CANBERRA, Australia, June 14 (UPI) -- The Australian Department of Defense took delivery of its 1,000th Bushmaster protected vehicle produced at Thales Australia's facility in Bendigo.
The milestone was marked with an event at the plant in Bendigo, Victoria, where the 1,000th Bushmaster officially was handed over to the Department of Defense.
Chris Jenkins, Thales Australia's chief executive, said the Bushmaster is recognized as a life-saving vehicle thanks to its performance in overseas operations, including Afghanistan.
Jenkins praised the Bendigo workforce of 200 employees and Thales's Australian supply chain.
"Australian industry has played a vital role in this achievement," he said.
"There are around 120 companies in the Bushmaster supply chain, many of them local small- to medium-size companies whose hard work, innovation and commitment to delivery have helped make the Bushmaster what it is today."
Australia's army received its first Bushmasters in 2004.
"Working together, Defense, Thales Australia and our industry partners have created a vital strategic capability, fully proven and ready to produce the next generation light protected vehicle, Hawkei, for the Australian Defense Force and export markets."
Six 4x4, 6-crew, 7-ton Hawkei, based on its Bushmaster, are going through trials with the government under a contract that could see more than a thousand ordered.
Last month, Thales Australia delivered the final two of the six Hawkei vehicles to the Defense Materiel Organization for testing and evaluation.
The latest two reconnaissance variants joined two command and two utility vehicles, plus a trailer, all of which were delivered on schedule. The four vehicles previously delivered have undergone half of the planned 60,000 miles of testing, Thales Australia said.
The majority of the evaluation process is being at Monegeetta, north of Melbourne in Victoria state. Testing includes survivability, communications system integration, electro-magnetic interference/compatibility, reliability trials and user assessments.
The Hawkeis were delivered under Stage 2 of the Manufactured and Supported in Australia option of Land 121 Phase 4 contract -- a $1.5 billion project to provide up to 1,300 protected and unprotected light vehicles for the military.
The government announced in December 2011 that the Hawkei had been selected as the preferred vehicle for development and testing in Australia's search for an improved protected mobility vehicle.
Thales Australia, formerly ADI, said it expects final approval of the project sometime 2015, as set out in Australia's 2012 Defense Capability Plan.
Australia also is working with British military vehicle manufacturer Supacat on the development of a Special Operations Vehicle. The Department of Defense selected Supacat, working with its partner Elbit Systems of Australia, in April 2012 as preferred supplier to build a prototype SOV that will carry a range of weapons, communications and surveillance equipment.
The vehicle is the latest version of Supacat's Special Forces High Mobility Transport Extenda. Supacat said the new vehicle retains a high level of commonality with the Australian army's existing Nary HMT fleet, delivered by Supacat in 2009.
Supacat opened a vehicle engineering design and analysis facility in Melbourne in December to support the project. The facility employees 18 design, analysis and systems engineering experts.