Levon Lambert has written a response to this article, check it out at this link: Land 400 Phase 3: A Case for Reviewing that other Case.
The recent Release for Tender for LAND 400 Phase 3 (Infantry Fighting Vehicle) means industry has until 1 March 2019 to respond with respect to the provision of 400 IFVs, including seventeen Manoeuvre Support Vehicles (MSVs). The forecast cost is $10-15 billion.
To date, there has been a great deal more questioning about this project than there was for LAND 400 Phase 2, which provided the Army with a new Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV). A contract for the supply of 211 CRVs was signed last year, with a budgetary provision of $5.2b.
Some of this questioning relates to the number of IFVs to be procured to equip an infantry battalion in each of the three multi-purpose brigades. Surprisingly, 450 IFVs, plus 17 MSVs, were initially called for. This would have been sufficient for four battalions, plus training and repair pools (although no mention has been made publicly as yet of a reduction in project cost.)
Other queries in the Defence press have related to the need for the IFV at all, together with concern about its capability being over-specified. However, the arguments, on balance, have come out in support of both the vehicle and its level of protection (hence weight), armament, etc.
Those suggesting that the opportunity cost was not justified, had hoped that the RFT might have been delayed until after a Force Structure Review. This is not to be, but that does not mean that the operational concept for the IFV should not be debated robustly.
Basis of Provisioning
Three battalions equipped with IFVs means three battalions dedicated to the mechanised infantry role. This is necessary because a vehicle such as an IFV (two-man turret, 30mm cannon, anti-tank guided weapon, 1000hp engine, 35-40 tonne weight) requires a highly trained crew. If this is to occur, career progression must be integral to the mechanised battalion.
Dedicated mechanised units exist in armies such as those of the US, Britain and Germany. These, however, are very different to the ADF … both in terms of manpower and numbers of armoured vehicles, allowing them to maintain units dedicated to a specific operational role. Is Australia in a position to do the same, or is the flexibility to ‘mix and match’, i.e. tailor force composition to specific operational needs, more important?
The IFV is to replace the M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) with a vehicle to provide a capability to accompany tanks onto the objective. When LAND 400 was initiated, APCs were operated by the Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC); subsequently they were transferred to the Infantry. Was this the right decision?
If RAAC crews operated the IFVs, training costs would be slashed. No longer would IFV qualification involve an isolated skill set. Commonality in the operation of AFVs would enable conversion courses to be conducted for commanders, gunners and drivers.
Has Plan Beersheba worked out as expected? How does the resulting brigade ORBAT lend itself to our likely operational contingencies? Armour and infantry in 3 Brigade provides an example: 2 Cav Regt (one tank squadron; two cavalry squadrons); 1 RAR (mounted in PMV Bushmasters) and 3 RAR (mounted in APCs).
It should be possible to form three battlegroups within the brigade. The tank squadron might well be ‘penny packeted’ across these three battlegroups. A more hard-hitting battlegroup would be one in which the tanks were concentrated, ie: 2 Cavalry Regiment HQ: tank squadron, two 3RAR companies (mechanised), plus cavalry troop etc.
No matter how desirable this would be, it leaves the 3RAR battlegroup with no tank support. There is little point in spending $15b to equip an infantry battalion in each brigade with IFVs designed to accompany tanks onto the objective, if there are no tanks available to form the battlegroup. The obvious compromise would be to allocate a half tank squadron to each of the 2 Cavalry Regiment and 3 RAR battlegroups.
It would appear that there are either too few tanks, or too many IFVs to form a balanced force. Ideally, with a mechanised battalion in each brigade, there would be two tank squadrons in the ACR. If a single tank squadron was to be retained in each brigade, ‘balance’ would see the mechanised infantry capability reduced to two companies. This would not be ideal, however, as 3RAR would become a ‘mixed’ battalion with only half the battalion mechanised. The ‘conundrum’ would be solved if the RAAC were to operate the IFVs.
The Number of Dismounts
IFV characteristics are justified on the basis of enabling them to accompany tanks onto an enemy objective. Having done so, the critical issue then becomes the co-ordination between mounted and dismounted elements. Fire support from the IFV is particularly important with only six dismounts per vehicle. In 2016 the number of dismounts was eight … why the reduction?
A 2013 RAND study examined the size of the mechanised infantry squad in the US Army:
“Ultimately, as the Bradley design evolved, the resulting IFV carried only six dismountable soldiers in the passenger space and three non-dismounting crew members. The decision to make this change, however, was based more on budgetary and political considerations than on tactical considerations or historical precedence.
“ …the result was that fire and maneuver by dismounted infantry squads became much more difficult to execute in mechanized infantry units. Importantly, the Army quickly recognized that the Bradley was not ideal as a dismounted infantry support vehicle.”
“While the support provided to dismounted infantry by a heavily armed fighting vehicle does provide some justification for weakening the dismounted squad’s independent fire and maneuver capability … this comes at the cost of reducing the dismounted infantry’s inherent flexibility, particularly in complex terrain. In such situations … such as fighting in urban areas, the vehicle may not be able to provide effective fire support to maneuvering dismounted soldiers, so the problems associated with squads that are too small become more evident.
Command and Control on the Objective
Current operational thinking sees the IFV, the dismounts and the vehicle crew working hand in glove when assaulting the objective. This scenario requires two commanders at platoon level, one on the ground and one mounted (in charge of the four IFVs). Who has overall command? Will it be one or the other, or will it depend on the circumstances? Are the IFVs there to support the dismounts or vice versa?
The degree of difficulty is increased by the lack of vision available to the dismounts inside the IFV. Exiting ‘blind’ places them at considerable disadvantage Given that the IFV commander can see the battlefield and has considerable firepower at his disposal, it would seem logical for the infantry to operate in support of the IFV, ie. protect the vehicle from enemy anti-armour weapons (the traditional role of ‘panzer grenadiers’).
In conclusion, I offer the following observations:
- If RAAC crews were to operate the IFVs, three infantry battalions would not have to be designated for the mechanised role only; allowing a focus on infantry skills and normal career progression. ADF flexibility would be enhanced accordingly and training costs slashed.
- The present brigade organisation does not facilitate ‘balanced’ battlegroup organisation. There are ways to address this.
- Limiting IFV dismounts to six is known to create difficulties for fire and manoeuvre on the ground.
- Finally, the decision time for LAND 400 Phase 3, not only involves the best contender, but also the best way in which to incorporate the IFV into the Army’s force structure and operational planning. This is a matter which must be debated rigorously.
About the Author: Bruce Cameron served in the Australian Regular Army for 19 years. After commanding the last troop of tanks in action in Vietnam, his career saw him attend the UK’s Long Armour Infantry Course and Royal Military College of Science, as well as the Australian Command and Staff College. His last appointment involved responsibility for developing the Army’s future ground mobility requirements. He left the Army in 1987 to take up a position with the Office of Defence Production.