IN A WELCOME exploitation of its long-held potential as a weapons carrier, the Thales Australia Bushmaster single cab utility vehicle is being proposed as a mobile and protected ship killer in a joint collaboration with Kongsberg Defence Australia (KDAu). The team is proposing to fit the Bushmaster ‘ute’ with a twin-pack launcher for the 400kg Kongsberg Block 1A Naval Strike Missile (NSM) as a low-risk solution to the Australian Army’s Land 4100 Phase 2 land-based anti-ship missile (ASM) requirement. In an exclusive briefing to DTR about the new system, KDAu General Manager John Fry said that the new launcher configuration for the proven NSM Coastal Defence System – called StrikeMaster – was flowed through Army Headquarters late last year to gauge interest in the CONOPS (concept of operations) and its capability. It’s the way the US Marine Corps (USMC) has gone and this Australian configuration allows us to align very much with their CONOPS.
The StrikeMaster launcher would also bring the advantage of being of a modest size that would be readily concealable under tree canopies but difficult to find, fix and destroy. Land-based ASM systems like the NSM Coastal Defence System also provide the Army with greater critical mass and deployable combat power that aligns with Australia’s maturing defence strategy for the Indo-Pacific and the concept of joint operations. Unlike the USMC NMESIS (Navy Marine Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System) that makes use of an unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle with the cab removed in order to accommodate the NSM launch canisters, the StrikeMaster launcher retains the Bushmaster’s two-man cab that accommodates the driver and vehicle commander.
Each NSM on the StrikeMaster launcher comes already integrated into its own canister or Launch Missile Module (LMM). The missile is stored, transported and fired from the LMM, which is effectively a factory-sealed unit. Reloading a launcher vehicle with missiles requires the complete spent LMM to be swapped out with a loaded one. Each loaded LMM weighs approximately 900kg and the total weight of the twin-pack launcher (a pair of LMMs, launcher mechanism and frame, hydraulics, power and electronics sub-systems) just under 3,000kg. The LMM is identical for both ship deck launch and vehicle launch.
The NSM Coastal Defence System adopts the same Fire Distribution Centre (FDC) and system architecture used for the Army’s NASAMS (National Advanced Surface to Air Missile System) short-range ground-based air defence system being delivered under Land 19 Phase 7B, but with coastal defence fire control software embedded. The FDC is used in this latter role by Poland. The CEA Technologies CEATAC radar can be used to provide closer range detection and tracking if desired, although the system would most likely utilise targeting information from external sensors and systems. A complete NSM Coastal Defence System sub-unit would likely comprise three StrikeMaster missile launcher vehicles, an FDC vehicle, missile resupply vehicle and an optional radar vehicle.
Options for the FDC vehicle include integrating that capability in a standard Bushmaster or leveraging off the FDC variant already developed for Land 19 Phase 7B where a 13ft shelter is integrated onto the in-service 40M 4×4 truck. A 40M resupply vehicle equipped with a crane would be able to carry multiple LMM reloads. It is also possible to deploy just the StrikeMaster missile launcher vehicles as a stand-alone capability with a specific laptop loaded with tactical software, allowing them to fire missiles while being separated from the FDC, as a back up option or when tactical circumstances dictate. The launcher for StrikeMaster and the complete Bushmaster utility vehicle will be made in Australia, KDAu said: the latter no doubt at Thales’ Bendigo facility and including its established supply chain, and the launcher by KDAu and its local partners.
In terms of placement into the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the Hunter and ANZAC-class frigates, Hobart-class air warfare destroyers, Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels and now the MH-60R Seahawk naval combat helicopters (armed with the NSM-HL version) are all assets for which NSM is a candidate ASM solution. KDAu has also put to the Commonwealth the quad-packed NSM launcher, which is in service with Poland and has been selected by Romania, on a HX77 8×8 truck. Although Land 4100 Phase 2 is still early in the capability development cycle, KDAu believes the StrikeMaster could offer some opportunity for an accelerated introduction into service. Another Smart Buyer initiative, as per Land 19 Phase 7B, may also be acquisition option. KDAu says that final development of the StrikeMaster launcher could be achieved rapidly and an NSM Coastal Defence System fielded by the Army within 2-3 years.