Australia has locked in its purchase of more than 120 tanks and other armoured vehicles from the United States, at a cost of $3.5 billion, as part of a major upgrade of the army’s fleet.
The commitment to buy 75 M1A2 main battle tanks indicates the government is committed to an advanced fleet of armoured vehicles despite the focus in recent years being on other major acquisitions such as submarines, jet fighters and long-range missiles amid the rise of China.
Australia will purchase 75 new M1A2 abrams tanks.Credit:US Army
Defence Minister Peter Dutton will confirm the upgrade on Monday after the US government approved the potential purchase last year.
The tanks will replace the army’s 59 abrams M1A1s, which were bought in 2007 but have not seen combat.
Australia will also commit to 29 assault breacher vehicles, which are used to clear mines and explosives, as well as 17 joint assault bridge vehicles and an additional six armoured recovery vehicles.
“Teamed with the infantry fighting vehicle, combat engineering vehicles, and self-propelled howitzers, the new abrams will give our soldiers the best possibility of success and protection from harm,” Mr Dutton said.
“The M1A2 abrams will incorporate the latest developments in Australian sovereign defence capabilities, including command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems, and benefit from the intended manufacture of tank ammunition in Australia.
“The introduction of the new M1A2 vehicles will take advantage of the existing support infrastructure, with significant investment in Australian industry continuing in the areas of sustainment, simulation and training.”
The purchase has ignited debate in defence circles about the utility of tanks, with some national security experts arguing that heavy armoured vehicles would not be needed in a maritime and air conflict with a major power such as China.
Australia has not deployed a tank in combat since the Vietnam War.
Over the coming years, Australia will spend somewhere between $30 billion and $42 billion on armoured vehicles. This will include a fleet of infantry fighting vehicles which will likely be announced later this year at a cost of between $18 billion and $27 billion.
The tanks will replace Australia’s fleet of M1A1 abrams.
Marcus Hellyer, a senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said the Australian government had decided that it wants to maintain the ability to engage in “close combat” in urban environments as part of counter-insurgency operations.
“Tanks are always one of those controversial things – you either love tanks or you hate them,” he said.
“The issue is not so much ‘should we be getting tanks’? The issue is we are spending $30-$42 billion overall on armoured vehicles. Is that the right balance of investment across the ADF?”
Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, said tanks and combat engineering vehicles were essential to Australia’s ability to contribute to combat that could be integrated with forces of other countries.
“Because of their versatility, tanks can be used in a wide range of scenarios, environments and levels of conflict,” he said.
The tanks come with an upgraded armour package which is said to provide superior protection against improvised explosive devices.
The first vehicles will be delivered to Australia in 2024 and are expected to enter service in 2025.
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