Twent years ago I did my Infantry Company Commanders course and as a part of Corps familiarization travelled to Puckapunyal, then the home of the Armoured Regiment, to talk to our ‘turret head’ brothers. We aspiring infantry commanders were put in the drivers seat of the Leopard Battle Tank and got to play ‘Boys and their Toys’ at the ultimate level. Under command of qualified crew commanders we drove the tank and on a quite Friday night in Brisbane, if you listen carefully, you can still here me extolling the wonders of this ultimate weapon.
Driving down a steep slope with the Crew Commander saying ‘bore it up ‘er, sir’, I hit 80 kph and then acted on the order, ‘hard right stick’. My limited high school physics brought up visions of impending doom as I thought – 50 plus tons, 80 kph, hard right turn on downward sloping hill has to equal disaster. Not so. The Leopard obeyed and the magnificent suspension coped beyond physics. Similarly I drove it over a 6 foot creek gap at speed and actually had the 50 ton green ‘tonka toy’ airborne for a second ot two.
The smart reader will have already noticed the point of this post. It was twenty bloody years ago! To put that in perspective a twenty year gap in battle tank development can be best explained by comparing World War One battle Tanks with World War Two models. Get my drift?
When I commanded a company in the Operational Deployment Force in Townsville in the early eighties my troops were carring machine guns that were older than they were. They were riding in APCs that had been rebuilt from 60s stock and restricted parts and flying hours for helicopters was setting the stage for the later Blackhawke disaster. From then till now things have not improved that much. Don’t be mislead by videos of well equiped Aussie soldiers on patrol in East Timor or in Iraq. You are only seeing the cheap end of military hardware. The expensive stuff, the new tanks, carriers and artillery have been put in the ‘too hard’ basket for too long.
The debate that we should have had two or three times in the past is just surfacing now. This article from todays Australian sets the pace and, in fact backs up my post earlier in the week. It’s a pity the Generals and I didn’t think the same when I was serving.
Lieutenant-General Leahy said the army was undergoing a “military transformation” that could require it to operate independently in protecting Australia and its regional interests, and in coalitions further afield.
“The new army that will develop over the next few years will be a land force that is mobile, agile and versatile,” Lieutenant-General Leahy told a conference in Canberra. “It will be a land force that is able to … operate independently, jointly or in coalitions, across a complex spectrum of conflict. The complexity of the army’s missions in areas as diverse as East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq and the Solomons, shadowed as they are by the ongoing war on terror – indicates the challenging character of the new international security environment.
“We are in transition away from being a light infantry force towards becoming a light armoured force.”
Defence forces suggest there is a split within the ADF over the purchase of new tanks. The army is thought to be pushing for the purchase of 100 new Leopard tanks at a cost of about $300 million to replace Australia’s ageing fleet.
But defence force chief General Peter Cosgrove is believed to favour the much heavier US Abrams-style tanks, which would fit more easily Australia’s role in supporting the US. A final decision will have to be taken by cabinet as part of its review of the future of Australia’s 10-year $25 billion defence forward purchasing plan. Spending on the previous 2001-2010 plan is estimated to already have blown out by at least $2 billion.
I’m with Cosgrove here. If we are going to fight with the Yanks then lets have some commonality of equipment. It makes all the diiference in matters logistic and matters logistic make all the difference.