LAND FORCES 2022 — In seven interviews with defense and civilian experts during the Land Forces 2022 conference, the South Korean defense giant Hanwha was tipped as the likely winner of the biggest contract in the history of the Australian Army: the Infantry Fighting Vehicle deal, worth at least $18 billion AUD ($11.5 billion US).
However, the final decision appears to be facing delays, thanks to the shift in government that happened here earlier in the year.
The IFV will replace the ancient M113s that Australia operates. The new tracked vehicles, designed to carry six combat equipped soldiers, are armed with 30mm cannons, remote-controlled machine guns and antitank missile launchers. While both companies remain in the running, there is a growing sense that Hanwha has the edge over competitor Rheinmetall due to existing relationships between the South Korean firm and the Australian MoD.
“They don’t have it wrapped up, but I just don’t think Rheinmetall can overcome the supply chain advantages Hanwha has, combined with the big wins they’ve had recently selling to NATO countries like Poland,” one independent defense industry expert said, standing near the Hanwha display of its Redback offering.
That comment was largely echoed by the others. South Korea, said one, is simply much closer to Australia and the company has already invested in a plant in Geelong, Victoria to build the K9 tracked howitzer. Also, there is substantial commonality in parts between the K9, which Australia purchased for $1 billion AUD in December last year, and the Redback. Under that K9 agreement — known officially as the Land 8116 acquisition project — Hanwha Defense Australia will manufacture 30 Huntsman self-propelled guns and 15 AS10 armored ammunition resupply vehicles for delivery between 2025 and 2027 in Geelong.
But the decision on which company will supply the IFV may be delayed. The announcement was planned for September by the previous government, which was swept out of power in May’s election. The Ministry of Defense is now expected to make its recommendation to the government at the end of October, at the earliest, said one source familiar with the issue. Once that recommendation is made, the National Security Committee of the cabinet will consider it — meaning a final decision may be some time in coming.
No source was able to provide a likely prognosis, a sign of how many moving parts there are in the decision. The Labor government is pursuing a Defense Strategic Review to be completed in March. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported that “military insiders” here fear the IFV decision may be delayed until then, but three sources at Land Forces 2022 said they were not sure if that was the case. There are also persistent reports that the size of the purchase may be whittled down to 300 from the original 450.