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Armour maker sets standard for growth and innovation

The specialised armour plating developed by Craig International Ballistics for Australia's CH-47F Chinooks (Image supplied)

Queensland-based Craig International Ballistics has quickly established itself as a key supplier of composite ballistic armour solutions for the Australian Defence Force and is building on local capability to expand export options.

A family business, Craig International Ballistics (CIB) was founded in 1999 out of the family garage at a time when manufacturing ballistic protection in Australia was almost a non-existent industry.

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The company initially developed body armour for use by the ADF in East Timor and over the years the Defence Material Organisation (DMO), now Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), began purchasing body armour from CIB on a regular basis.

Complex environments, Australian solutions

CIB currently supplies body armour protection elements as part of LAND 125-3B to 2021 and 2024 with through life support for the ADF. CIB provides a range of locally designed and manufactured armour solutions for the needs of the ADF, including: 

  • LAND: Individual body armour protection elements, pelvic protection and training inserts;
  • LAND: Transparent and composite vehicle armour systems for Army Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles; 
  • SEA: Transparent and composite armour for Navy frigates and patrol boats; and
  • AIR: A variety of composite floor and wall armour systems, for a variety of air frames, including the Army's CH-47F Chinook helicopters.  

As part of LAND 125 3B, CIB has delivered over 250,000 items of protection elements and training equipment between 2015 and 2018. LAND 125 has enabled CIB to perfect its response to the exacting standards set by the Army and broader ADF, while focusing on improving the platforms delivered to the Australian soldier through collaboration with the LAND 125 project office. 

Chief executive James Craig said, "The Australian Army has exceptionally demanding operational requirements. Being able to meet these reflects the unique capabilities our company has built up to be able to continually innovate and then efficiently manufacture affordable, leading-edge ballistic protection armour."

CIB has also provided composite armour solutions for key Army vehicles, including supplying 1,600 High Hardness Armour (HHA) steel and transparent armour assemblies to Thales Australia for the Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles (PMV). The company has also leveraged its strong global relationships to provide air frame armour solutions for the Army's CH-47F Chinooks.  

These projects provide CIB with the basis for expanding the company's presence in supporting the ADF.

"The armour we are making now is not only a new industrial capability for Australia to have, it provides us with various other options for integration with existing or planned land and maritime projects like protected vehicles or the future frigates," Craig said at the time.  

The company completed the final Tranche 3 product deliveries to the Australian Army under the LAND 125-3B Soldier Combat Ensemble – Protection Elements program, which saw over 20,000 sets of protective body armour delivered under the three tranche program. 

The seven-year contract valued at over $60 million was originally won by the Gold Coast company against tough competition from other Australian and overseas suppliers.

Craig said, "The contract award is a reflection of our company’s proven ability to continually innovate, develop new solutions and exceed our customer’s expectations in supplying on-time, high-quality, affordable body armour."

Innovation is key to staying ahead of the threat

CIB’s strong focus on continuous innovation to meet the Army’s demands for the most effective ballistic protection armour is matched by the company’s emphasis on smart manufacturing.

Supporting this objective, CIB has created a state-of-the-art facility at Arundel in Queensland that includes digital conveyorised cutting equipment, x-ray equipment, computer controlled machines and heavy-duty hydraulic presses.

With a highly skilled workforce of more than 30 engineers, technicians, machine operators and support staff, this modern facility produced some 150,000 ballistic protection products last year.

The rapidly changing threat environment across all domains means CIB has had to evolve its manufacturing processes to ensure that the platforms it provides to Defence are leading-edge, future-proofed solutions, supported by leading design and manufacturing processes. 

This focus on material, design and manufacturing innovation is a driving force behind the long-term success and vision of CIB.

Strengthening this focus on innovation, CIB has recently acquired a new manufacturing facility and equipment, essential to precisely cutting composite ballistic protection panels within the company's Arundel facility. 

The company is heavily investing in the future to meet ongoing customer requirements for transparent armour, aircraft, vehicle and personal body armour through the purchase of a new five-axis waterjet cutter from OMAX in the US, which allows for the onsite cutting of complex and generally hard to cut materials such as ceramics, glass, high hardness armour steel and UHMWPE materials.

Craig explained the importance of this new manufacturing capability, saying, "This new in-house capability helps to provide reduced delivery lead-times, cost efficiencies and high-quality finishes, which are often hard to achieve through external subcontractors. We have had a significant spike in demand for our lightweight composite ballistic panels, particularly from the defence sector for aircraft and vehicle use, and the acquisition of such equipment was a natural progression to those demands."

Focus on quality is essential for export success

Supporting this development is the recent purchase of bespoke, robotic x-ray equipment, which is used to conduct non-destructive technical inspections on the company's full range of ceramic composite small arms protective inserts (SAPI). 

Inspections are conducted initially on product manufacture but also throughout the items service life, ensuring ongoing ballistic integrity and zero compromise to the soldiers and officers’ safety.

"The equipment will be used to detect internal fractures within the ceramic composite, typically as a result of in-service damage and wear, and could compromise the safety of the wearer without detection. Using robotics with the x-ray equipment greatly minimises product handling and provides our company with an efficient refurbishment and re-certification process," Craig explained. 

This focus on quality assurance and attention to detail has helped to set CIB apart from the competition and establish its position as a formidable force in Australia's defence industry export mix

Recognising this success, particularly following the announcement of a joint venture with UK company Cooneen Protection, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne said, "With companies like Craig International Ballistics leading the charge for export success, the Australian sovereign defence industrial base we need will be more robust, more resilient and better able to meet Australia’s defence capability needs."

Armour maker sets standard for growth and innovation
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