Komatsu & Australian Army Forge Long Relationship
Komatsu has had a long-term relationship with Australia's armed forces since the mid-1980s, when to the considerable surprise of many in the heavy equipment industry it won a major contract to supply dozers and scrapers to the Australian Army.
The order consisted of 12 Komatsu WS16S single-engine open bowl scrapers and 20 Komatsu D155A-1 dozers in a variety of configurations: bull-blades with rippers, and angle-blades with recovery winches.This business had been traditionally "owned" by another supplier, and when Komatsu was announced as the successful tenderer, barely five years since the formation of Komatsu Australia in this country, it marked a major advance for the company and a big step forward for its credibility as a major supplier.
"This was Komatsu's first business with Australia's armed forces, and it established a relationship that still exists today," says Craig "Shine" Summerfield, Komatsu Australia's National Customer Applications Manager, Construction.
Before joining Komatsu, Shine had a career with the Army's Royal Australian Engineers; many of those years included time at the School of Military Engineering at Moorebank, rising to the rank of Warrant officer Class Two.
According to Sebastian Spencer, Curator of the Australian Army Museum of Military Engineering at Holsworthy, south east of Sydney, the bulk of the Komatsu dozers and scrapers were deployed with the Army's 21st and 17th Construction Squadrons, carrying out Defence-related civil works around Australia.
A small number of these machines were also used for training purposes.
"While these machines would have gone offshore if required, they all essentially remained within Australia so far as we know," says Sebastian.
"They worked on major Defence civil construction projects, including RAAF Base Scherger on western Cape York, a major rehabilitation project on the Puckapunyal Range in Victoria, and Aboriginal Community Assistance Program (ACAP) projects in various remote locations."
The construction of RAAF Base Scherger by the 17th Construction Squadron, as the principal unit, along with other unit input, was the largest project undertaken by the Royal Australian Engineers at the time.
Komatsu has continued to supply heavy equipment to Australia's armed forces.
In the mid-to-late 1990s it supplied two BR350JG-1s used by various operational units for defence infrastructure projects around Australia.
Then in the mid 2000s, Komatsu supplied three PC130-7 excavators fitted with armoured cabs, two of which ended up seeing service in Afghanistan carrying out reconstruction and general civil engineering work.
"The armoured cab made them very tricky to operate, because you were so closed-in," says Shine.
"The School of Military Engineering here took one for training purposes, so the guys could be trained in the digger before they hit the deck in Afghanistan. They were very happy with these," he says.
A couple of years later, in 2008, Komatsu was successful in receiving an order for more than 20 PC50MR-2 short-tail excavators, each packaged up with a pallet-load of different attachments for maximum versatility, and painted in Australian Army camouflage colours.
Each of the Army's Combat Engineers Regiments, located in Darwin, Brisbane and Townsville has two of these machines, while some were deployed at the School of Military Engineering in Sydney, plus a number by the 17th and 21st Construction Squadrons.
And since its initial engagement with Australia's armed forces in the mid-1980s with that first order of scrapers and dozers, Komatsu has provided a range of training and operator excellence support packages.
"When that first fleet of Komatsu equipment was delivered, Komatsu instigated the Trainee of Merit award, recognising the leading trainee each year from the School of Military Engineering's plant operator course," says Shine.
"Later that course became the Civil Construction Plant Course, and still to this day we are assisting with the Trainee of Merit award."
For many years after leaving the Army, Shine managed the Trainee of Merit award as part of his training and application engineering duties with Komatsu, with Aaron Marsh, Komatsu Australia's current National Operator Trainer Supervisor Construction taking over responsibility since 2013.