The Australian National Audit Office recently released a report into the Australian Defence acquisition of light protected vehicles that includes the very successful Bendigo built Bushmaster and now Hawkei protected mobility vehicles.

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness and value for money of Australian Defence’s acquisition of vehicles under the Defence Land 121 Phase 4 program.

Sadly, it appears there are two important columns missing from the ANAO spreadsheet.

The first would have been headed “the importance of saving human life”.

The second would read “the strategic importance of developing and maintaining an Australian defence manufacturing capability”.

If Australian governments insist on putting our young service men and women in harm’s way in various conflicts around the globe, then we as a nation have a moral responsibility to make them as safe as we possibly can. It’s a great pity the ANAO report ignores this simple proposition.

There was considerable opposition to the initial Bushmaster program from sections of the Defence Materiel Organisation, the ANAO, and opposition from some components of the Australian Army.

The Bendigo built Thales Bushmaster vehicle now has an outstanding record of protecting our military personal in conflicts in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact not one fatality has occurred in any combat incident involving Bushmasters anywhere in the world.

Bushmaster is now regarded as the world leader in its class.

We can only imagine the horror that would have occurred if the Bushmaster vehicle had been rejected and our troops serving in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan saddled with vastly inferior off the shelf protected vehicles like the Humvee.

The ANAO report suggests that in 2016 the Australian government should not have spent $222 million on up-grades and lifesaving modifications on new Bushmaster vehicles being built at Thales Bendigo.

This also included modifying Bushmasters already in service in Afghanistan.

The $222 million allocation was actually announced in Bendigo by then Defence Minister Steve Smith on July 2, 2012.

The audit report was critical of the Australian government’s participation in the Hawkei PMVL program, claiming it was more expensive than the US equivalent, apparently referring to the US Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program.

This US contract was eventually won by the Oshkosh L-ATV vehicle, after extensive cancellations and delays.

The Oshkosh vehicle is yet to go into full production and in fact is still undergoing a major reliability assessment program via the limited production phase of that project.

The Thales Hawkei PMVL is currently experiencing the same extensive test program. This is standard procedure for defence vehicles and equipment, especially equipment that is used by defence personal who often put their lives on the line.

The ANAO report states there have been reliability issues with the Hawkei vehicle. They should know that any new vehicle designed from the ground up, whether it be the family station wagon or a highly sophisticated high tech military vehicle, experiences reliability issues during the various test and appraisal process.

That is precisely why they are subject to these appraisal processes.

It beggars belief that the ANAO would claim the Hawkei is 23 per cent more expensive than the Oshkosh vehicle when that vehicle is still being assessed and tested, and is yet to reach full production that would include a final purchase price. It’s interesting to note the full production date for the US JLTV was originally scheduled for 2012. In fact the US JLTV program at one stage was under serious consideration of being cancelled.

The ANAO report also states the Hawkei vehicle was the least developed option, yet after a lengthy and vigorous test and evaluation process it won the final selection (called a Down Select) over two overseas vehicles; the British Force Protection vehicle the Ocelot and a vehicle produced by US General Dynamics, the Mowag Eagle.

These companies, along with Thales, had agreed to a then Australian government requirement to manufacture vehicles in Australia should they become the successful bidder.

Thales received government funding for an extensive and gruelling test, development and appraisal process that continues today under the limited production phase of the project, all designed to ensure our service men and women are always provided with the best, safest and most reliable equipment available from anywhere in the world.

It’s nothing short of bewildering that the ANAO, defence personal from Defence Procurement and sections of the Australian Army are still vigorously opposed to maintaining an Australian defence manufacturing capability.

Thales has a proven track record of designing and building world class armoured vehicles that have saved lives.

After all ANAO and other opposition not withstanding, our defence men and women deserve nothing less.