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Spike and the Future LAND159 Lethality Systems Program

7th September 2020

GEOFF SLOCOMBE - APDR September 20, 2020 Edition

Land 159 Lethality System

Lance Corporal Sean Wilson, a sniper from the 2nd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, patrols through the Cowley Beach Training Area, North Queensland. Credit: CoA / Tristan Kennedy


According to Defence’s public domain information, ‘The Lethality System Project (LAND 159) will equip the ADF with next-generation weapon systems, surveillance and target acquisitions ancillaries, ammunitions, facilities, and training and support systems.

This project will ensure ADF ground combatants maintain a capability advantage over potential adversaries to beyond 2030, and will be delivered in three Tranches summarised as follows:
• Tranche 1 includes the Sniper System and the Close Combat System (comprising fighting knife, pistols, shotgun, and the assault breaching system) and is due for Government consideration in early 2022;
• Tranche 2 includes the Close Combatant Assault Rifle, Machine Guns, Direct Fire Support Weapons and Grenades and is due for Government consideration in FY2024/25; and,
• Tranche 3 includes enhanced munitions and emergent weapon systems and is due for Government consideration in FY2026/27.’

None of these tranches includes the additional 8,500 Australian-made Enhanced F88 (EF88) weapon systems ordered by the Commonwealth in July 2020 to supplement the 30,000 weapons that Thales Australia is already committed to deliver to Defence, with deliveries having commenced in 2016.

Land 159 Lethality System_1

A Royal Australian Air Force No. 2 Security Forces Squadron rifleman, armed with a General Support Machine Gun MAG 58 on a Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle during a convoy through Wide Bay Military Training Area for Exercise Morotai. Credit: CoA / Jesse Kane


Compared with previous systems, the EF88 rifle has significantly improved the capability of the soldier through better range, accuracy, ergonomics, and reduced system weight. These additional weapons, which are being delivered under the lethality element of the Soldier Modernisation Programme, will enable increased access to the EF88 across the full and part-time force, particularly Army’s 2nd Division.

The first stage of Tranche 1 is for Defence to identify the most suitable weapons systems and prepare the business case for Government consideration. These are for the ‘best of breed’ ADF Sniper System and ADF Close Combat System.

As the result of an open solicitation process, Defence has appointed NIOA, a 100% Australian owned weapons, and munitions specialist, as the Prime Contractor for Stage 1 of Tranche 1. Their role is to:
• Approach the market on behalf of the Commonwealth to identify and evaluate Tranche 1 weapon systems and provide acquisition and support recommendations to Defence
• Produce high confidence cost data to support Government consideration of Tranche 1 NIOA released an Expression of Interest document in late July 2020 to be followed by an RFT and RFQ in September. The company will then support the Commonwealth through Test & Evaluation trials from early February 2021 to Mid-March 2021. NIOA’s Final Evaluation Report is scheduled to be received by the Commonwealth before the end of June 2021.

Government Second Pass consideration, leading to contracts with the selected supplier(s), will be completed during early to mid-2022. Implementation of these contracts will occur during FY22/23 to FY24/25.

Defence has a very clear methodology in approaching the acquisition of new weapon systems. It ensures consideration of enabling factors like integration with existing and likely future platforms in land, sea, and air domains, doctrine and policy, sustainment out to life of type, munitions, ancillaries like digital sights and advanced sensors, targets and simulation tools, estate and infrastructure are all inputs to the selection matrix.

The ADF Sniper System being evaluated, selection of preferential suppliers, and ultimately arrangements, contractual acquisition comprise five different capabilities. These are for medium- and long-range anti-personnel and anti-material sniper fire, sniper surveillance, and sniper soldier combat ensemble.

The future ADF Close Combat System seeks weapons providing in total six capabilities.
Weapons are sought in low profile, sidearm, personal defence, hand-to-hand categories which will cover fighting knives and pistols. Additionally, shotguns and an assault breaching system is required.

As yet there is little information about the potential suppliers being evaluated by Defence in these two tranches. No doubt many weapons and munition suppliers are ensuring that their products are brought to the attention of the LAND 159 team.

The machine gun manufacturers will already be known to Defence, but more interesting innovations are becoming known about direct fire support weapons. Rocket launched projectiles have been in use for many years, but the advent of projectiles possessing in-flight sensors and supporting artificial intelligence computers gives new meaning to ‘fire and forget’. The technology of identifying the target, whether static or on the move at speeds up to 60 km/hr or even faster, then letting the launch weapon and projectile continuously modify the projectile’s trajectory promises to greatly increase the likelihood of hitting their target.

Drone technology is developing at a rapid rate, not only to carry out ISR missions feeding back live colour or infra-red video but also having the ability to carry explosive charges. A comforting thought is that these drones should feature an abort/wave-off capability and full, safe returnability to the operator up to attack command. They can be operated day and night, have low visual and acoustic signatures, and don’t depend on line-of-sight from the operator for their missions.

APDR recently interviewed Mr Jacob Blitman, CEO of Varley Rafael Australia (VRA), to find out more about the SPIKE LR2 (long-range) missile and other members of the SPIKE family including SPIKE SR (Short Range) and SPIKE FIREFLY. The first thing he told us was that SPIKE is a family of weapons providing advanced lethality capabilities from the one company - ensuring full integration of in-country manufacturing, supply, ILS commonalities, and potential doctrine overlap.

Mr Blitman said the SPIKE LR2 - already selected for LAND159, has a direct fire range on the land of 5.5Km, has an advanced electro-optic seeker, and tandem warheads delivering enhanced performance and lethality. The LR2 has multiple modes of operation including Fire & Forget, Fire Observe & Update and Fire to Target Grid Coordinates ensuring unparalleled operational flexibility for the user. The weapon is designed to be deployed by infantry, armoured vehicles, attack helicopters, and naval vessels.

The missile round, is loaded into the weapon’s launcher and when fired trails an un-jammable fibre optic wire, providing live feedback to the launch platform. Reload is simply by sliding the fired round and inserting a new LR2 round.

The SPIKE SR, comprises the round and a disposable launcher weighing only 10Kg, features unique capabilities including increased lethality and up to 2000 metre standoff range in all weather, day and night and against stationary and moving targets. It is an electro-optical guided missile designed for carriage and rapid shoulder launch by dismounted infantry.

The SPIKE FIREFLY is a loitering drone that has been ordered by the Israel Defence Force (IDF) designed to deliver high levels of situational awareness and a beyond line of sight attack capability in complex / urban battlefields. The lightweight and portable system can be carried and intuitively deployed by a single operator within a section or platoon; extending infantry reach up to 1.5 km and ensuring capability overmatch for the warfighter.

Asked by APDR how VRA envisages the SPIKE family will be used in land warfare, Mr Blitman said ‘The family members complement each other and enable the firing decision and associated lethality overmatch to be pushed to the lowest possible level, greatly shortening reaction time after identifying a target and thereby increasing the prospects of rapid target neutralisation. While engagement using a mounted or dismounted LR2 may be ordered by a higher-level officer than the vehicle or dismounted SPIKE crew commander, a SPIKE SR can be fired at stationary or moving vehicles by an individual soldier on command by his Platoon commander on the ground. In close combat urban situations, soldiers can employ a SPIKE FIREFLY on initiative from within their own section or platoon commander – providing significant new lethality options.’

It is hard to imagine anything more important in equipping trained combat troops than with the right weapons to prosecute their missions. The successive outcomes of LAND 159’s three tranches will ensure ADF personnel have a competitive advantage over likely adversaries out to and beyond the 2030s.

Of course, there are many other factors and capabilities which will also contribute to success in future land force actions. The Australian defence industry has a key role to ensure that the flow of information about the ‘best of breed’ equipment is directed to Defence’s capability planning teams in a timely manner.

(This article was first published in ‘Asia Pacific Defence Reporter’ September 2020)

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