Composites are gaining momentum as materials of choice for an increasing range of specialist defence applications.
Composites offer impressive strength to weight characteristics together with exceptional corrosion resistance and lifelong performance. They also offer the ability to produce complex shapes to enable multiple components to be moulded into one part which also helps reduce weight and manufacturing costs.
Designers from Thales Australia rated these qualities highly when enlisting design advice from specialist Australian composite manufacturer, RPC Technologies for the manufacture of prototype parts for their landmark Hawkei Protected Vehicle development.
Building on the experience gained from the development of their highly successful Bushmaster troop carrier currently manufactured at their Bendigo plant, Thales Australia is seeking to set new benchmarks in the tactical defence vehicle market with its next generation protected vehicle, Hawkei.
Designed for rapid helicopter deployment, the Hawkei must not exceed a weight target of seven tonnes for Chinook helicopters to be able to carry the vehicle and troops into the field.
It must also meet the needs of defence forces’ constantly challenged by Improvised Explosive Devices, mines or small arms ambushes.
RPC Technologies will assist Thales in vehicle weight reduction by manufacturing composite dashboard assemblies for the Hawkei. RPC has also previously been involved with the Bushmaster program and also Thales Underwater Systems.
Deployed in Afghanistan by Australian and Dutch defence forces and with over 1000 vehicles sold worldwide, the Bushmaster supply chain comprises around 120 Australian companies. The vehicle contains 65 per cent Australian content, generating long term revenues for a wide range of local component manufacturers, including the composites industry, and supporting hundreds of Australian jobs.
Six Hawkei prototype vehicles are currently undergoing testing by the Department of Defence under the LAND 121 Phase 4 project that seeks to provide up to 1,300 protected light vehicles for Australian defence forces. Subject to successful testing, final approval of the project is expected in 2015.
In the meantime, Thales Australia is leveraging its specialist procurement experience developed during the Bushmaster program to source industry participants to supply Hawkei components. The company is also using the industry’s technical and design capabilities to further reduce cost and weight.
Having seen the benefits gained from the use of composites during the prototype stage, Thales is considering extending the use of composites to other parts of the Hawkei, such as the inner and outer guards, side steps, water tanks, fuel tanks and internal trim.
RPC Technologies Managing Director Tony Caristo said his company has been working closely with Thales during the preproduction phase to continually enhance vehicle design and to incorporate additional improvements – the aim being to further reduce weight, increase strength and reduce cost.
This has included comprehensive engineering support from concept to CAD modelling to FEA analysis, physical testing and validation capabilities. “This has allowed the designs and composite material selection to be optimised for thickness to achieve optimum strength at a reduced weight and cost,” said Caristo.