Thales Australia awarded $160 million contract to build more Bushmasters after donating 90 to Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers have praised the performance of Australian supplied Bushmaster armoured vehicles in helping liberate the city of Kharkiv. (Twitter)

The federal government has announced a $160 million dollar contract for Bendigo defence manufacturer Thales Australia to build another order of Bushmaster protected vehicles for the Australian Army. 

The contract, for the manufacture of 78 new troop-carrying and command vehicles over the next 18 months, was signed at Thales Australia’s Bendigo facility today.

“More than 1,200 Bushmasters have already been manufactured at our Bendigo facility,” Thales Australia chief executive Jeff Connolly said.

“As well as proving to be a life-saving vehicle for the Australian Army, they have been exported to eight nations including the Netherlands, UK, Fiji, Jamaica, New Zealand, and Indonesia.”

Bushmasters could be retro-fitted with missiles

This month’s Defense Strategy Review recommended the Australian Army focus on long-range strike capability and the ability to move around with more agility at the edges of land and sea.

Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said the Bushmasters could be used to strike naval targets as part of the Land 4110 project.

“This is a land-based maritime strike. So, this is to give the Australian Army the ability to strike maritime or naval targets,” he said.

“I know for a fact, one of the tenders will be strike master option, which is a Bushmaster-produced here at Thales Bendigo equipped with naval strike missiles that we are equipping our destroyers and frigates with.

“That project is being brought forward and given extra resources given the importance of long-range strikes for the Australian Army.

“I have to be very careful because while we don’t have a live tender, at some stage there will be a live tender and I’m sure Thales will be part of a bid, but the sort of capability produced at Thales Bendigo will be carefully examined.”

Bushmasters to Ukraine

Thales Australia is well-known globally for its Bushmaster, and now Hawkei, protected military vehicles as Ukraine uses the former in its war against Russia.

Australia has provided Ukraine with 90 Bushmasters to help in its efforts and now it wants the light protected mobility vehicle, the Hawkei.

Mr Conroy would not be drawn on whether Australia would send more Hawkei vehicles to Ukraine as publicly requested by its ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko in April.

“We’re focused on delivering what we’ve already committed to the government and people of Ukraine, Mr Conroy said.

“We’re proud to be one of the biggest non-NATO contributors of military aid to Ukraine in their valiant efforts to stop the unprovoked aggression from Vladimir Putin.

“We’re always talking to our allies and partners about how we can support Ukraine best.”

This month, a new Defence Strategy outlined a new direction for Australia’s military, which involved moving away from land capability and focusing on long-range missiles, leaving the future of the Bushmaster, manufacturing jobs in Bendigo, and Thales Australia’s future in the regional city in doubt.

In August last year, the Australian Army unveiled an electric prototype of the Bushmaster it said could be a part of the future of Army capability in Australia or on the battleground.

The French defence manufacturer Thales has not had a contract for the Bushmaster since New Zealand placed an order in 2020 for 43 Bushmaster vehicles.

The contract was worth $75 million and required Thales Australia to deliver five variants of the armoured vehicle by 2022.

In August last year, 29 jobs were axed from the North Bendigo facility after the run of 1,100 Hawkei vehicles ordered by Australia was completed.

Earlier this month, Thales Australia pleaded guilty in the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria over the death of a painter at its North Bendigo facility in 2020 and will be sentenced next month. Under occupational health and safety laws, it faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million.

Last month, Ukraine called on Australia to send its Hawkei protected mobility vehicles to the battlefield.

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