Defence Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed the acquisition of 75 M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams main battle tanks (MBT) and 52 Abrams-based armoured engineering and support vehicles for the Australian Army under Projects LAND 907 Phase 2 and LAND 8160 Phase 1.
Originally flagged to cost $2.17bn, the now A$3.5bn order comes after the April 2021 approval of the potential sale by the US State Department. The new vehicles will be remanufactured from stored former US Army M1A1 Abrams hulls, 160 of which have been acquired for the Australian requirement.
The M1A2 SEPv3s (Systems Enhancement Package) will replace the Australian Army’s current fleet of 59 M1A1 AIM2 Abrams’ MBTs in service. The M1A2 SEPv3 entered service with the US Army in 2020. Improvements over the M1A1 include the addition of the KONGSBERG Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station Low Profile (CROWS-LP), an auxiliary power unit (APU) with increased power generation, advanced sensor and communications displays, a new vehicle health management system (VHMS), added ballistic protection and advanced armour, and an improved forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensor.
“Teamed with the infantry fighting vehicle, combat engineering vehicles, and self-propelled howitzers, the new Abrams will give our soldiers the best possibility of success and protection from harm,” Minister Dutton said in a January 10 release. “The M1A2 Abrams will incorporate the latest developments in Australian sovereign defence capabilities, including command, control, communications, computers and intelligence systems, and benefit from the intended manufacture of tank ammunition in Australia.”
Apart from the new MBTs, the armoured vehicle package also includes six more M88A2 Hercules recovery vehicles, 29 M1150 Assault Breacher vehicles, and 17 M1074 joint assault bridge systems (JABS) which are being acquired through the Project LAND 8160 Phase 1 Combat Engineering Vehicles requirement. All of these vehicles are based on the M1A1 chassis and running gear, but have the gun turret replaced with different equipment.
The Australian Army already operates a small number of M88A2s, and these crane-equipped heavy recovery vehicles are key to being able to recover damaged or broken down armoured vehicles under fire, and for supporting field maintenance.
Designed originally for the US Marine Corps, the M1150 is a dedicated mine and explosives-clearing vehicle, and is equipped with a mine plow and the Linear Demolition Charge System (LDCS) – a rocket-powered system which deploys a line of C4 charges ahead of the vehicle for clearing a path through a minefield.
The M1074 JABS was designed by Leonardo and entered service with the US Army in 2019. The vehicle can carry, deploy, and recover a MLC95 folding bridge capable or fording gaps of more than 11 metres and supporting the weight of a fully-loaded MBT.
Despite there being no mention of it in the Minister’s January 10 release, the April 2021 notification by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said the approval also included 122 AGT1500 gas turbine engines which power all four vehicle types. It is unclear if these are in addition to those that will come with the vehicles.
The new vehicles are expected to be delivered from 2024.