Page 76 - Australian Defence Magazine September 2018
P. 76

“The contined development of sensors and technology will be extremely important to achieving improved situational awareness (SA) on the battlefield.”
in 1977 to provide a three-squadron tank regiment to maintain infantry-tank skills and remain abreast of developments in contemporary armoured warfare.
In turn these were replaced in 2006 by 59 M1 Abrams tanks, or around two thirds of the previous fleet. While the number of M1s acquired is arguably more a product of the resources available at that time than an accurate reflection of the actual tanks required, it does re- flect a downward trend in fleet size over time. When training and operational requirements are considered, does the ADF have the critical mass to train the Joint Land Force and deploy a credible tank capability on operations?
A brief examination of the Canadian Army, of similar size and composition to the Australian Army, and their experience with their tank fleet is informative. By the early 2000s the value of the tank to the Canadian Army was in question as these had not deployed to a combat zone since the Korean War, over 50 years prior.
Consequently, Canada planned to replace its aged Leopard 1 tanks with a lighter wheeled mobile gun system. However combat experience in Afghani- stan led to a reversal of this decision. Ca- nadian forces had encountered fierce op-
position from an enemy who were well equipped and lib- erally employed improvised explosive devices to reduce their mobility.
This left the Canadians, who lacked heavy combat power such as tanks, fighting at a distinct disadvantage against a determined enemy. Consequently, Leopard tanks and Badger armoured engineer vehicles were deployed to provide combat overmatch to defeat the enemy and restore mobility to the battle- field. The successful employment of these systems led Canada to revitalise its tank
capability in 2007.
The Canadian Army Journal summaris-
es this decision succinctly ‘By deploying tanks and armoured engineers to Afghani- stan in October 2006 and supporting the acquisition of the Leopard 2, the leader- ship of the Canadian Forces (CF) has ac- knowledged the importance of maintain- ing heavy armour in a balanced force.
While the continued development of sensors and technology will be extremely important to achieving improved situ- ational awareness (SA) on the battlefield, the hard-earned experiences of the Ca- nadian Army and our allies in sustained combat in Afghanistan and Iraq have proven we must be prepared to get our handsdirtyandcomeintophysicalcon- tact with the enemy if we wish to define their strength, composition and inten- tions, and subsequently kill them. Cana- dian tanks and armoured engineers have better protected our dismounted infan-
try soldiers in Southern Afghanistan, allowing them to close with and destroy a fanatical and determined enemy in ex- tremely complex terrain.’
To revitalise its tank capability, Can- ada’s Department of National Defence decreed that it would acquire 100 mod- ern tanks as this number represented ‘the minimum fleet size to support a deployed tank squadron’.24 This number was suf- ficient to provide for two combat-ready squadrons of approximately 20 tanks each: the first for deployment and a second for rotation into theatre to allow for depot re- pair and overhaul of the first. This number also provided a third squadron supporting collective training and a fourth squadron to facilitate individual training.
Additional vehicles included armoured recovery vehicles and armoured engineer vehicles. The Canadian Forces eventu- ally acquired 127 vehicles: 82 tanks, 12 ar- moured recovery vehicles, 18 armoured en- gineer vehicles and 15 tanks as spares. Thus in light of the Canadian experience and Australia’s similar individual and collective training approach, it is questionable wheth- er the ADF’s M1 fleet is sufficient to enable it to deploy and sustain a tank squadron on operations for a prolonged period.
In terms of tank sustainment, the US Army, which developed the M1 tank sys- temduringthe1970s,employstheworld’s best practices to sustain the tank. Advice from the US Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command indicates that to generate a tank capability that is available for training and operations, treatment of
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