• An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank from the 1st Armoured Regiment live-fires its main armament. (Defence)
    An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank from the 1st Armoured Regiment live-fires its main armament. (Defence)

Army is still going to receive new main battle tanks (MBTs) potentially costing billions of dollars notwithstanding the number of Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) it had anticipated receiving being slashed from 450 to 129 in the Defence Strategic Review (DSR). 

This was confirmed on 28 April by Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy, standing beside Defence Minister Richard Marles at Sydney’s Garden Island Navy Base, where both were briefing journalists on the reshaping of defence innovation. 

ADM: “What’s happening regarding the Abrams main battle tanks ordered by the previous government in January 2022?”

Conroy: “The acquisition of that project is continuing. That is part of the Army's force structure into the future. The DSR made no recommendations around the tanks other than – that part of the force structure of the Army is set.

ADM: “They will be acquired?”

Conroy: “They will be acquired.”

The sale was originally approved by the US State Department in April 2021.

No further comment was available on schedule, order composition, or the Abrams’ intended role following the restructuring of Army foreshadowed in the DSR.

The $3.5 billion procurement of new MBTs under Project Land 907 Phase 2 and Combat Engineering vehicles under Project Land 8160 Phase 1 was confirmed in January last year by then-Defence Minister Peter Dutton.

This entailed Army receiving up to 75 M1A1 SEPv3 Abrams tanks (replacing its current fleet of 59 earlier M1A1 AIM models); 29 M1150 Assault Breacher vehicles and 17 M1074 Joint Assault Bridge vehicles (which will provide new capabilities for the ADF); and six M88A2 Hercules Armoured Recovery vehicles joining the 13 already in service. 

Dutton said at the time that the vehicles were expected to arrive in Australia from 2024 and achieve initial operational capability by 2025.

The 73.6-ton M1A2 SEPv3 (Systems Enhancement Package version 3) Abrams entered service with the US Army in 2020. Improvements over the M1A1 AIM include enhanced mission systems and programmable rounds for the 120mm main gun, additional ballistic protection, a low-profile remotely-controlled weapons station, a new auxiliary power unit, a new vehicle health management system, and an improved forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor.

Whether the Australian Abrams will be fitted with the Trophy active protection system is not known. 

However, Dutton said last year that the new tanks would incorporate the latest developments in Australian sovereign defence capabilities, including command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) systems, and would benefit from the intended manufacture of tank ammunition in Australia. 

The Abrams would provide ‘critical protection and firepower’ for the ADF in land operations, he commented. 

Then-Chief of Army Rick Burr said at the same time that tanks and combat engineering vehicles were essential to Australia’s ability to contribute to a credible land combat capability integrated with joint and coalition forces. Because of their versatility, tanks could be used in a wide range of scenarios, environments, and levels of conflict in the region.

“There are no other current or emerging technologies – or combination of technologies – that can yet deliver the capability provided by a main battle tank,” he stated. 

Innovation prototypes displayed at the Ministers’ waterfront briefing and currently under Defence evaluation, some with 2 Commando Regiment, included Perth-based Innovaero’s Owl loitering munition, and two BIA5 Warfighter unmanned ground vehicles, one mounting a .50 calibre machine gun and a Javelin anti-tank guided missile on an EOS R400 remote weapon station (RWS) and the other deploying a M134 7.62 mm Gatling gun mounted on an EOS ultra-light R150 RWS. 

Also on display were a large quadrotor drone from Canberra-based Geodrone intended for standoff radio frequency evaluation, and a small Kookaburra quadrotor with a high power-to-weight ratio intended for use with other systems in swarming experimentation.

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