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The case for funding IFVs is still strong

By Malcolm Davis

A highly sensitive debate has occurred in recent months over decisions about the Australian Army’s future purchase of infantry fighting vehicles under LAND 400 Phase 3, as well as the upgrade of its M1A2 main battle tanks under LAND 907 Phase 2.

The case for LAND 400 Phase 3 is that without modern IFVS – either the Hanhwa Redback or the Rheinmetall Lynx – army will be unable to undertake combined arms operations, and worse, will be highly exposed to enemy fire on the battlefield.

It’s a strong case to make, given that the lives of Australian soldiers are on the line. Sending them into battle without the means to deliver effective firepower or an ability to exploit rapid manoeuvre isn’t a credible policy choice.

There are two legitimate challenges to LAND 400 Phase 3, the solution to which justifes a more ambitious approach to defence capability in general, rather than cancellation of the project in its entirety.

First, the increasing risk of a major power war between China and the US over Taiwan in coming years is occurring in a maritime environment that isn’t well suited to heavy IFVs engaging in a traditional armoured battle.

Within this environment, army has an important forward, expeditionary role to play, based around enhancing Australia’s ability to deny freedom of movement for Chinese forces throughout the Indo-Pacific, including through land-based maritime strike.

The question that must be asked is “how can Australia ensure that IFVs such as the Lynx or the Redback – not to mention the M1A2 Abrams MBT – will have the strategic mobility to deploy where they are needed most in a timely manner”?

The answer to this challenge is through greater investment in fast strategic sealift that is better protected by more capable and survivable air and naval forces that can continue to operate, even in the face of ever more sophisticated and capable adversary anti-access and area denial capabilities.

There needs to be a prioritisation to neutralise Chinese A2AD capabilities quickly attacking their “sensor to shooter” links, to reduce the efficacy of their ability to sustain long-range anti-surface warfare operations. That in turn enhances the survivability of ships and aircraft transporting the IFVs and MBTs as part of any expeditionary deployment.

Ensuring strategic mobility for armoured forces thus demands more capable and potent air, naval, space and cyber capabilities, including more capable long-range strike weapons and platforms.

Second, once heavy armoured forces are forward deployed to support combined arms operations as part of a joint and integrated force, they must be survivable in the face of sophisticated enemy defences. This demands that the LAND 400 Phase 3 IFVs should be seen as part of a system of systems – not just as an individual platform.

The experience of the employment of armoured forces in Ukraine reinforces the potential deadly effect of long-range fires including HIMARS, small manoeuvre teams of light forces equipped with anti-armour weapons such as Javelin, and a much greater use of autonomous systems – drones – that, together with light, highly mobile, infantry, can act as the “sensor” component of our sensor to shooter “kill chain”.

The operational lessons of Ukraine do not suggest that heavy armour – be it IFVs or MBTs – are no longer tactically relevant

The operational lessons of Ukraine do not suggest that heavy armour – be it IFVs or MBTs – are no longer tactically relevant. Russian losses of armour in Ukraine can be better explained by poor use of combined arms tactics, and lack of logistic support for highly exposed forces. They lacked effective active protection systems against a range of Western anti-armour technologies including loitering munitions. So, the tank is far from dead.

Australian armoured forces should have sufficient expeditionary capability and survivability to form highly mobile reconnaissance-strike complexes.

These must incorporate sophisticated use of swarming UAVs for battlefield intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and they should exploit long-range fires from systems such as HIMARS and ultimately the much longer-range precision strike missile (PrSM), as well as employment of loitering munitions and tactical airpower.

.By seeing IFVs as one component of a system of systems, which can in turn contribute to ADF forward operations to deny Chinese freedom of manoeuvre through long-range precision fires, the justification for investment into LAND 400 Phase 3 becomes a bit clearer

Originally published by: The Australian on 27 Oct 2022