Thales Australia Completes Lithgow Arms Factory Expansion and Announces New Rifle

Earlier this month Thales Australia announced the completion of construction on a new advanced manufacturing building at Lithgow Arms. The new facility features state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment and is intended to foster ‘collaboration across research institutions, SME partners, and key industrial partners to create the soldier systems and small arms of the future’. Thales Australia invested $6.5 million (AUD) in the project with funding also coming from the New South Wales Government via a $1.12 million (AUD) grant from the NSW Regional Job Creation Fund.

Thales Australia’s Vice President Land Julie Bown said “Thales Australia is proud of our stewardship of this critical industrial capability that has supported the ADF and allies for more than a century. In an uncertain world it is vital that Australia maintains its sovereign manufacturing capability to prepare for all contingencies and our investment at Lithgow reflects our commitment to continue providing advanced capability that’s made in Australia.”

Thales Australia Completes Lithgow Arms Factory Expansion and Announces New RifleThales Australia Completes Lithgow Arms Factory Expansion and Announces New Rifle

ACAR (Lithgow Arms/Thales Australia)

The completion of the building comes as Lithgow Arms continues the development of a new automatic rifle for the Australian armed forces. Based on designs from Melbourne-based Wedgetail Industries, the new rifle appears to be a departure from Lithgow Arms’ F90 bullpup platform, however, Wedgetail have previously showcased, at LandForces2022, a prototype 6.8mm chambered F90. In December, Thales Australia and Wedgetail Industries signed an agreement that will see the Wedgetail-developed rifle manufactured at Lithgow if it is selected as part of the Australian Army’s upcoming rifle tender.

Currently referred to as the Australian Combat Assault Rifle (ACAR). According to Thales Australia “Wedgetail and Thales Australia’s Lithgow Arms initiated a design and development effort on the new weapon system in early 2022. The work was undertaken at Lithgow Arms’ C3 – a small arms and weapons systems ‘incubator’ established on site at the Lithgow facility designed to assist and bring on board small-to-medium enterprises (SME) in the defence industry.”

A 6.8mm F90-pattern bullpup (Wedgetail Industries)

The ACAR is an AR platform-based weapon with variants chambered in 5.56x45mm, .300BLK and 7.62x51mm developed. Matt Duquemin, Thales Australia’s Director Integrated Weapons and Sensors, said, “We are proud to work together with Wedgetail – helping develop and grow the innovation and ingenuity of Australian SMEs by bringing down costly barriers to entry often experienced by Australian companies in the defence industry”.

A 6.8mm AR prototype at LandForces2022 (Wedgetail Industries)

The ACAR is described as being at the pre-production stage and ready for full-rate production. Unsurprisingly a version chambered in the new US Next Generation Squad Weapon cartridge, 6.8x51mm, has also been developed and is undergoing final qualification testing. Wedgetail have already confirmed that an Australian-manufactured version of the round has been developed. The ACAR is in a development spiral to refine with weapon, develop variants required by the Australian military and integrate it with accessories such as optics and night vision devices.

The Australian Defense Force is currently undertaking its Lethality System Project – LAND 159. The first Tranche of which saw new sniper systems and close combat weapons selected back in October 2022. Tranche 2, due for consideration in 2024/2025, will see the selection of new ‘Close Combatant Assault Rifle, Machine Guns, Direct Fire Support Weapons’. With a strong showing from the SIG Sauer-Aquaterro partnership in Tranche 1, it can be expected that Lithgow Arms’ ACAR will face competition from SIG’s XM7.

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