Australia doesn't need US M1 Abrams tanks


Australia doesn't need these US tanks

Jeff Kojac

There are a few things truly amiss with Australia's $500 million purchase of M1 Abrams tanks from the United States. Alarm bells should be ringing that it is not in Australia's best interests. The military's missions do not fit with the tank purchase and there are more imperative demands for investment in the armed forces.

The Australian armed services really have two missions.

No. 1: To defend Australia's borders and its exclusive economic zone at sea.

No. 2: participate in combat missions and post-conflict operations overseas.

For the first mission, defending the homeland and sea lanes, 67-ton tanks are not much use. Tanks are designed to defeat conventional armies. This is a mismatch for Australia's needs. A conventional army isn't going to invade. Rather the foreign entities Australia is threatened by are illegal migrants, drug traffickers and terrorists. Tanks do not protectagainst these ills. Nor do they do anything for fisheries protection ordeterring piracy at sea.

For the second mission, participating in operations overseas,tanks are not much use, either. When it comes to conducting combat missions, Australia should stick with what it has recently proved especially adept at: special operations. Australian special forces valiantly served the greater good inthe mountains of Afghanistan and the western desert of Iraq. That is a model for future action.

Yes, there is a need for Australia to have conventional land forces, its special forces are not enough. However, those conventional land forces should be organised and trained for stability and reconstruction missions. Operations in East Timor, Solomon Islands and Bougainville are the sort of reality for which the Australian military has to be prepared and equipped. There are far better uses for Australian defence money. Australia has a 37,000 kilometre coastline and a 7 million square kilometre exclusive economic zone at sea.

It does not need tanks to protect its interests. It needs more planes and boats. Australia has 15 coastal patrol boats and 19 maritime patrol aircraft. And they are ageing and worn. Paying for an expanded number of new coastal patrol boatsand additional long-range maritime surveillance aircraft means investing in Australian sovereignty and lives. With additional planes and boats, Australia will be more able to secure its borders and seas. With these assets, it will also be better prepared toconduct search and rescue missions. Australia's soldiers are heirs to a legacy of war-fighting excellence. They are also stewards of a heritage of selfless service to their nation. Such service merits training and equipment that is warranted by Australia's national security and global role. A battalion of 59 main battle tanks is a distraction and resource drain, rather than an enabler of security at homeand a capacity to contribute to operations around the globe.

The Minister for Defence ought to reconsider the purchase.

Jeff Kojac is a fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Previously he served on the US National Security Council staff and in the US.

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