Page 69 - Australian Defence Magazine September 2018
P. 69

Hawk Down, provides an example of how quickly a benign situation can deteriorate and the strategic importance of maintain- ing a balanced robust force, even on peace keeping operations.
In October 1993, a US Special Opera- tions force attempted to capture a Somali warlord and his retinue. In the course of the raid two Black Hawk helicopters were shot down and the lightly armed and pro- tected quick reaction forces sent to recov- er the personnel from the downed aircraft were isolated and in danger of being over- run. Eventually these forces were rescued by a combined Malaysian and Pakistani United Nations armoured vehicle convoy which included M60 tanks. 18 US sol- diers were killed in action and a further 73 were wounded during the course of the raid and subsequent recovery operations.
Notably, in the month prior to the ill- fated raid, the commanding US General in Somalia had requested M1 tanks and Bradley M2 IFVs to augment US quick reaction forces. This request was denied by the office of the US Secretary of Defence due to the perceived optics of deploying tanks to the peace keeping operation.
Consequently, US ground based quick reaction forces were reliant on light, un- protected trucks and jeeps when they re- sponded to the crash sites – with tragic re- sults. In the aftermath of this incident US Secretary of Defence Les Aspin stepped down as a result of his office’s decision to refuse these requests for tanks, armoured vehicles and AC130 aircraft to support the mission.19
Perhaps learning from this and in re- sponse to the uncertainty of operations during the Australian led intervention in East Timor in 1999, the ADF placed a squadron of Leopard tanks on standby to deploy at short notice, had the mission dis- integrated into close combat. One soldier offered that: ‘If it [the largely unopposed lodgements and subsequent deployment of INTERFET forces] had gone a different way and we didn’t have the Leopards, then we would have been fighting with one arm behind our backs.’
Australia cannot be lulled into the falsity that it has the luxury to merely contribute forces of choice to wars of choice. Australia cannot now, nor has it been able to in the past, accurately predict the wars it fights.
The expectation that Australia can opt out of conflict when its interests are involved, either in our region or globally, is naïve and potentially dangerous. It also ignores the reality of the connected world where we are bound to many nations by diplomacy, information, economics, heri- tage and culture. Australia may find itself embroiled in crises or conflict, which it can neither choose to nor afford to avoid.
Further, the proliferation of technolo- gies formerly associated with high end conventional threats into the hands of non-state actors in recent conflicts, such as those being fought in Gaza, Syria and Iraq, points to increasing levels of lethal- ity on any battlefield of the future. As a result, even Australian forces deployed on peacekeeping missions in the future may face the threat of highly lethal weapons.
It is important to remind ourselves that the enemy has a vote in battle – if the threat warrants it, Australia may be forced to send highly capable combat forces to achieve humanitarian objectives. This is why protection remains a high priority for Army in its acquisition of a new generation of armoured vehicles as described within the Governments strategic guidance.
Maintaining a credible, deployable and sustainable
M1 tank capability.
Given the importance of the M1 Abrams tank to the ADF, does Australia have enough tanks to provide a sustainable basis to train the Joint Land Force and deploy a credible capability if required? Training the force includes individual and collective training at Army schools and combat brigades.
When the aforementioned combined arms approach, air-land integration and drilling in amphibious manoeuvre are also considered, this training places a sig- nificant burden on the tank fleet. How- ever, this training is necessary to generate combat ready tank squadrons available to deploy on operations.
An assessment of the M1’s predecessors indicates that deploying a tank squadron on operations also places heavy demands on the tank capability. To deploy and sustain a tank squadron group of around 26 vehicles in South Vietnam, Australia maintained a fleet of around 128 Cen- turion tanks. Following Vietnam, these were replaced by 90 Leopard AS1 tanks | Month 2000 | 69

   67   68   69   70   71