Specifics of the Australian Bushmaster vehicle, a possible new engineer vehicle for the Czech Armed Forces

 16. 03. 2024      category: Army of the Czech Republic
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The project for the acquisition of engineer vehicles for the Czech Army is now in the pre-acquisition phase and a highly discussed and apparently preferred solution by the army is the Australian Bushmaster 4x4 vehicles. Let's take a look at the specifics of these vehicles if they were to be included in the armament of the Czech Armed Forces in their standard configuration.

Foto: Obrněné vozidlo Bushmaster | Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Picture: Bushmaster armoured vehicle | Ministerie van Defensie / Public domain

"The Bushmaster is a combat-proven vehicle that is in the armoury of the Australian Defence Force and eight other countries and has been successfully deployed in operations in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the Pacific. Continuous design improvements, a wide range of user-selectable mission equipment and advanced lifetime support ensure the Bushmaster continues to meet evolving customer requirements. It is a 15-tonne 4x4 protected vehicle, including a 4-tonne payload, designed to perform a diverse range of mission profiles. Variants include armoured personnel carrier, command, patrol, support or medical vehicle. Designed and engineered to protect up to 10 personnel, it combines high levels of blast and ballistic protection with excellent mobility in the field." With these words, the Bushmaster manufacturer, Thales Australia, introduces the vehicle that, according to previous announcements, is the Czech Army's preferred solution for the universal wheeled platform of the Engineer Troops (UKP-ŽV).

A number of questions have already been raised in various media and discussions regarding the selection of Bushmaster vehicles, including why the Army intends to give preference to a foreign (Australian) manufacturer whose product is used in Europe only by the Dutch and marginally by the British Army, while there are a number of companies in the Czech Republic that produce wheeled vehicles. This also raises the question of why the three demanded special-purpose variants of the engineer vehicle (RCP, UKP-EOD and UKP-ŽEN) should have a weight of up to 20 tonnes, which excludes the TITUS 6x6 platform, which is being successfully introduced into our army. Another question that has been raised in the media is why the current market research update is being carried out by the state-owned enterprise VOP CZ, which has signed a memorandum of cooperation with the manufacturer of Bushmaster vehicles and is therefore apparently in a conflict of interest.

Steering wheel on the right also in the Netherlands. What configuration does the Army want?

According to available information and photographs, all Bushmasters that have been inducted into the armies of nine countries (Australia, Fiji, Indonesia, Jamaica, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ukraine and the UK) have right-hand drive. It is therefore logical, apart from the Netherlands and Ukraine, that these are left-hand drive countries. In the case of Ukraine, however, this is a passing circumstance, because the country is now in its third year of reckless Russian aggression and its armed forces are, so to speak, 'taking everything' that allows them to defend their country.

Foto: Ukrajinský Bushmaster v roce 2022 | ArmyInform / CC BY-SA 4.0
Picture: Ukrainian Bushmaster in 2022 | Army Inform / CC BY-SA 4.0

It is worth mentioning that several years ago a Bushmaster vehicle with left-hand drive was presented at one of the world exhibitions, but the serial production of these armoured vehicles has so far ended in all target countries in the right-hand drive version. One of the reasons for this may be that the left-hand drive variant undoubtedly introduces additional costs into the whole production process, which the supplier will of course ultimately pass on to the customer. In the actual deployment of military equipment with non-standard right-hand steering, our soldiers would then have to get used to this phenomenon both in the field and in traffic on roads, where in the Czech Republic they drive on the right.

In connection with the possible acquisition of Bushmaster vehicles, our editorial staff asked the Ministry of Defence the following question: Can you confirm or deny that if Bushmaster vehicles are acquired for the Engineer Corps, they will have right-hand drive? The answer of the Ministry of Defence was: 'According to the communication of the relevant expert section, this project is at the very beginning, a market survey is being prepared, so it is not really possible to be more specific yet.'

No side door

In addition to the right-hand drive, the Bushmaster platform also features another special feature. Although few would think it from a cursory glance at photos of the vehicle, the Bushmaster has virtually no side doors. Soldiers and crew alike enter and exit the vehicle exclusively through the rear doors or hatches on the roof. This is not only impractical from the point of view of crew comfort, but may also make it difficult to exit the vehicle quickly in the event of a threat. The designers were probably aware of this handicap, which is why, for example, vehicles ordered for New Zealand a few years ago already have side opening panels around the driver and passenger/commander windows, allowing them to exit the vehicle quickly if necessary.

However, these are not standard doors. The aforementioned panels are roughly half the height of standard doors on other vehicles in this category, which of course reduces the comfort of entering/exiting the vehicle. Furthermore, the opening panels are high off the ground and can only be reached by high steps, making entry/exit akin to climbing into the cab of a tall truck.

The Route Clearance variant was acquired by Australia in 2011, in very limited numbers for deployment in Afghanistan, which is now the main argument in terms of vehicle certification in combat, as is also one of the requirements of the Czech Army. The Army was quite logically inspired at that time by what it saw in Afghanistan, among other things. Since then, however, a number of high quality and often military-tested Czech platforms have been built on 4x4 chassis (Patriot II, MARS or Gerlach) or on 6x6 chassis like the already mentioned TITUS armoured vehicle.

Foto: Vozidla Bushmaster v Afghánistánu, 2010 | ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office
Picture: Bushmaster vehicles in Afghanistan, 2010 | ISAF Headquarters Public Affairs Office

We asked the Ministry of Defence the following questions in connection with the upcoming acquisition, focusing on a possible solution in the form of Australian Bushmaster vehicles:

1) If the MoD plans to acquire Bushmaster vehicles, what engineering equipment does it plan to procure for them? Will the cost already be included in the price of the vehicles to be acquired, or will it be an additional amount? 

2) All users of Bushmaster vehicles have the right-hand drive version of these machines, including the Dutch army. Will the Army require Thales to provide left-hand drive vehicles? Is there even a left-hand drive version of the Bushmaster? And if not, could it be that the requirement for left-hand drive will make the whole contract more expensive? 

3) Bushmaster vehicles have no side doors at all (except for the New Zealand version, which was given high-mounted emergency hatches with difficult access), following the pattern of the now discontinued and increasingly less used MRAP vehicles. Could this be a problem in terms of the operations of the engineer teams in the future? 

4) Is the Ministry of Defence planning to equip Bushmaster vehicles (or other vehicles if the Bushmaster is not procured) with remote controlled weapon stations? If so, of what type or with what armament?

Again, we received only one answer to our questions: 'The purchase of vehicles for the engineers has not yet been decided, the contract is still in the so-called pre-acquisition phase. Commenting on the possible parameters of the contract would therefore be speculation at the moment."

 Author: Tomáš Kolařík

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