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Tank Tracks

Finschhafen, New Guinea, November 1943
Waltzing Matilda, Army style. A Matilda tank of the 1st Tank Battalion arrives to join in the attack on Sattelberg, with help from the Americans of the US 2nd Engineer Special Brigade.

The editorial of the Canberra Times today thunders that reputations of the Minister for Defence, Senator Robert Hill, the Chief of Defence Force, General Peter Cosgrove, and the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Peter Leahy, will turn on this week's decision to purchase 59 American made M1A1 tanks, at a cost of USD $400M.

Unfortunately, the article goes downhill from there, to the point of questioning their competence. This military historian questions the editor's. The points in brief:

Tanks are unmaneuverable except in the desert.
Tanks were our most important and effective fighting arm in New Guinea in WWII and later in Vietnam, neither of which is exactly desert. (Actually, in Vietnam, the helicopter/SAS team came first, followed by armour; then artillery – infantry came last, taking more casualties and inflicting less.) The biggest lesson of Vietnam was the value of armour.

The Army lacks platforms to transport tanks over long distances and there is not a wharf in South East Asia where they could be landed.
The Army doesn't have the ships because they are operated by the Navy, the landing ships Tobruk, Kanimbla and Manoora. Tanks can be landed from them over most beaches.

Light armoured vehicles are just as good against missiles and shells.
Honestly now, which one would you rather take your chances with?

The road  infrastructure in the Middle East and South East Asia aren't capable of carrying them.
We better tell the Americans in Iraq about this.

Australian soldiers of other arms can assist the US Army in other ways, such as the Special Air Service.
We just went through this one; the embarrassment of not being able to contribute armour or artillery to the coalition, followed by sending the SAS, although it was required at home.

"It is a fundamental mistake... to speak loosely in terms of sending an "infantry attalion" overseas: it must be a combined arms team, complete with two types of armour, up to three types of artillery if necessary, combat engineers and its own slice of aviation support."
Lieutenant General John Coates
Chief of Army 1990-1992


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
11th Mar, 2004 14:23 (UTC)
I seem to recall the ritish experience in the Falklands.
Only the 'Scorpion' light tank was fielded by UK forces, but in the boggy terrain, these vehicles ( with less ground pressure in PPSI than a man on foot) proved their worth against Argentine positions over and over again.
the only regret the British high command had was that there were not more of them.
it must also be said that, given the means to grub up hedgerows, the American armour aquitted itself admirably in the bocage country of Normandy after D-Day.
I would hopr that the Australian military would take a look at these examples.
12th Mar, 2004 01:45 (UTC)
Abrams package provides a substantial and necessary capability
Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Peter Leahy replies:
The Canberra Times editorial... expresses the view that it is doubtful that M1A1 Abrams tanks will contribute in any useful way to the defence of Australia.

The writer has the benefit of not being responsible for the lives of the soldiers who might be committed on operations for the defence of Australia, Those of us in Defence who are responsible for providing our soldiers with the equipment they need to survive and succeed on the battlefield take this task very seriously. If my reputation stands on the survival of my soldiers I will stick with the tank every time.

All of our historical analysis, current observations and future projections indicate that a proper combination of firepower, mobility, communications and protection is the way to win the land battle with minimum risk to our own troops. In the extreme, tanks provide the protection and hitting power to ensure success. Put simply, tanks have and will continue to save lives. I, for one, will continue to argue for capabilities that protect and support our soldiers.

The modern battlefield, whether it be on Australian territory, in the region, or further afield has become more complex and lethal. We have seen on all recent battlefields, including peacekeeping and humanitarian operations such as Bosnia and Somalia, a proliferation of hand-held, portable, highly effective anti-armour weapons. These weapons are readily available and could appear with little warning in any of our likely operational areas. They are a threat to all armoured vehicles. This includes the aging and lightly armoured Leopard tank.

The editorial asserts "the army lacks platforms able to transport the tanks anywhere within Southeast Asia where they could not easily be landed" but the writer is badly wrong on both counts. Our studies show that there are numerous ports capable of offloading tanks in our immediate region. The Abrams tank can be carried and delivered by the Navy's three amphibious ships. It can be offloaded by their onboard cranes or by utilising available rollo-on roll-off facilities.

The decision to acquire the M1A1 Abrams tank was carefully considered. It is an exceptionally good deal offering a very comprehensive package providing a substantial and necessary capabilty. The tanks offer survivability, firepower and low technical and project risk. They are deployable within Australia and throughout the region. The acquisition of the Abrams tank is a sensible and measured decision designed to ensure that our soldiers have the protection and hitting power to achieve success without undue risk.

Canberra Times 12 March 2004
12th Mar, 2004 02:28 (UTC)
Tank buy ties us in too closely to the US
Canberra Times:

Instead of the Abrams we might, for example, have bought a similar number of Leopard 2s (a natural replacement for our current Leopard 1) for just [USD $220M]. That's nearly half the price, for a weapon that is different but just as capable. So obviously some other factor is at work here. The key is "interoperability" – or being able to work with the Americans. And what better way to reinforce that intimate linkage than by using the same equipment. The trouble is that while linkage is desirable, nobody wants to be locked in.

Even quite pro-American analysts are wondering about the gradual erasing of our independence and the potential for Australian forces to look like mercenaries.

Many European firms can no longer see any point in retaining a presence in Australia. France's Dassault once provided our Mirage aircraft – the decision to fly the (US) Joint Strike Fighter off the plan has resulted in a Gallic shrug and their departure. Sweden is furious about the way its superior submarine technology has been ridiculed while the government works with Electric Boat (US). And now we have slapped the Germans in the face by paying much more for a (US) tank that is much older than the Leopard 2.

Canberra Times 12 March 2004
13th Mar, 2004 01:01 (UTC)
Had to add this one
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )