PRODUCTION of a new generation of body armour for the Australian Defence Force has begun, as part of an $80.7m contract won by manufacturing firm Australian Defence Apparel (ADA). The innovative design, a modular system which allows the armour to be configured for specific missions, is rated as a world leader.
The contract also includes through-life maintenance and support of the armour – formally known as the Modular Combat Body Armour System or MCBAS – for five years, and eventual disposal at the end of its service life.
“It was a long haul to win this contract, and the competition was extremely strong,” said Alan Bent, marketing manager of ADA and director of the MCBAS project.
“But it has effectively doubled the size of ADA. It meant that we had to add another 80 people to the workforce of our factory in Bendigo, and undertake significant new capital investment.
“The whole-of-life nature of the contract is something we see as very important and a departure from traditional supply contracts. It underlines the commitment to the project. It means you don’t just manufacture the product, send it to the customer, and then forget about it.”
ADA, which was a part of Australian Defence Industries before becoming a separate company in 1995, is already a major supplier of uniforms and specialised clothing, including for fire-fighting services and police forces in Australia and around the world.
The body armour project involved ADA, as Prime System Integrator, putting together a consortium to ensure that the functional and performance requirements stipulated in the contract could be met.
Dupont, for example, added its expertise in Kevlar, the fibre synonymous with bullet-resistant products, and UK company Aegis Ltd in anti-stab technology. Ballistics and Mechanical Testing, a local independent test laboratory, was engaged for the testing of the armour components.
The project is part of the ADF’s Project Land 125 – Soldier Modernisation Program, which aims to integrate everything a soldier wears, carries and consumes. The modular nature of the means that pieces can be changed, added or removed.
For instance, the ‘soft’ armour vest configuration can be used in low-risk situations where the main threats are from handguns, shrapnel and knives. The system can be reconfigured with the addition of ‘hard’ ceramic-composite insert plates , designed to stop rifle fire, for higher-risk operational environments.
“Body armour is always about finding the best balance,” said Bent. “You have to measure weight against performance. In designing the armour, we looked carefully at ergonomic issues to compliment the prospective operational environments the soldier would likely encounter.
“We know that soldiers might be in the field for a long time, often in places that are hot and stressful. So the armour needs to be both comfortable and functional. The best protection in the world is of no use if it is too cumbersome to wear.
“Some training in the use of the armour is required, and that is currently under way. We hope to refine the product over the life of the contract as technology advances, in co-operation with the ADF and with feedback from the field. This is an area where you have to stay at the leading edge.”
The exact number of armour units to be produced over the contract period is classified, but Greg Combet, the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement, has emphasised that the Government is very pleased with the project so far.
“This is the latest protective technology available, and it shows that Australia’s protective equipment industry sector is competitive with the best on the world” said Bent.