As part of a massive overhaul of the army’s fleet, Australia has committed to buying more than 120 tanks and other armoured vehicles from the United States for $3.5 billion.
Despite the government’s recent concentration on other big acquisitions such as submarines, jet fighters, and long-range missiles in the face of China’s rise, the pledge to buy 75 M1A2 main battle tanks demonstrates the government’s commitment to an advanced fleet of armoured vehicles.
After the US government cleared the potential purchase last year, Defence Minister Peter Dutton will confirm the upgrading on Monday.
The tanks will replace the army’s 59 Abrams M1A1 tanks, which were purchased in 2007 but have yet to be deployed.
Australia will also supply 29 assault breacher vehicles for clearing mines and explosives, as well as 17 joint assault bridge vehicles and six armoured recovery vehicles.
“The new Abrams, when combined with the infantry fighting vehicle, combat engineering vehicles, and self-propelled howitzers, will provide our forces with the highest chance of success and protection from harm,” Mr Dutton added.
“The M1A2 Abrams will combine the most recent improvements in Australian sovereign defence capabilities, including as command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence systems, as well as benefit from the planned production of tank ammunition in Australia.”
“With considerable investment in Australian industry continuing in the areas of sustainment, simulation, and training, the deployment of the new M1A2 vehicles will take advantage of the existing support infrastructure.”
The purchase has sparked controversy in the defence community about the utility of tanks, with some national security experts claiming that heavy armoured vehicles would be unnecessary in a marine and air confrontation with a large power like China.
Since the Vietnam War, Australia has not used a tank in battle.
Australia will spend between $30 billion and $42 billion on armoured vehicles over the next few years. This will include a fleet of infantry fighting vehicles, which are expected to cost between $18 billion and $27 billion when unveiled later this year.
The Australian government has decided to keep the ability to engage in “close combat” in urban locations as part of counter-insurgency operations, according to Marcus Hellyer, a senior analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
“Tanks are usually one of those divisive topics; you either love them or you despise them,” he explained.
“The question isn’t so much’should we obtain tanks?’ but rather ‘what kind of tanks should we get?’ The problem is that we spend $30-$42 billion on armoured vehicles in total. Is that the correct investment mix for the ADF as a whole?”
Lieutenant General Rick Burr, Australia’s Chief of Army, said tanks and combat engineering vehicles were critical to the country’s ability to contribute to war that could be integrated with forces from other nations.
“Tanks can be utilised in a wide range of circumstances, environments, and levels of conflict because of their adaptability,” he stated.
The tanks are equipped with improved armour that is believed to provide superior protection against improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
The first vehicles are planned to arrive in Australia in 2024 and go into operation in 2025.