Native to Central and South America, the Bushmaster is the world’s largest species of venomous pit viper. This deadly creature is capable of multiple bites, and it has forged a formidable reputation. Large, thick-bodied and with an upturned snout, its typical colouring is light brown with a series of dark brown or black blotches that run the length of the body. I still remember my first encounter with a Bushmaster, with the foregoing description proving fairly accurate. However, my face-to-face confrontation did not take place in the deep jungles of South America, but rather in Australia.
Since the species’ introduction into Australia, the Bushmaster has spread rapidly all around the continent.
However, this Bushmaster species rolls on four wheels across the outback rather than slithering on its belly through jungle undergrowth! The ‘Bushmaster’, the name selected for a 4×4 armour-protected vehicle, has taken Australia by storm, with no less than 838 manufactured or ordered for the Australian Defence Force to date.
The Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV), originally called an Infantry Mobility Vehicle (IMV), was later changed and is now widely employed by the Australian Army and even by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). This MRAP Category II vehicle has been a huge success story, with the vehicle even enjoying export sales. According to the manufacturer, it offers 80% of the functionality of an 8×8 vehicle for 30% of its cost!
Perry Engineering in Adelaide, with technical assistance from Timoney Technology Limited of Ireland, initially designed the Bushmaster. Later, ADI Limited (now Thales Australia) acquired the prototype, design and tender. Two prototypes were trialled in East Timor in 1999, and a total of 250,000km was covered during five phases of reliability trials in Australia.
The future of the Bushmaster was assured when the Australian Army named it as preferred tenderer on 10 March 1999 after Project Bushranger trials for a protected land mobility requirement. A contract with ADI was signed on 1 June 1999 for 370 vehicles, though this was renegotiated down to 300 in 2002 because of funding constraints. Full-rate production only commenced in 2004 and full design acceptance for the Troop Carrier variant occurred on 24 February 2006. At that stage, deliveries were running three years behind schedule because of technical difficulties related to the driveline and suspension.
With the input of its corporate resources, Thales Australia developed a range of six variants at its production facility in Bendigo, Victoria. A modular design approach allows reconfiguration and simplicity of repairs. The six variants fielded by the Australian Army are: Protected Mobility Troop Vehicle (PMTV); Protected Mobility Command Vehicle (PMCV); Protected Mobility Mortar Vehicle (PMMV); Protected Mobility Assault Pioneer Vehicle (PMAPV);
Protected Mobility Direct Fire Support Weapon Vehicle (PMDFSWV); Protected Mobility Ambulance Vehicle (PMAV). The first variant delivered was the Troop Carrier, followed by the Command Vehicle, with all variants being fielded by 2010.
In December 2006 it was announced an additional 143 Bushmaster PMVs would be acquired under the Enhanced Land Force initiative. A further order for 294 vehicles was signed in late October 2008 under Phase 3 of LAND 121 Project Overlander. The latest order for 101 vehicles was approved in May 2011 with delivery expected to be completed in 2013. Thales Australia has a through-life support contract for all these vehicles.
The Bushmaster, affectionately known as the ‘Bushie’ by Aussie troops, is principally deployed in motorised infantry units. Units such as 6 RAR (6th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment) and 8/9 RAR of the 7th Brigade based in Brisbane are being fully equipped with the Bushmaster, while the RAAF also operates twelve Bushmasters in its No. 1 and No.2 Airfield Defence Squadrons. Another army unit equipped with the Bushmaster is B Squadron, 3rd/4th Cavalry Regiment. They are also used by other units such as artillery for transporting gun crews and for command functions.
The Bushmaster has been deployed overseas — ten vehicles arriving in Iraq in May 2005 as part of the A1 Muthanna Task Group, with 19 operating in Iraq by September 2006. In addition, the Special Forces Task Group in Afghanistan has operated a small number of Bushmasters since September 2005, and the Mentoring Task Force relies on an extensive fleet. The 4×4 has performed well in the rugged terrain and climatic extremes of Afghanistan.
The basic Bushmaster variant provides armoured transport for infantrymen, able to carry a complement of ten soldiers plus provisions for three days. Upon arrival at a combat zone, personnel would normally dismount to fight. The vehicle offers high mine-blast resistance thanks to its V-shaped monocoque hull; it can withstand a blast the equivalent of a 9.5kg high-explosive mine under a wheel or the centre of the hull. The vehicle’s allwelded steel armour offers protection against 7.62mm small-arms ammunition and improvised explosive devices (IED).
The driver and vehicle commander are seated in the front two seats, while the rear compartment has a total of eight individual seats with full harnesses along the two sidewalls. The vehicle has ballistic glass in seven windows, three either side and one in the rear door, these allowing occupants to maintain awareness of their surroundings and to keep their eyes accustomed to prevailing light conditions. Fuel and hydraulic tanks are positioned outside the crew compartment for safety reasons, while a protected auxiliary tank offers an emergency supply of fuel to keep the vehicle mobile in emergencies. A novel 270-litre water tank is installed under the crew compartment floor, providing drinking water plus extra safety in the event of an explosion.
One criticism of the Bushmaster’s design is that there are no doors in the cab, which could prevent or slow egress from the rear door or roof hatches in the event of an accidental rollover or attack.
All crewmen and passengers are given personal headsets with which to communicate with each other.
The author has travelled in Bushmasters a number of times, and most recently I spent a number of days based in a variety of Bushmasters during Exercise Talisman Sabre, and I found its utilitarian appearance grew on me each day. Comfort is an important consideration to ensure troops are not fatigued before they enter combat. Vehicles feature such home comforts as a water boiler and climate control system. Operational deployment has resulted in modifications such as a protected weapon station, spall liner and fire explosion suppression system. The Bushmaster is deployable by RAAF C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft.
An MR555 ring mount manufactured by W&E Platt is fitted on the roof beside the forward circular roof hatch. This can accommodate either a 5.56mm or 7.62mm machine gun. Two roof hatches at the very rear have a mounting boss for a 5.56mm machine-gun swing mount. In response to criticisms from Australian soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, a Raven R-400 Remote Weapon Station (RWS) with .50-cal M2 QCB machine gun or 7.62mm MAG 58 was fitted to many Bushmasters from early 2007 onwards (this is the same as the M101 CROWS used by the USA). These are usually fitted to basic Troop Carrier variants so that they can support squads when they dismount. Their thermal imaging systems are also extremely useful for surveillance.
Fulltime four-wheel drive with selectable front, centre and rear differential locks ensures excellent cross-country mobility, as do short front and rear overhangs. The central tyre inflation system (CTIS) is controlled by a push button on the dashboard.
A Caterpillar turbocharged diesel engine produces 330hp at 2,200rpm, and the power pack can be removed and refitted in less than three hours. Steering is power assisted, while the fully automatic ZF transmission is operated by a push button. Commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components such as engine and driveline ensure a high readiness and reliability rate for this AUD563,000 vehicle. A Sepson selfrecovery winch is also mounted on the left side of the hull.
Thales has also developed a firefighting variant called FireKing for the civilian market. A cargo-carrying prototype called the Copperhead Armoured Combat Support Vehicle (ACSV) has been exhibited internationally. The Copperhead has an armour-protected single-cab or dualcab design and a rear flatbed capable of carrying up to 3.5-tonnes. The Australian Army has tested this ‘ute’ version, but one difficulty with the design has been overcoming its tendency to roll owing to a high centre of gravity when loaded with cargo. Nevertheless, the army is expected to acquire this Ute variant in due course under LAND 121. Other designs offered by Thales include a vehicle with an I ED interrogator arm, and the ISTAR Osprey with a Will-Burt Stiletto telescopic mast that mounts a Sophie thermal-imaging device, laser rangefinder and Kylmar optronics sensor.
After negotiating an agreement with Oshkosh Truck in the USA, Thales entered the Bushmaster in the US Army’s MRAP competition. However, the Australian contender withdrew in August 2007. Despite this unsuccessful first foray, the Bushmaster has achieved significant export successes to the Netherlands and United Kingdom. In July 2006, the Dutch government approved the purchase of 25 vehicles for troops operating in Afghanistan. Because it was an urgent operational requirement, this batch of vehicles was delivered from Australian Army stocks, with 23 sent straight to Afghanistan and the remaining two dispatched to Holland for training purposes. A total of twelve vehicles mounted the Thales SWARM RWS. Subsequently, 17 CROWS RWS were ordered from Electro Optic Systems in July 2007. The Dutch subsequently ordered a further ten (in November 2007), 13 (in June 2008), nine (in January 2009), 14 (June 2009) and 14 (August 2009), bringing the total to 86.
The other sales success has been to the UK, which purchased 24 Bushmasters in May 2008. These were used by the British Army, including Special Forces, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. They have been fitted with electronic countermeasure devices to disrupt IEDs.
Despite a long gestation period, the Bushmaster has proven to be a rugged player in some of the harshest terrain and climates in the world. To date 31 Australian Bushmasters have been damaged beyond repair by mines or IEDs in Afghanistan, yet not one Australian fatality has been incurred, fine testament to the vehicle’s qualities.
The ‘Bushie’ has forged a prominent place for itself in the Australian Army, and soldiers I spent time with are very pleased with its capabilities. It is indeed a home-grown success story from Down Under!