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Hard Experience Has Led to the Hawkei


In a nation where so many have a 4x4 and which has the best country in the world to drive over, Australia was bound to come up with a world-beating army vehicle.


Since the 1980s, the Australian Army has used a Land Rover Defender variant called the Perentie, which was built in 4x4 and 6x6 models and used Isuzu diesel engines rather than the Land Rover originals.


But the Australian Defence Force is replacing its ageing Land Rovers with two vehicles: the unprotected model is the Mercedes-Benz G-wagon, a well-known general purpose runaround for military use.


But it's the Thales Hawkei – replacing the blast-protected, combat Land Rover – that signifies a leap forward for Australia's design and build capability in defence industry.


"I was recently at the defence expo in Abu Dhabi," Thales Australia chief executive Chris Jenkins says. "There was a lot of impressive hardware at that show, but everyone was stopping for the Hawkei."


The Hawkei is a vehicle born of hard experience and grim reality in combat areas such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Taking all of what was liked about the Bushmaster, Australia's first domestically designed and manufactured protected land vehicle is getting rave reviews before it is officially deployed with the Australian Army.


It is driven by a 200kw Steyr turbo diesel engine, through an automatic transmission, and is a four-wheel drive with low and high ratios. It can carry five people and has a trailer designed to be towed behind.


It has been built to operate in desert heat and alpine cold and, according to Jenkins, it is very simple to drive and travels well on the road.


"It's large but agile."


Preventing IED damage

But that is about the only similarity to the 4x4 parked in the driveway.


For a start, the Hawkei is a 7-tonne vehicle, making it about two-and-a-half times the weight of a Toyota Land Cruiser. The Hawkei is also a generator on wheels. With an inline starter/generator connected to its motor, the Hawkei has 30 kw of electrical power on-tap, which it can export: it can run all the onboard ADF electronics and mobile devices, and can export power to run a camp site, or mobile mechanic workshop.


Then there's the blast and ballistic protection. While the big sister of the Hawkei – the Thales Bushmaster – earned its reputation against Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan with its monocoque V-shaped hull that deflects blasts, the Hawkei also has other tricks. The seats are suspended from the roof, reducing a main cause of death in a vehicle hit by an IED.


"In an IED blast, three things will kill or injure the occupants of a vehicle," says Jenkins. "Number one is the vertical acceleration from the IED. Secondly, if the IED breaches the vehicle, the blast pressure can crush the occupants; and thirdly, objects in the vehicle become projectiles and fly into the occupants.


"So we make sure that the occupants are not sitting on the blast, we make sure the hull doesn't rupture with the blast, and the interior of the Hawkei is designed so there's no need for loose objects."


And that is one of the reasons the generator is now built-in: no 50 kg projectile flying around like a wrecking ball.


Jenkins says the Australian-designed protected mobility vehicle, the Bushmaster – about twice the size of the Hawkei – had taught the designers many lessons about protected vehicles, including the need to perfect the suspension, the need for top-shelf differentials and gearboxes, the importance of good engine management applications and the requirement to have an adaptable design so the vehicle can be quickly reformatted.


"People would notice that a vehicle like the American Humvee had many different types of design, but they were all added-on which adds weight and cost. We've developed variants for the Hawkei but we've avoided the bolt-ons and designed the changes into the vehicle."


'Constantly hearing from the soldiers'

The Hawkei will support a remotely controlled weapon station (RCWS) primarily for use with light and medium weapons but accommodating weapons from 5.56mm machine guns to anti-tank missiles. It has been built with a "special forces" variation that has an open back and roof.


The vehicle is also "smart" and will be networked into the ADF's electronic combat systems. The Hawkei is actually constructed around a computer system called a generic vehicle architecture (GVA) on top of which is built the Integral Computing System – or ICS – which is all of the applications in and around the vehicle, placed on one screen on the dashboard.


The Hawkei is not exactly an X-Box but its ICS will run all of the C4i applications – command, control, communications, computers and intelligence – required on a mission as well as creating a platform, which runs other applications and devices. External and internal communications systems can be plugged into the Hawkei's ICS; the weapons system can be controlled from the screen, meaning the occupants can operate such the remote weapons, micro UAVs and Unmanned Ground Systems (UGS) in the way the rest of use a screen to find a radio station. The vehicle network management system and the vehicle Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) is also run on the screen.


Jenkins says the Hawkei is a product of an engineering philosophy that promotes a continuous feedback between the design engineers and those who use the vehicle. They call it Integrated Design Teams.


"We have a structured feedback system so we are constantly hearing from the soldiers about strengths and weaknesses in the vehicles. It was a really valuable exercise with the Bushmaster and it forms a basis for designing the Hawkei. Creating a vehicle should be the first step but you have to improve and innovate and we build that process into the design."


He says Thales Australia learned the value of such appraisals from working on the Bushmaster and from that experience he says the company's engineers always approach the vehicles with the intention that they should be safe places to work.


"The Bushmaster and Hawkei have the same philosophy and that is, you can build safety into a vehicle at no extra weight and no extra cost."


The weight aspect matters, and not only to the reliability of the gearboxes and suspensions: the Hawkei is the only Australian protected mobility vehicle capable of being transported by the Army CH-47 helicopter, also known as the Chinook.


Jenkins says the contract for the Hawkei is valued at $1.3 billion, supplying at least 1100 vehicles and 1000 trailers, the first of which are produced in the second half of 2017, with deliveries starting in 2018.


The design and manufacturing team at Bendigo has increased to 250 and Jenkins says 60 per cent of the Hawkei is from SMEs who are also in an integrated feedback system, to suggest innovations. To design and build a more robust Hawkei, Thales used an Australian firm well-known to off-road performance enthusiasts: Victoria-based Albins Performance Transmissions. Albins is an engineering firm that supplies high-tech, high-quality drivetrain gear to V8 supercars and Paris-Dakar off-road racers, and it's now in the Hawkei.


"We are doing advanced manufacturing, with smart engineering and really innovative supplier firms," says Jenkins. "We have a supplier who makes engine heat-exchange systems at a world's best level. We have world leaders in sub-systems.


"The employees and the suppliers have a lot of pride in this vehicle and we think it is suited for export."

Companies & Organizations: Jaguar Land Rover | Thales
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Sources of Information: 

Australian Financial Review

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