Lockheed, Thales move to bolster Aussie’s $1B AUD sovereign missile push


Mulwala Site in 2013. Credit: Australian National Audit Office

LAND FORCES 2022 — Lockheed Martin, picked along with Raytheon to build highly advanced defense manufacturing capabilities in Australia to bulk up the nation’s ability to make and stockpile weapons at home, took its first step today to building a new missile factory.

“The message is clear. here. We’re open for business,” Pat Sunderlin, vice president of operations for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, told reporters at the second day of Land Forces show in Brisbane. “Lockheed Martin will deliver and transfer to Australia the same level of technology and development and advanced programs and systems that we have in our factories in United States.”

The company announced it has hired an Australian company called Conscia “to identify potential future locations for central manufacturing” for a new factory. Sunderlin said the first new factory should be ready in two to three years from when Lockheed selects a location.

This is all part of a $1 billion AUD ($650 million USD) program called the Sovereign Guided Weapons and Explosive Ordnance Enterprise (GWEO), first announced in March 2021 by the previous Liberal Party government. Australia has committed to making more of its parts and weapons here, increasingly aware of its vulnerability to supply chain vulnerabilities posed by both adversaries and pandemics.

Lockheed and Raytheon are the largest suppliers of guided weapons to Australia. The government’s goal is for them to rapidly bolster its ability to maintain and manufacture guided weapons and their components in Australia.

Part of Lockheed’s goal is to “increase the speed of production and reliability and quality” in Australia, Sunderlin said.

In a statement, the company also announced it would open a new facility in partnership with Thales Australia in Mulwala, New South Wales as part of this effort. “It will bring Australia a step closer to a national guided weapons capability as well as set us up for potential future export of Australian manufactured products,” James Heading, Lockheed Martin Australia’s Director of Programs Strategic Capabilities Office for Missiles and Fire Control said in the statement.

Munitions plant work managed by Thales Australia

Munitions plant work managed by Thales Australia. Credit: Thales Australia

Thales Australia already manages the government-owned facility at Mulwala and nearby Benalla, and “have made a significant investment in state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing equipment” there.

The Mulwala Facility is the only manufacturing site of military propellants and high explosives in Australia. The plant, first built between 1942-43, was substantially rebuilt at a cost of more than $415 million starting in 2001. Thales has managed it since then.

Lockheed and Raytheon have already held talks with the Australian government, trying to hammer out how to manage the complex supply chain for multiple weapons, Heading told reporters. “Are there common forging areas? Are there common electronics components and stuff that we need? Are we looking at sensors in the same way as each other — those sorts of things?” he said.

Most of the initial focus, once those details are hammered out, will be on putting “more missiles in the cupboard,” as Heading put it. That means missiles such as “Hellfire, JASM-ER and the like” that Australia is already buying or soon will.

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