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Australia Opts to Buy Used M1A1 Tanks (Mar. 10)

The Government will equip the Australian Army with a fleet of 59 United States M1A1 Abrams Integrated Management main battle tanks to replace the ageing Leopards, Defence Minister Robert Hill announced today.

The project cost is about A$550 million.

The Abrams tanks are significantly more capable than the current tank and will contribute to the Army becoming more lethal in future close combat.

The Government accepted Defence’s advice that the Abrams is the best capability and the best value for money with the lowest risk of the three replacement tank options examined.

Senator Hill said the new tanks would be introduced into service from 2007 and would be based with 1st Brigade in the Northern Territory.

“The tanks will be used by the Army to provide increased firepower, mobility and survivability for our soldiers on the battlefield,” Senator Hill said.

“They will also improve the Army’s network centric warfare capability, supporting the development of a networked combined arms approach to operations – where armor, infantry, artillery, aviation and engineers work together to support and protect each other.”

The Abrams can reach speeds of up to 66km/h on Australian roads and up to 48 km cross country with a cruising range of up to 480kms, carrying four crew and ammunition. Each tank is equipped with a 120mm smooth bore cannon as its primary weapon and a 50-calibre machine gun for the tank commander in addition to two 7.62mm machine guns. They are capable of firing an advanced kinetic energy Tungsten penetrator against vehicles and a multi-purpose round for infantry support. They have also been designed to provide a level of protection for soldiers from nuclear, biological or chemical threats.

Senator Hill said that the Abrams, with an approximate combat weight of 63 tons, was only around 500kg heavier than its competitors. It can be deployed throughout the region using existing naval vessels and infrastructure. The introduction of new amphibious ships from 2010 will give the Army unprecedented mobility and deployability throughout our region and beyond.

In addition to the tanks, extra refueling, recovery and transport support vehicles, training simulators and an integrated logistic support package will be acquired from the United States. All these elements of the capability are included in the purchase price. Australian industry is expected to be involved in the provision of through-life support for the Abrams.

“The decision to purchase replacement tanks recognizes the modern threat from the proliferation of shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons that our forces may encounter on their missions in the future,” Senator Hill said.

“The new tanks will not only ensure that the Army can defend Australian territory but it will also provide additional firepower and protection to ensure deployed forces achieve rapid success while minimizing friendly casualties.”

FACT SHEET: Strategic Rationale for the Acquisition of a new Tank

The thinking underlying the decision to purchase the Abrams M1A1 reflects the same strategic rationale which the Government outlined in the Defence 2000 White Paper. That white paper stated that the Government would ensure that ‘our land forces will have the combat weight they need to achieve their missions without undue risk’.

Today’s decision follows through on the Government’s commitment and is aligned with existing strategic policy as expressed in the White Paper.

A wide range of extremely lethal, concealable, high technology weapons are becoming available to our potential adversaries. These weapons can be carried, concealed and operated by one person. They are cheap and accessible. This means that, even when we do not expect to meet major opposition (such as in peacekeeping or evacuation operations), our soldiers can encounter, without warning, highly lethal weapons of a standard that simply did not exist a few years ago.

It would be entirely irresponsible of the Government to send Australia’s young men and women into harm’s way without giving them adequate protection and the means to achieve their missions. Capable tanks provide this capability. Independent scientific studies have shown that, where capable tanks are present, they reduce friendly casualties by a factor of six, and almost double the chance of mission success. Because of their precision firepower and excellent sensor systems, they also reduce casualties to innocent bystanders and prevent collateral environmental damage.

The current tank is becoming increasingly vulnerable to a proliferation of sophisticated anti-armor weapons and clearly we couldn’t continue with it in that threat environment on the battlefield. The Government has accepted the Chief of Army’s argument that combined arms teams, including capable infantry, tanks, armored vehicles, artillery, Special Forces and other elements, are essential for the Army to fulfill its role.

FACT SHEET: The M1A1 Abrams Integrated Management Main Battle Tank

During operations in Iraq the M1A1 clearly demonstrated it has the necessary firepower, mobility and survivability to achieve dominance on the battlefield as part of a combined arms team. The M1A1 demonstrated its effectiveness in Iraq on many occasions. In one instance an M1A1 took a direct hit to the ammunition storage area, all of the rounds inside were detonated, however the crew survived and carried on with their mission.

Australian Warrant Officer Joe Day who was serving on exchange with the US Marine Corps 1st Light Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion during operations in Iraq commented that from his observations the M1A1 was the ‘king of the battlefield and that light armor and infantry couldn’t survive without tanks and guns’. Warrant Officer Day also saw an M1A1 take a direct hit from an Iraqi T- 62 and then continue on and destroy the enemy tank.

The motor and transmission on the M1A1 performed so well in Iraq on the very long drives through difficult terrain that the US Tank Automotive and Armaments Command are not planning any further work on trying to extend the transmission hours as they do not need it.

The M1A1 AIM vehicle that Australia will procure will not be equipped with either Depleted Uranium armor or munitions. The armor on offer is of an advanced composite design, which is in accord with our capability requirements.

The new tank will fire an advanced kinetic energy Tungsten penetrator against vehicles and a multi-purpose round for infantry support. The tank is powered by a gas turbine engine, the AGT-1500. Gas turbine engines, including the AGT-1500, are truly multi-fuel. They offer excellent power/weight ratios compared to diesel engines.

They have a very good cold-start capability (unlike a diesel), with smooth torque and low vibration (an advantage for crews and sensitive onboard systems). The gas turbine motor is also substantially quieter than a traditional diesel tank engine ( like that in a Leopard 1). Additional tactical refueling trucks to provide fuel for the tanks in the field are included in the $A550m package.

Outside of the US Army and US Marine Corps the M1A1 is operated by Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

The M1A1 AIM tank was selected for the following reasons:

The M1A1 AIM has the best overall survivability of the options considered. It offers battlefield proven protection for its crews.

The M1A1 AIM in Australian service will be very similar to the remainder of the large user community. It is part of a large fleet with stable, known operating costs, which will be in service beyond 2020. They will be configured as part of a fleet of 3,500 similar vehicles across the world. These particular vehicles will be very similar to over 2,500 vehicles operated by the US to at least 2020.

The M1A1 AIM has the best potential to support network centric warfare. It offers a proven integrated and highly capable radio and battle space management system.

The M1A1 AIM is assessed to have the least technical acquisition risk as the vehicle type and configuration for Australian service is already in production. It is a proven design, which is already in contract.

The Foreign Military Sales (FMS) offer for the M1A1 includes, spares, training, support vehicles, Armoured Recovery Vehicles, simulation systems, radios and ancillary equipment as part of the overall package.

The M1A1 that ADF will procure are essentially remanufactured vehicles. They have been returned to a zero miles zero hours condition. This will provide substantial cost benefits in comparison to purchasing new vehicles.

The M1A1 Abrams weighs less than 63,000 kilograms (<63 tons) when fully combat laden. This is only slightly heavier than the Leopard 2 and is lighter than the Challenger tanks that were considered. All three tank options that were considered are within 1000 kg of each other in combat configuration. In transport configuration the M1A1 will weigh around 59-60 tons.

Additional Heavy Equipment Transporters and trailers will be procured under Project Land 121. The crane that loaded tanks in Darwin would be capable of doing the same for M1. We have an ongoing discussion about strategic rail transport in Australia and the issue of appropriate rolling stock will continue to be discussed.

M1 Abrams Chosen as Australian Army’s Replacement Tank