggested a greater global engagement.
"I am not signalling that," Mr Turnbull said at a press conference with Defence Minister Marise Payne at a test facility for the Hawkei vehicles in the southern state of Victoria.
"However, the reality is that IEDs (improvised explosive devices), for example, are a feature of the modern battlefield and, regardless of the context in which the Australian Defence Force is operating, that type of threat is almost certainly going to be there. These vehicles are able to operate in every terrain."
Australia last year beefed up its air power with the A$12.4 billion purchase of 58 more F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to bring its total JSF force to 72. Earlier this year, it said it would buy two long-distance C-17 Globemaster planes in an A$1 billion procurement to boost its military and disaster relief operations worldwide.
Canberra has not yet decided on its biggest defence procurement programme - an estimated A$50 billion project to replace current diesel and electric-powered Collins-class submarines.
Mr Turnbull said the government would buy the 1,100 locally-built Hawkei protected vehicles, as well as more than 1,000 trailers, manufactured at Thales Australia's production line in Bendigo, Victoria.
"It is an example of how the Australian Defence Force is investing in technology to meet the threats of the modern battleground," he said.
Mr Turnbull said the programme will provide 170 jobs directly and a further 60 in the supply chain as the vehicles, which are designed to be more mobile and have greater blast resistance, are manufactured in Bendigo.
The Hawkei is the only protected mobility vehicle in the Australian Defence Force that can be transported by its military helicopters.
Mr Turnbull said the vehicles will pioneer a next-generation communications management system to be developed in Australia by French giant Thales.
He said it was hoped the Hawkei would build on the success of the heavier, Thales Australia Bushmaster armoured infantry transport vehicles that have been used in Afghanistan as well as exported.
"This particular vehicle will be a world leader... and has enormous potential in an export market," Defence Minister Payne said.
As Bushmaster production winds down in Bendigo, pilot vehicle production of the Hawkei is set for early next year, with full-rate production in 2018.
Vehicles made by US defence giant General Dynamics and its Force Protection unit were also tested by Australia's defence force, according to The Australian newspaper.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS