Enter the Abrams

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By the time this is published the Army's first M1A1 Abrams Integrated Management (AIM) main battle tanks will have arrived in Australia; this is a key step in the Hardening and Networking of the Army process which began formally last year.
As this issue of ADM was going to print, 18 M1A1 Abrams Integrated Management (AIM) tanks and five Hercules M88A2 tracked Armoured Recovery Vehicles (ARV) had arrived at the Australian Army's School of Armour at Puckapunyal in Victoria, where two state-of-the-art vehicle crew simulation systems were installed last month.

The vehicles arrived at Melbourne aboard a Norwegian vessel which loaded them at Baltimore in the United States in July.

They were met at the dock by the first three of 14 new purpose-built heavy tank transporters comprising prime movers manufactured by MAN Military Vehicle Systems Australia Pty Ltd and "swing wing" trailers made by Drake Trailers Pty Ltd, an Australian-owned and operated Brisbane-based company.

Under the DMO's $550 million Project Land 907, which was approved by Cabinet in March 2004, the Australian Army will ultimately acquire 59 M1A1 tanks through the United States Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program to replace the German-designed and built Leopard AS1, which entered Australian service in 1976.

The Australian Army's only tank unit - the 1st Armoured Regiment based at Robertson Barracks, Darwin - will receive 41 of the vehicles, with the rest being issued to the School of Armour at Puckapunyal and the Army Logistic Training Centre (ALTC) at Bandiana in Victoria for training purposes or held in operational reserve.

Among the recently arrived vehicles were the first five re-built M1A1 (AIM) tanks to roll off the production line for the Australian project last year. These vehicles were initially sent to Fort Hood, Texas, to train Australian Army tank crews and defence and civilian personnel in their operation and maintenance.

In November, personnel in Australia will begin their training with the new vehicle at Puckapunyal and Bandiana and the first squadron of the 1st Armoured Regiment will trade in their 42-tonne Leopards for 63-tonne Abrams in mid-2007. The transition will be completed by 2008.

The fate of the Leopards, which were purchased at a unit cost of $600,000 each 30 years ago and ultimately never fired a shot in anger, is unclear. A few will naturally be destined for museums but their sale to foreign powers - which under the terms of the original sale contract must also be approved by the German government - is unlikely due to a glut of the more advanced Leopard IIs in Europe at bargain prices following the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.

Project Manager Land 907, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Libby said that the FMS system - the US government-to-government method for selling US defence equipment, services and training - offered Australia the advantages of "a world class tank in an environment of low budget, low schedule and low technical risk"

"Under FMS the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, a US Defense Department agency, buys the items required from US manufacturers," he said.

"The Pentagon frequently combines FMS orders with its own orders which results in economies of scale, which in turn offers technology that may otherwise not be available and often at a very effective cost."

Under Project Land 907 the Australian Army will also receive seven Hercules armoured recovery vehicles, 14 MAN tank transporters with Australian designed and built trailers, eight heavy re-fuelling trucks and a logistics support package including training systems based on new Lockheed Martin gunnery and driving simulation systems.

Lt Col Libby said while most of the project's equipment has been purchased via FMS, the essential heavy tank transporters, fuel trucks and other support facilities have been purchased from Australian companies.

The first three tank transporters, which received final modifications from the Brisbane-based MAN Automotive Imports Pty Ltd, which will manage the ongoing repair and maintenance support of the fleet, gained technical acceptance from the Australian Army in July - some 65 days ahead of schedule.

"Further opportunities still exist for Australian companies to become involved in the through life support of the platforms which will be housed in Darwin, Bandiana and Puckapunyal,' he said.

The Land 907 project is the second largest Australian Defence purchase through the FMS program. The largest was the purchase of F/A-18 aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force.

Weighing in at 63,005 kg, armed with a formidable M256 120mm smoothbore gun and powered by a 1500hp Honeywell gas turbine engine, the Abrams will be only the fourth type of tank to serve with the 1st Armoured Regiment in the 58 years since it was formed in 1948.

The M1A1 AIM will be a quantum leap in technology, mobility and firepower from the already antiquated World War II era 40-tonne Churchills which first equipped the Regiment and the 52-tonne Centurions which replaced them from the 1950s and went on to serve with distinction during the Vietnam conflict from 1968-1972.

The US-designed and built tank first entered service as the M1 in the 1980s with what was then the standard NATO 105mm gun but has been since been progressively upgunned, uparmoured and upgraded to extend its service life to beyond 2020.

In service with the US Army and Marines, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait, Abrams tanks first saw service in the first Gulf War in 1991 when they proved themselves to be clearly superior to a host of Soviet era Main Battle Tanks, including the T55, T62 and T72. The Abrams has since served the United States in Somalia in 1993-94 and in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002.

The Australian Army opted for the Abrams after comparison trials with the European Leopard 2 variants and the British Challenger tank.

Staff Officer Grade One Armoured Fighting Vehicles (Tank) (SO1 Tank) Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Hayward said although the hulls and turrets were sourced from used vehicles, Australia would essentially be receiving new tanks.

"The Abrams Integrated Management program is a complete rebuild of the M1A1 tank," he said.

"Australia selected the tanks that entered our production line from a batch of low kilometre, low use vehicles.

"These tanks spent the majority of their life in storage and have not been used on operations.

"Tanks entering the program have been completely disassembled at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama, where they were stripped down and inspected.

"The depot refurbished many of the tanks' assemblies. The assemblies and the tanks were then shipped to the Lima Army Tank Plant, in Ohio where they are reassembled to a zero kilometre-zero hours standard.

"Of the individual tank's 6256 major components on the tank, 5368 are replaced new. The remaining 888 are checked to the manufacturer's original specification or replaced new.

"The M1A1 AIM or Abrams Integrated Management Tank is a like new, zero kilometre, and zero hour tank which has embedded diagnostics and digitisation plus a range of armour, firepower, automotive and engine improvements," he said.

"With these improvements it will comprise the backbone of the Abrams fleet out to 2020."

Lt Col Hayward said one major difference between the Australian contract and other vehicles in service will be the complete absence of Depleted Uranium (DU) armour and ammunition components.

"The armour protection on the M1A1 AIM is outstanding," he said.

"Contrary to popular belief not all US tanks have depleted uranium (DU).

"The Australian tanks have not had depleted uranium fitted to them in the past. Instead, during rebuild they will be fitted with an advanced non-DU armour.

"A recent visit to the US by an Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation [DSTO] scientist confirmed that the armour we are purchasing provides advanced protection capabilities that is broadly comparable to other armour types, and that it meets our capability requirements.

"The tank will fire an advanced kinetic energy tungsten penetrator (Armour Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot Round - APFSDS) for use against vehicles. This round does not contain depleted uranium or explosive and relies on its velocity for terminal effect."

Lt Col Hayward said the minimal "Australianisation" of the Abrams AIM would include stowage mounts for the Australian F88 Steyr rifle in the crew compartment, chilled drinking water and a camouflage system, the addition of an infantry telephone at the rear of the tank, the integration of the infantry personal role radio and, as a nicety, a 20cm red kangaroo stencil on each side of the turret.

By Mick Toal, Sydney

Lockheed Martin delivers Abrams simulators

Lockheed Martin has delivered its Advanced Gunnery Training System (AGTS) and Tank Driver Trainer (TDT) to the Australian Army's School of Armour at Puckapunyal.

The training devices, which provide gunnery and driver training for the Army's new M1A1 Abrams tanks, are housed in newly constructed facilities at Hopkins Barracks, Puckapunyal and the 1st Armoured Regiment at Darwin. They were delivered ahead of schedule and within the project budget and were to be commissioned prior to the arrival of the first Abrams tank into Australia.

The Minister Assisting the Minister of Defence, the Hon Bruce Billson MP, opened the new Hopkins Barracks facility, saying the new systems represent the state of the art in armoured vehicle simulation systems: "These new systems will allow armoured crews and their instructors to be well prepared for the new vehicle. Both the driver and gunnery trainers will allow for an increase in the quality of training whilst at the same time lowering operating costs of the tank fleet and reducing environmental impacts."

The simulators potentially offer a two-thirds reduction in the ammunition and kilometres needed to qualify crews on the Abrams.

The driver training system is a full motion trainer that allows for a wide variety of terrain and weather conditions to be negotiated without leaving a class room environment. The gunnery training system will enable rigorous monitoring and analysis of the training and performance of tank gunners and crew commanders. Use of the gunnery simulator offers the potential for significant savings in ammunition expenditure. Full recording and scoring of the crew's performance occurs and there is zero ammunition cost if crews require further training.

The AGTS and TDT simulators and an integrated logistic support package were acquired as part of the Abrams purchase under a US Foreign Military Sales contract.

"The realism of the Advanced Gunnery Training Systems we are delivering to the Australian Army will give Abrams' crews the skills they need in a virtual environment before they begin live-fire training," explained Jim Craig, Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support vice president for Ground, Maritime and Civil Solutions. "AGTS facilitates repetitive training that would be cost-prohibitive in live-fire training and increases safety. At the same time, it significantly reduces the training risks that are involved in live-fire training."

AGTS is a state-of-the-art simulation device that trains individuals, crews and platoons in the skills of precision gunnery to a level of proficiency which permits rapid transition to live fire training or combat gunnery. Individuals and crews use the embedded, combat focused instructional system to develop the necessary skills to survive direct fire gunnery engagements on the battlefield. Visual databases for battlefield training areas delivered with the systems include all theatres of operation that may confront the Australian Defence Force.

"We are particularly pleased to be able to bring an Australian small to medium enterprise - Adelaide-based Sydac Pty Ltd. - to work with us on the key aspects of system support on this program. They have the requisite high level of skills in simulation products, as we have learned in previous work with them," said Paul Johnson, managing director of Lockheed Martin Australia.

Lockheed Martin's contract called for delivery of two relocatable AGTS, four fixed-site AGTS and one Tank Driver Trainer. Also included is a scenario generation system which will allow the Australians to develop training exercises unique to their combat doctrine.

MAN, Drake hand over first Abrams tank transporters

MAN Military Vehicle Systems Australia has handed over to the DMO the first three heavy tank transporters to the Australian Army under Project Land 907. The company was awarded the $16 million contract to build the tank transporters in May 2005, and delivered the first vehicles 65 days ahead of schedule.

Brigadier Grant Cavenagh, the DMO's Director General Land Manoeuvre Systems, took delivery of the vehicles at RAAF Base Amberley, Queensland, at the conclusion of conversion training for Army drivers. Technical acceptance of the vehicles occurred in late July 2006, some 65 days ahead of schedule.

The new transporters will allow the Army's new M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks and M88A2 Hercules armoured recovery vehicles to be transported on Australian roads. They were delivered in time to meet the first Abrams tanks for the Australian Army on arrival in Melbourne from the United States last month. The transporters will go into service immediately, delivering tanks and recovery vehicles to training establishments and operational units.

The prime contractor for the project is Canberra-based MAN Military Vehicle Systems Australia Pty Ltd. Its principal sub-contractors are Drake Trailers Pty Ltd in Brisbane, which is manufacturing 14 swing-wing trailers which will provide 68,000 kg lift for the tanks and armoured recovery vehicles. Brisbane-based MAN Automotive Imports Pty Ltd is responsible for the importation and Australian Design Rules compliance aspects of the MAN H76 TGA 41.530 8x8 prime movers, making final modifications, conducting compliance testing, and will manage the ongoing repair and maintenance support.
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