Like many capability debates, LAND 400 runs the risk of becoming a multipolar web of false dichotomies and choices. The systems proposed for acquisition under LAND 400 are too large and heavy, and they come with significant opportunity cost. On the other hand, anti-armour weapons are becoming more prevalent and more capable, while casualty and risk phobia in Canberra seems unlikely to abate. In other words, Hugh White and Michael Clifford are both right, which doesn’t solve the problems either raised, but does help frame the problem.
At its heart, this is a discussion about risk transfer. Lighter vehicles place risk on crewmen and decisionmakers in the court of public opinion. Heavier vehicles place risk on the entire defence force being unable to achieve appropriate, timely deployment and then conduct operations at a feasible tempo. Neither of these risks can be responsibly carried forward, and debate can’t be allowed to hinge on the assumption that one must be.
If we accept that doubling the combat weight of our Army’s armoured vehicle fleet is necessary to make them deployable for anything more that constabulary work, and we accept that this will make them 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, what should we do?
The answer is that LAND 400 needs to be supported by significant boosts to combat engineering mobility enablers, strategic deployment enablers and logistic throughput. In other words, we need to be able to field the force elements required to move and support the heavier vehicles.
Combat engineering mobility has been allowed to wither in proportion to the forces it needs to support, which is no secret in Army circles. This trend must first be arrested and corrected before the total capability to make LAND 400 a truly flexible operational tool can be put in place. This means far more bridging and breaching capability than the Army had when it fielded the Leopard tank, the ASLAV and M113 armoured personnel carrier, which means that correcting the capability gaps left by Abrams isn’t itself adequate.
Likewise Army logistics isn’t likely to be able to meaningfully support the Army as it sits now, let alone the heavier Army LAND 400 proposes. The hollowing and withering of Army logistics needs to be arrested and corrected, then built to meet the needs of the LAND 400 Army. Fundamentally, this means fleshing out from 17 Combat Service Support Brigade all the way forward to the integral logistics of the Combat Brigades, rather than moving personnel and equipment from one part of the logistic system to another in an endlessly repeating cycle of Soviet-style five year plans to ‘fix’ logistics.
Finally, while the ADF’s strategic mobility has improved immensely in the past decade, LAND 400 will require more of it. Expecting the LHDs to provide robust response options on their own is optimistic at best given the increased demands LAND 400 will place on strategic transport, both during and after initial deployment. Redundancy and flexibility needs to be built into the system with further expansion to strategic airlift to provide the government of the day with meaningful options to a variety of problems.
Failure to address any one of these four areas (combat vehicle capability, operational mobility, strategic mobility and logistic sustainability) will result in an Army that will fail to provide meaningful options to the government.