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Transcript of press conference: Parliament House, Canberra: Wednesday, 10 March 2004: new tanks for Army.



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TRANSCRIPT SENATOR THE HON ROBERT HILL Minister for Defence Leader of the Government in the Senate

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PRESS CONFERENCE

Parliament House, Canberra

10:30am, Wednesday, 10 March 2004

E&oe_______________________________________________________new tanks for Army

Senator Robert Hill

Well thank you for coming. I propose to say a few words and then invite General Leahy, Chief of the Army, to add to my comments in terms of the capability of the tanks and if the questions are too technical for him, we have various levels of specialty with us as well.

I guess I should start by confirming that the Government has decided to purchase a new tank for the Australian Army. We’re purchasing 59 M1A1 AIM main battle tanks. The Government made the decision that it would seek a capable and credible - a tank that was a capable and credible element of ADF capability, available for deployment within the region and in coalitions further afield. That would provide increased protection for deployed personnel, improved fire control and sensor suites, comparable or superior capability to regional capabilities with a high level of interoperability. The result within the budget of about $550 million, as I said was 59 M1A1 tanks.

Support vehicles, auxiliary equipment, integrated logistic support including parts, tools, ammunition - including war stocks - training system, facilities and other infrastructure. The best method of purchase was through the United States foreign military sales program. It offers lower acquisition costs, comparable operational costs to some of the competitors, or at least one of the competitors, but a through life support and cost risk that was also lower. The tank was chosen because it provides, apart from that, the highest overall survivability, the greatest through life

support potential and excellent mid term network centric warfare potential.

So the Government has responded to what we think is the reasonable request of Army that we provide a capability that will help harden our Army particularly in terms of protecting troops on the ground, provide the increased survivability that’s necessary in relation to adversaries with modern light anti-armour weapons. Seemed to the Government that really protection of our forces when we send them overseas is the highest priority and to contemplate sending them into an environment where they don’t have adequate protection against what is now a proliferation of these light army anti-armour weapons would be irresponsible. So on that basis we believed given the existing Leopard tanks were becoming increasingly vulnerable to such weapons, apart from all of the issues of increased through life support costs of the Leopard, that it was time to update that capability. And after an exhaustive series of studies, we’re confident that we’ve made the right

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choice to provide that extra support to the Australian Army for at least the next few decades. General Leahy.

Lieutenant General Leahy

Ladies and gentlemen, we feel that the replacement of the current Leopard 1 tank means that the land forces will have the protection and the fire power to accomplish any likely missions without undue risk. As the Minister has explained we see the proliferation of readily available, quite lethal anti-armour weapons on the battlefield has made Leopard very vulnerable and frankly dangerous to operate on the likely environments that we may face into the future. And the acquisition of this tank, the Abrams M1A1 AIM (D) means that the land force will have a very robust and survivable tank offering great reliability, excellent through life support and outstanding network centric warfare potential. We believe that this tank offers an outstanding package. It’s the best value for the Commonwealth’s money, as it provides the best combination of tank capability, support, sustainment, extensive simulation and a comprehensive training package. This tank is proven in design, in current production, will be in production for a considerable period of time in the future and is proven in use. It will be in use well into the 2020s.

Army feels that we need to make sure that our soldiers when they are deployed have the equipment they need to do the job with minimum risk and the best chance of success. Even on peace keeping missions the proliferation of hand held anti-armour weapons means that it is a very lethal environment and we believe that

we’re going to put our people in harm’s way, we want to make sure that they have the best equipment. They deserve the expectation that they will succeed and survive. As many of you would understand, the bottom line of an Army is close combat using combined arms teams. And in a combined arms team of infantry, armour, artillery, engineers, now army aviation and all of the other combat support and combat service support elements, we use the strengths of one in a particular environment to protect the vulnerabilities of the other. And frankly at the moment our team is out of balance. The balance is going to be restored by the acquisition of the M1A1 AIM (D).

It’s a demanding and exciting time for Army. I’d like to think that we’d see the acquisition of this particular piece of equipment in the context of the many other decisions that have been made as part of the Defence Capability Plan and the recent Defence Capability Review. The M1 will work with the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter arriving later this year. It will work with the additional troop lift helicopters. With the replacement M113 armoured personnel carriers, our Australian light armoured vehicles Javelin and other direct fire weapons for the infantry and the Bushmaster vehicle.

As the Minister said this will all contribute to a much harder and network centric Army. To us harder means two things. Harder to hit. We have protection, communications, mobility and when we hit we’ll hit a whole lot harder. We have the fire power.

The Abrams tank provides the proven and fully integrated radio and battle space management system and that’s part of what we mean by network centric warfare. This will bring all of the elements of the ADF - the Army, the Navy and the Air Force - into one integrated whole, or what we talk about as a seamless joined force. The vehicle will have digital communications inbuilt which means we will be able to seamlessly integrate with the Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter, our Airborne Early Warning and Communications Aircraft and other network centric capabilities and particularly the combat identification that we’re going to require as a matter of urgency. The precision fire power and excellent sensor systems in this tank will

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enable us to reduce collateral damage and allow significantly greater discretion especially in the complex terrain and complex environment of the future battle field.

Before the Minister and I take any questions, I’d like to correct some misunderstandings. And some of these appeared in the print media this morning.

Fuel. This is a gas turbine which is highly efficient and reliable. The turbine will undergo a complete overhaul and we expect that that will increase the efficiency of the turbine by up to 40 per cent. In combination the vehicle has an auxiliary power unit. Previously the turbine had to run continuously to power up the systems in the tank. We’re now able to shut down the turbine and use the auxiliary unit to power up the systems in the tank. A further reduction in the fuel use. The tank is multi fuel capable. In US use it uses JP8 which is their battlefield fuel. In our use it will us JP4 or 5 or diesel. It’s a simple matter of tuning the engine to use the different fuel. We estimate the fuel cost will be only two per cent of the annual running cost of the vehicle. The annual running cost will be very similar to the current running cost of the Leopard tank we have. Why? Well we’re going to have fewer of them. We’ll run less track kilometres and we’re going to use the simulation that comes as part of the package to much greater effect and we will acquire fuel tankers as part of the acquisition process.

Some other areas where there’s some confusion. The weight. Mark, it can fly. Not on it’s own but we’re going to put it in either C5 Galaxy. It can fly it the C17 or in the Antonov which are commercially available around the world at the moment. Let me give you some of the weights and I’m talking in tonnes not in other versions of weight. Leopard 1, current tank 42.4. Centurion 52 as used in Vietnam up to 1970. 35 years ago in Vietnam - you can draw your own conclusions about other areas. Challenger, considered as part of this package, 62.5. Leopard 2 and there were a variety of Leopard 2s looked at, from 58 to 62. M1A1 AIM (D), and I’ll say that carefully. The AIM (D), not the SEP version or some other versions that clearly people have been getting off the internet. Combat weight 62 tonnes and 57 tonnes for transport. To give you some idea of scale a Northern Territory road train weighs about 100 tonnes.

Mobility. We'll purchase either as part of this project or another project and the money is budgeted for, vehicles and trailers to move it about. It can move on our amphibious ships now. Tobruk both over the ramp and by onboard crane. There is a current project and it’s been in existence for some time to improve the rear door on the LPAs but it is crane capable on LPA now. Rail is capable. And some of you may have seen some of the press last week when we moved elements of the first brigade from Darwin to training areas in the south by rail. There’s a 100 tonne mobile crane in Darwin. It could lift this thing. And we’ll of course consider the rolling stock. Ladies and gentlemen that concludes what I’ve got to say. If I hand over to the Minister we’d be happy to take your questions.

Journalist:

(Inaudible) How old are the hulls?

Senator Hill:

I don’t know how old the hulls are. They - the US has over 3,000 M1A1 tanks and it has a program to refurbish some of them up to this standard. And basically we’ll become part of that refurbishment program. So we get, in effect an as new vehicle, but with significant upgrades, some of which were mentioned by General Leahy, when it comes off the refurbishment line.

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Journalist:

(Inaudible) General Dynamics or is it from the US military?

Senator Hill:

Well it’s being purchased through the FMS scheme but it’s a General Dynamics vehicle.

Journalist:

Does that method of purchase indicate some sense of the strategic importance of this for the US as well as Australia and does that mean that we’ll effectively be getting a better deal then buying direct from the manufacturer?

Senator Hill:

Well the package is a better deal. A very good deal actually in terms of, as I said, the in service logistic support etc etc. So we could have purchased a piece meal. I think the cost would have ended up being greater but also being part of that US support system gives us greater confidence and therefore reduces our risk in through life support. So there are significant practical advantages in buying it this way. Whether it signifies - I think it’s fair to say that the - that we were able to negotiate with the US on such a good deal. I think it’s in part because of our very good relations with the US and the experiences of recent years where our forces have worked so well together.

Journalist:

Did the US administration encourage us to buy this tank rather then the others?

Senator Hill:

Not specifically no. The - I read somewhere where that was the case. We went out and looked at the three options that we’ve mentioned before and in terms of the total package this was the best one. This tank is lower in acquisition cost as I said. Its operating costs are not dissimilar to the Leopard but the through life costs and the risks are lower as well so it was the best deal.

Journalist:

(Inaudible).

Senator Hill:

Sorry?

Journalist:

The reason it’s a similar price is because the US have cut the price to match the Leopard?

Senator Hill:

No - well the US wouldn’t have known what - didn’t know from us anyway what the Leopard prices were. They probably know on the international market. But this is the package that we are able to negotiate with the US, that comes well within our budget and that we’re very pleased about.

Journalist:

Will it be modified in any way here in Australia or for Australian needs or is it totally off the shelf if I can put it that way?

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Lieutenant General Leahy

We see this as being totally military off the shelf. What we call MOTS. It’s a good package. It’s a very robust tank. I talked about the network centric warfare potential to it. We think what’s on offer both in terms of the tank itself, the simulation and the rest of the package is an excellent package and we won’t be playing with it.

Journalist:

(Inaudible).

Lieutenant General Leahy

Sorry?

Journalist:

One of the criticisms that’s been noted about the Abrams is that it’s too big, too heavy, whatever for use in the Pacific. If you had it now, or in recent years, would it have been used in places like East Timor and the Solomon Islands and if so how?

Lieutenant General Leahy

Well it could have been used but the tactical situation didn’t require it. Frankly we don’t ever want to use this thing but it’s there. It gives us an ability to match what threat might develop and it gives us an ability to make sure that our soldiers have the combat weight to ensure that they can achieve their mission without undue risk.

Journalist:

(Inaudible).

Lieutenant General Leahy

It could be used in any number of environments where the threat escalated to an extent where you would want to deal with that threat. And what we’re saying is that the threat that is now readily available, not just to the military forces of nations but to rogue elements, to terrorists and to other people. The rocket propelled grenades in the order of seven and increasing numbers. Some of the improvised explosive devices that can be acquired means that the current tank is very, very vulnerable. When we looked around for other tanks, and I’ve run through the weights, they’re - tanks of this sort of capability with this level of protection and survivability are all of the same order. Now some of you may have heard me say before we’re actually looking, and we’ve been looking for a long time and we’ll continue looking for a lighter tank with the same degree of fire power, survivability. Frankly there isn’t one about at the moment.

Journalist:

(Inaudible). What about the use of depleted uranium armour on these tanks and also their 120mm gun, I think for only tank purposes, does fire depleted uranium projectiles as well. Are we again seeing a shift in policy towards using both of those

items and are there any concerns about it?

Senator Hill:

No I’ve before that we made a decision not to get the depleted uranium armour. We don’t have a plan to use projectiles that are made with depleted uranium.

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Journalist:

Minister it would be a comparatively simple task to modify a petroleum refinery so that it would produce the JP8 fuel that the tank is meant to work on and which provides its optimum fuel capacity. Why don’t we do that and get one of our companies to modify one of our refineries?

Senator Hill:

Well that’s - I guess we haven’t thought about that. We would - the question we asked is could we use our existing fuels and the answer is yes. So that seems to be the sensible way to go forward.

Journalist:

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to produce that fuel here so that that way not only could we have the most capable fuel that will provide the best capacity for the tank, but also to enhance the ability if the Americans based some of their tanks here in say the Northern Territory?

Senator Hill:

Well we haven’t had any plan from the United States to base their tanks in Australia. Certainly interoperability issues are very important to us and that could be an aspect of the sort of question that you’re asking. But our current plan would be to use our existing fuels.

Journalist:

Did the opportunity to undertake training with the US military play a role in decisions to buy this tank?

Senator Robert Hill

It is one of the advantages of this choice. The training systems, the opportunity to use the state of the art US training system simulators and the like, some of which we will get but of course they will always have more and they will always be upgrading, we believe gives our Army the chance to train at a level beyond that which they’d had in the past.

Journalist:

On internal operability issues, 59 is a very odd number. It doesn’t meet current American or Australian establishments for a regiment plus a troop of training vehicles. How would we - why have we made 59?

Senator Hill:

Well it allows us to have two operational squadrons, one training squadron and tanks in Puckapunyal with the school of armour. Within our budget.

Journalist:

A proper regiment would have three operational squadrons.

Senator Hill:

I don’t know about proper regiments. Do you want to talk about proper regiments?

Lieutenant General Leahy

Well I think what I can talk about is that the requirement of Army out of the White Paper is to be able to provide a brigade deployed on operations off shore, sustained and rotated. And there’s other requirements. But we see the organisation of two squadrons, plus a training squadron, those in Puckapunyal for formal training of

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people coming through and support element require us to achieve that rotation capability that government demands of us. That’s the reason for the organisation.

Journalist:

Minister can you tell us a bit more about the support package? In particular, are we going to have the bridge laying ability to carry these tanks if they’re deployed in the region and so on and so forth?

Senator Hill:

Well we’ve got a new bridging program at the moment but you can always go further. So within this - the new bridging we’re getting I understand can accommodate these weights but as I said you can always get more elaborate, more expensive and more capable bridges but we’re not currently planning to do that.

Journalist:

Minister, are you still pushing ahead with the $36 million equipment upgrade on the Leopard tanks?

Senator Hill:

No it’s been curtailed and we’re negotiating with some of the suppliers at the moment.

Journalist:

About 100 million night sight systems as a result of that. I assume we’re going to have to pay a reasonable amount of that $36 million even if we curtail it.

Senator Hill:

Well the last information I had was that a reasonable compromise is going to be reached in that regard.

Journalist:

(Inaudible).

Senator Hill:

Sorry?

Journalist:

(Inaudible).

Senator Hill:

2007.

Lieutenant General Leahy:

In service date 2007.

Senator Hill:

In service date 2007.

Journalist:

If we go to 120mm guns, is ADI going to have start a new line to produce ammunition?

Senator Hill:

Do you know that?

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Lieutenant General Leahy:

Greg, do you know the answer to that one?

Colonel Greg Ackhurst:

Sir, currently ADI has no intention to produce 120. It is also more financial to purchase (inaudible).

Lieutenant General Leahy

ADI are producing artillery ammunition for us under contract. The 120 and there’ll be two types of ammunition available for this one, will be an anti-tank weapon with a tungsten penetrator in it and the other will be a multipurpose for infantry support. We would anticipate, and they are part of the packages as the Minister mentioned, but we would require them through US sources. ADI would keep their current contract running.

Journalist:

(Inaudible) flying tanks. In the fleet of aircraft that the ADF currently has, I mean are they able to be easily transported by air at this point or would we need to be calling in bigger aircraft from elsewhere?

Senator Hill:

If we transport them by air we’d need bigger aircraft from elsewhere as we do now. In recent conflicts it’s worked well both through support from the United States that has the heavy transport aircraft and also the capability that we’ve leased in from principally from former Eastern European countries.

Journalist:

Do you still dismiss the prospect of acquiring our own heavy transport aircraft?

Senator Hill:

Well we don’t dismiss it. We would like it but you’ve got to act within what we can afford and at the moment we can’t. If you think of C17s apart from the United States, Britain which leased four of them is the only other country in the world that’s been able to afford them.

Journalist:

Most of the tanks will be based in Darwin (inaudible).

Senator Robert Hill

Yes the operational squadrons will be in Darwin as they are now. As I’ve said there will also be some tanks with the school of armour in Puckapunyal as there is now.

Journalist:

In terms of numbers, I mean at the moment we currently have enough Leopards still to equip a regiment. Now we’re effectively moving down one stage to only equip an operational squadron and a reserve squadron. So are we moving downwards in

terms of capability?

Senator Hill:

Less tanks but much greater capability and of course not all of our existing Leopards are operational. Reliability of these will be better which I think will be a significant factor for the future and as I said the cost of trying to maintain the old Leopards is also becoming prohibited.

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Journalist:

General Leahy do you think you’ll be able to come good on your offer to take some colleagues on a ride in one of these by July 2005 when you say you’re moving on?

Lieutenant General Leahy:

I don’t think we’ll have them by 2005 but I’ll make a booking for you Mark and we’ll take you for a fly in one.

Journalist:

What will you do with the old ones?

Lieutenant General Leahy:

That will be up to DMO to seek disposal which is part of the process we go through and we’d be looking for people who might wish to buy them on the open market.

Journalist:

(Inaudible).

Lieutenant General Leahy:

I think DMO would have to determine that but there are still a couple of countries out there who run them and we’d be looking for some disposal action through DMO.

Journalist:

(Inaudible) crew comfort factor. What are these tanks like inside? I know that’s not why you choose the tanks but ...

Senator Hill:

Oh, it’s an important factor.

Lieutenant General Leahy:

Particularly in the north of Australia it is an important factor. The Leopard up there at the moment, normal operating temperatures can get in the order of 50 degrees. This one’s bigger. There is more room and you’ll see from some of the clippings and from the footage the driver is basically in a reclined position. It has an NBC system on it which I think delivers purified and cooled air. Now I’m going to turn to Colonel Ackhurst who can tell us a bit more about the climate control in it. Greg?

Colonel Ackhurst

Sir, as part of the offer under the FMS also includes modern climate cooling vessels which can be powered off the APU, the auxiliary power unit. The vehicle will be fitted with some form of mobile camouflage system which reduces solar loading and reduces internal temperatures by a minimum five degrees. We’re also finding that

some of the work that we did with the Leopard crew climate control system for cool drinking water for the crews which will be one of the very minor modifications made the vehicle in operations in Northern Australia.

Journalist:

How many crew?

Lieutenant General Leahy

There’s four in each of the tanks.

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Journalist:

Sir isn’t there an argument to hand the Leopards over the Army Reserve because they’re up there anyway and they don’t actually have a tank at the moment. Wouldn’t it be advantageous to keep these ready for use by them?

Lieutenant General Leahy

Part of the reason to replace the tank is that it’s becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. We’re experiencing problems in the cracking in the hull. There is currently an Army Reserve tank squadron. We don’t see that there would be a requirement for that into the future. We have other plans for the reserves and I would be happy to talk to you about that, very constructive plans for the reserves, perhaps at some other time.

Senator Hill:

Okay? Thank you.

ENDS