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The Bushmaster: From concept to combat

Speakers General Angus J. Campbell, AO, DSC and Brendan Nicholson

ASPI warmly invites you to attend the publication launch of ‘The Bushmaster: From concept to combat’ by Brendan Nicholson. The publication will be launched by General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC, Chief of the Defence Force. 

Brendan Nicholson’s account of the Bushmaster protected mobility vehicle is the classic story of the ugly duckling—an ‘armoured Winnebago’—transformed swan-like into the vital lifesaver for Australian and Dutch troops on combat operations in Afghanistan. It was not originally designed to play that role. The Bushmaster was conceived as a lightly armoured truck. In 1980s ‘Defence of Australia’ planning, it would move troops around the vastness of northern Australia pursuing ‘thugs in thongs’ bent on harassing locals.

It took a long time for the Army to come to love ‘this massive thing’ that wasn’t intended to be a fighting vehicle, which was originally sold to government as a simple off-the-shelf acquisition but in fact became a complex development project pushing industry and Defence into new and more productive relationships. Indeed, ‘The Bushmaster’s capability wasn’t fully appreciated until it was in action,’ Nicholson argues, and by then it was seen to be a defining reason why so many Australian soldiers survived improvised explosive devices (IEDs) while so many British and American lives were lost. ‘Great equipment saves lives,’ a British Army officer sadly recalls, ‘Soldiers under my command paid the ultimate price’ for want of great equipment.

Viewed as a case study of Australian defence equipment acquisition at work, this account of the Bushmaster in development and then in combat on operations offers deep insights based on multiple interviews with people intimately involved with the vehicle. An Army officer confides to an industry mate: ‘I can’t build without you, and you can’t succeed without me.’ A cheaper off-the-shelf overseas buy would not have given Australia the flexibility to adapt the Bushmaster to changing enemy tactics in Afghanistan. Indeed, the way industry, the Army, Defence scientists and others worked so quickly and effectively together to harden the Bushmaster against ever more devastating IEDs is a model of the ‘fundamental input to capability’ idea that promotes innovative work between Defence and industry.

‘It’s either going to be a complete failure or an absolutely outstanding success’, was how one early participant described Bushmaster. This is the inspiring history of how a project that was almost killed for want of a sponsor came to save the lives of hundreds of Australian and Dutch soldiers.

A drinks and canapes reception will conclude the event. 


General Angus J. Campbell, AO, DSC

General Angus Campbell joined the Australian Army in 1981, graduating from the Royal Military College - Duntroon in 1984.

Brendan Nicholson

Brendan Nicholson’s career as a journalist has spanned several decades, and for much of that time he has covered defence and national security issues.