Note: This story was updated at 12.06pm with new developments, including that Australia had confirmed it would send Bushmasters to Ukraine.
BENDIGO Bushmasters could soon be sent into a very different conflict than anything they have faced before, following a plea from Ukraine in the fight against Russian invaders.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy asked for the amoured personnel carriers during his historic address to Australia's parliament on Thursday.
"You have very good armoured personnel vehicles, Bushmasters, that could help Ukraine substantially, and other pieces of equipment that could strengthen our position in terms of armament," he said.
"If you have an opportunity to share this with us we would be very grateful."
The word "Bushmaster" swiftly began trending on Twitter.
Manufacturer Thales Australia builds Bushmasters at its North Bendigo factory to protect troops from bomb blasts.
Prime minister Scott Morrison this morning confirmed Bushmasters would be flown over in GlobeMaster C-17s, in a move likely to have strong bipartisan support.
Labor party member and Bendigo representative Lisa Chesters said she was not surprised Ukraine wanted trucks with a proven record in war zones.
"The Bushmaster has been recognised for saving the lives of over 300 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan," she said.
Still, that conflict was very different to the current war in Ukraine, which has been defined by large sieges using military battalions, artillery and air attacks, not improvised explosive devices and small-scale battles in a conflict defined by guerilla warfare.
Many Bushmasters were equipped with machine guns and other comparatively light armaments in Afghanistan.
They are not currently fitted with missile launchers, which could be useful against planes, ships and fixed army targets.
Thales has been working with defence specialists at Kongsberg on a Bushmaster capable of firing cruise missiles.
The so-called StrikeMaster would carry a Kongsberg missile system capable of attacking targets 250km away.
The manufacturers have so far developed two prototypes and have pitched early ideas to Defence.
Research and development is still in its early days, though.
Ms Chesters says unmodified Bushmasters would be valuable to Ukraine.
"There is no vehicle safer than a Bushmaster for moving troops, personnel and civilians trying to escape to safety," she said.
Questions remain over how the Australian Defence Force would source any Bushmasters that would be sent to Ukraine.
Would they come from Defence's existing fleet? It takes Thales a week to roll each of its Bushmasters off its production line.
Confusion erupted in a budgets estimates committee on Friday morning, with defence officials unaware if their minister or prime minister had announced "up to four" vehicles for Ukraine's efforts against Russia.
The department was asked overnight to present options after the plea for the Australian-designed vehicles. Officials were not aware of the announcement by the prime minister or the defence minister.
The department's associate secretary Matt Yannopoulos advised the estimates hearing that he had just been informed the defence minister Peter Dutton had announced up to four vehicles, apparently through a media interview.
I think I've just seen an announcement by the Minister for Defence ... I was just shown a message [that] we will make available four Bushmasters," Mr Yannopoulos told the hearing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had just made the announcement and some defence officials had not looked at their phones while giving evidence to the estimates committee.
- With the Canberra Times
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