PARIS — Australia is investing AU$220 million (U.S. $139 million) to boost munitions production at two factories in the country’s southeast, the government said in a statement Friday.
The investment will boost production capacity for 155mm artillery ammunition and 500-pound aerial bombs at Thales-managed factories in Mulwala, New South Wales, and Benalla, Victoria.
With the war in Ukraine putting renewed emphasis on conventional fires, including 155mm artillery, Australia’s Defense Strategic Review has recommended local manufacturing of weapons to ensure stocks are maintained. The U.S. and the EU have been racing to keep up with Ukraine’s demand for artillery rounds in the high-intensity conflict with Russia.
“Improving Australia’s ability to manufacture the munitions our defense force needs is not only critical to meeting the strategic challenges we face as a nation, it will also support local industry and well-paid, skilled local jobs,” Minister for Defence Industry Pat Conroy said in the statement.
Infrastructure redevelopments at both sites will ensure they’re equipped to support future production demands, including for 155mm ammunition, with new explosive mixers at the Mulwala factory allowing for faster production of a broader range of advanced munitions, according to the government.
The investment will boost capacity to produce the BLU-111(AUS) aerial bomb, manufactured domestically by Thales Australia. Australia first deployed the 500-pound high-explosive warhead on the F-35A in a laser-guided bomb configuration in 2021, and the ordnance replaces the older-generation Mk82 500-pound iron bombs.
The ability to bring the BLU-111 into service as an Australia-manufactured munition is a “significant milestone,” Conroy said.
The government said the investment shows it delivering on the priorities of the strategic review, by establishing local manufacturing of guided weapons and explosive ordnance. The Australian Army operates the M777 155mm towed gun as its main artillery piece, and Conroy said the investment will accelerate domestic production of ordnance such as 155mm artillery ammunition.
France and Australia said in January they would jointly supply 155mm ammunition to Ukraine, with French contractor Nexter manufacturing the artillery shells and Australia providing the explosive.
“The Mulwala and Benalla munition factories underpin Australia’s ability to develop critical propellants, explosives and munitions for the Australian Defence Force,” Conroy said.
Investments in new preparation and mixing equipment will increase the size of rocket motors that can be manufactured at Mulwala by 500%, which in turn supports the production of advanced guided weapons and hypersonic weapons, Thales Australia said in a separate statement Friday. The company operates the government-owned sites at Benalla and Mulwala under contract, employing more than 650 staff there to manufacture munitions systems.
Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.