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Op-Ed: LAND 400 the key to future Australian maritime strategy

Historical precedents in evidence of profound change and disruptive effects astound analysts when providing governments’ insights on future planning, the LAND 400 suite of programs to recapitalise and modernise the Australian Army’s armoured units and reshape the way Australia approaches the tactical and strategic realities of a maritime strategy explains Greg Chalik.

Historical precedents in evidence of profound change and disruptive effects astound analysts when providing governments’ insights on future planning, the LAND 400 suite of programs to recapitalise and modernise the Australian Army’s armoured units and reshape the way Australia approaches the tactical and strategic realities of a maritime strategy explains Greg Chalik.

The 1984 US Army's new combat vehicles and the AirLand Battle doctrine were overtaken by 1985 Reagan–Gorbachev summits, 1991 Desert Storm, and 1993's USSR dissolution.

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Armies argue near-certainty about potential future foe is impossible. But, there are two army types: the global majority continentals (Rome, Germanies, USSR, China), and the minority maritimes (Spain, Britain, Japan, US). For the latter, uncertainty was always bounded by the littoral seas.

Australia is uniquely a continental maritime nation, peripheral to the Indo-Pacific archipelagic region, facing a unique security future, her US ally two weeks operational reach in cruising time.

What consumes Australian military planners' thoughts is not a 'fog of peace' because threat in a bounded littoral region is highly predictable. The question is how to avoid a strategic surprise, and how to engage and win a future conflict in the context of the great power contest.

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Since the 2000 Defence White Paper, a bipartisan political support exists for ADF's self-reliance in the Asia-Pacific, but to what end, and with which capabilities?

Australia as a sporting nation understands that in winning a game a team needs running the ball forward, and scoring goals. Conceptually, warfare is similar. Tactical force must be operationally projected to reach objectives that define strategic success. Rugby is a microcosmic model for jointness, agility and speed. For the maritime nations' armies, the challenge is in the 'field' of war complexity, water.

Projection of force is offensive, “the best form of defence”. No state had ever secured sovereignty by defence alone. The Parliament's Defence Act 1903 recognised lessons of British history in s34(1) (a)(ii), authorising the Defence Force to protect Commonwealth interests if “there would be, or it is likely there would be, a threat in the Australian offshore area to Commonwealth interests (whether those interests are in that area or elsewhere)”.

The act's authors recognised changes which in 1901 saw a multi-national intervention in China, the trigger for great power emergence. Lest we forget, in 1937, Japan, defeating Russia at a strategic strait, invaded littoral China. In 1942, Singapore surrendered to a strategic littoral campaign.

In '96-'98, the Australian Army leadership was resisting the Army in the 21st Century and Restructuring the Army, seeking new and more capability resources, meeting DoA and other expeditionary, contingencies and changing the Defence of Australia Strategy cultural affinity.

In 1999, the ADF's 5,500 East Timor deployment highlighted the need for transformation. This should not have surprised Australians who had always gone to war by ship because “the seat of purpose is on the land”.

Pre-empting a likely threat “elsewhere” is “better than the cure” of attritional war the ADF cannot fight using tried and tested NATO mounted combined arms reinvented by Monash.

Operating across the full spectrum of threats and environments of the AOF operating context, necessitates amphibious and expeditionary operations capabilities. Such a force must be capable in projecting for sustained operations against an adaptive enemy in complex littoral terrain, which currently the Army is not, contrary to its own 2011 LAND 400 CONOPS document.

Not being ready when threats are inflicted as strategic surprises, repeated US experience, is what the ADF must avoid as a statutory obligation, by being ready to operate offensively in the littorals.

This can only be achieved by securing a capability advantage that offsets Army's small size and offers a war-winning edge by exploiting new advanced combat methods and technologies.

In the 21st century, with post-colonial and Cold War eras' mechanisms gone, and the USA's capability to assist Australia strategically in question, ADF's maritime self-reliance capability is needed more urgently than ever.

The Army must recognise that despite the Pacific War, no nation mastered maritime projection of force. The US' hastily created 1941 capabilities were attritional, sustainable by a great power in the making, and not practised in war since 1954. There is no mounted combined arms combat in the littoral doctrine. There is no lesson in manoeuvre for the 'featherweight' ADF.

The failure by the USMC in designing the key STOM doctrine enabler platform, the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, illustrates lack of robust littoral warfare doctrinal development that led to unfeasible systems engineering.

The Army should not be deterred by the USMC failure from seeking to achieve the capability for strategic projection of force by adopting a unique domestic design platform tailored for regional operational reach, and one that fits statutory obligations to provide more pre-emptive options to the government. Australia cannot afford to be surprised.

Re-evaluating the operating challenges enables a Littoral Combat Vehicle System solution, which is affordable, manufacturable by a mostly Australian consortium within seven years, appropriate to ADF's unique requirements, elegantly simple in design, highly efficient in deployment and more effective in littoral tactics than any existing platform, if the USMC error of putting systems engineering 'cart' before a developed doctrine 'horse', is not repeated.

A doctrine-led approach to force design satisfies the Army's initiative to enable accelerated warfare, not only digital, but also in littoral tactics, leading professionally in the Australia–US military relationship, and contributing to a greater ANZUS strategic aim.

The key to transformation success is the LAND 400 project that can, with senior military leadership's “buy-in” for an alternative AFV design approach, replace the M113AS4 variants, ASLAVs, the M1 ABRAMS and towed artillery by innovating BOXER chassis to the needs of all corps in littoral warfare, offering substantial value for money to the government.

Importantly this approach to the government's maritime strategy offers a clear, shared and credible vision across the ADF that will deliver early successes with minimal resources investment.

The 1990s missed opportunity can be negated by a more capable Australian Army in the 21st Century if professional challenges of change are faced courageously.

To face the future challenges the Army must transform to a more agile and faster self, but this need not be the painful USMC process. There is no need to “reinvent the wheel”, but there is always room for a better agility at higher speed to reach sought destinations.

The $5.2 billion LAND 400 Phase 2 program will have Rheinmetall deliver 211 8x8 Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles (CRV) to the Australian Army.

Under the company's offering to the Commonwealth, Rheinmetall will build a majority of the vehicles at the company's specialised Military Vehicle Centre of Excellence (MILVEHCOE) in Queensland.

The first 25 vehicles will be built in Germany as part of the technology transfer process, with the remaining vehicles to be built in Australia. Boxer will replace the ageing ASLAVs that have served with the Australian Army in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Army will accept 133 reconnaissance variants of the Boxer, which will be equipped with Rheinmetall’s cutting-edge Lance 30mm automatic cannon turret system, among a number of other variants.

The Boxer CRV will support Australian industry, sourcing specialised armoured steel from Australian steel companies BlueScope Steel and Bisalloy, with engineering support provided by Melbourne-based Supacat Asia-Pacific. 

LAND 400 Phase 3 is a $10-15 billion Army program which will recapitalise Army’s Vietnam-era M113 armoured personnel carrier (APC) force, with a combination of a tracked infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and tracked APC.

The government announced the downselection of two contenders from a field of four, each offering two distinct capabilities:

  • Rheinmetal Lynx KF-41: The Lynx KF41 will include the capability to support a crew of 12 (three crew, up to nine troops), have a max road speed of 70km/h, a road range of more than 500 kilometres, with an armament consisting of the Lance 2.0 30-35mm autocannon, a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun and a variety of additional close-in weapons systems.   
  • Hanwha Defense Systems AS21 Redback: The AS21 will include the capability to integrate active protection systems into an evolved turret system, the Redback will, like its BAE competitor, be capable of hosting a crew of 11 (three crew, eight troops), a top road speed of 70km/h, cross country speed of 40km/h, an operational range of 500 kilometres, with an armament consisting of a 40mm autocannon and a single 7.62mm coaxial machine gun.  

Stage One of the tender evaluation process has been completed. On 16 September 2019, the government announced that Hanwha Defense Australia and Rheinmetall Defence Australia had been assessed as offering vehicles that are best able to meet Defence's requirements and to deliver a value for money solution, and have been invited to proceed to the next stage of the evaluation.

The next stage of the evaluation process is an RMA that will be conducted over a two-year period. It is designed to allow Defence to work with the shortlisted tenderers to clarify, refine and negotiate their offers and to undertake detailed testing and evaluation of the tendered vehicles.

After starting his career in the IT industry operations and logistics, Greg Chalik completed a B.A. at University of Sydney's Department of Government (international relations and economic history). After stints in the healthcare and finance industries, Chalik set out to pursue life-long interest in military history, technology and doctrinal experimentation (wargaming).

In 2005, Chalik embarked on an ambitious research project, seeking transforming warfare concepts in the littoral that affordably defeat anti-access measures. Since then, he achieved considerable innovation in strategic, operational reach, and tactical doctrinal designs coupled with armoured vehicle design and use in the context of the Australian POE.

Chalik argues that the Australian Army is the key element in an effective implementation of the Australian future maritime strategy.

Op-Ed: LAND 400 the key to future Australian maritime strategy
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