Experts back call to use Ukraine as ‘real-life military laboratory’

Defence and engineering experts have thrown their support behind a proposal by Ukraine to use its war against Russia as a testing ground for new Australian-made military technology.

The Sydney Morning Herald andThe Age this week revealed Ukraine’s ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko islobbying the Albanese government to provide the Ukrainian army with a fleet of 30 Hawkei protected mobility vehicles.

The Hawkei protected mobility vehicles have been designed and manufactured at Thales’ Bendigo site in Victoria.

The Hawkei protected mobility vehicles have been designed and manufactured at Thales’ Bendigo site in Victoria.Supplied

The four-wheel drives,manufactured at the Thales facility in Bendigo,have not been used in combat and are not expected to reach full operational capability until next year.

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles said he “looks forward to meeting with the Ukrainian Ambassador and listening to his proposal ... Whilst Ukraine is a long way from Australia,we are committed to protecting the rules-based order”.

The spokeswoman noted Australia had already provided $388 million in military assistance to Ukraine.

Marcus Hellyer,a former senior Department of Defence public servant,said he was a “big supporter” of sending a fleet of Hawkeis to Ukraine even though the vehicles are untested on the battlefield and experienced technical difficulties during the production phase.

“The liberal democracies of the world need to support Ukraine and we need skin in the game to help them fight,” he said.

Now a senior analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute,Hellyer said the Ukraine-Russia war had already served as a “real-life laboratory” for new military technologies.

“The Australian Army would benefit from real-world battlefield testing of the Hawkeis,” he said.

“Australia can learn to enhance any of their strengths and mitigate their weaknesses.”

Sources said the idea of providing Hawkeis to Ukraine had encountered some resistance from the army given the vehicles have not been fully accepted by the Australian Defence Force and experienced braking issues while under construction.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said he looked forward to hearing the detail of Ukraine’s proposal.

Defence Minister Richard Marles said he looked forward to hearing the detail of Ukraine’s proposal.James Brickwood

Mick Ryan,who recently retired as commander of the Australian Defence College,said:“I’d hate to think we would send Ukraine a liability.”

He said he believed Australia could better help the Ukrainian war effort by sending up to 100 additional Bushmaster troop carriers and armoured personnel carriers.

By contrast,La Trobe University engineering professor Chris Stoltz said:“It’s a great idea to get the Hawkeis out in the field and see how they perform in the theatre of war.

“New technology is great in theory but is it effective when bombs are going off around you?”

He said exporting the vehicles to Ukraine,and then to other countries,could create important job creation opportunities in Bendigo.

French company Thales announced last month it was making 29 staff redundant at its Bendigo manufacturing plant because the company’s contract to make Hawkeis for the Australian government was ending.

The final vehicles rolled off the production line earlier in August.

Explaining why the vehicles were particularly appealing to Ukraine,Myroshnychenko said:“The Hawkeis are really impressive:they’re smaller,they’re faster,they’re nimble and they’re brand new.”

Importantly,they are light enough to be transported by helicopter,allowing them to be airlifted directly onto the battlefield.

Ukraine has also requested an additional 30 Bushmasters on top of the 60 vehicles Australia has already committed.

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Matthew Knott is national correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald,focusing on race,culture and identity. He was previously North America correspondent for the Herald and The Age.

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