‘We’re looking for a bigger, heavier vehicle to provide extra protection.’ That was Major General Paul McLachlan head of DMO’s Land Systems Division speaking for the benefit of the general public at the release of the Request for Tender for LAND 400 Phase 2 at Puckapunyal on 19 February. Some defence analysts see comments such as his as having already defined the characteristics of the vehicles to be acquired under LAND 400. Solomon Birch, for example, considers that ‘The systems proposed for acquisition under LAND 400 are too large and heavy, and they come with significant opportunity cost‘. ‘’
Opportunity cost? Solomon considers that the vehicles will be ‘too heavy to be supported by the infrastructure where we’re most likely to send them, as well as over burdening our strategic deployment platforms and logistics forces‘. In his ’eyes, the extra weight comes as a result of protection levels fuelled by a ‘casualty and risk phobia in Canberra‘.
It’s good to see military officers at all levels entering the debate on defence matters. As Jim Molan pointed out on the Lowy Interpreter recently, there is a dimension to defence guidance beyond an ability to evaluate logically and rationally. In the case of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs), background in their design and use provides a unique insight.
In this context, descriptive words such as ‘large’ and ‘heavy’ do not further debate. The internal volume of an AFV comes from, amongst other things, the requirements for the number of crew/passengers, plus the quantity of ammunition to be carried.
There is no weight figure specified for the LAND 400 vehicles in the Operational Requirements. There are some criteria, that is, they do not have to be able to ‘swim’, but must be compatible with strategic lift aircraft. Solomon could focus his argument by specifying the limitations that would be created regarding logistic support capacity if the LAND 400 AFVs reached a weight of x tonnes, or y tonnes.
In fact, the weight of an AFV is determined primarily by its internal volume, its protection level and the mobility required. There is little to be added to any consideration by alleging that an AFV is too large or too heavy, without linking this to the operational requirements. It is these which merit debate.
Protection is not just about armour, mobility is just as important (and for those AFVs designed to close with the enemy, their capacity to generate shock action is crucial). At some stage, however, the employment of all AFVs, by definition, will involve close engagement with the enemy. In this context, ‘protection’ should not be thought of only in terms of preventing crew casualties; its main function is to ensure an AFV’s survivability so as to enable it to defeat the enemy. Whether or not an AFV can survive to do this, will very often determine the success or otherwise of the action at hand.
Any thought of LAND 400 vehicles being overly protected as a consequence of Canberra’s supposed phobia with OH&S is misplaced. AFV survivability is the factor which will win battles and save lives. The Operational Requirements for LAND 400 vehicles are set out on DMO’s website. I recommend that those who seek to debate the characteristics of the vehicles to be acquired, reference these. It could be that changes should be made, and, as always, the more informed the debate, the better.