Future Operating Environment

Fighting to Win

By Chris Mills & Leo Purdy May 13, 2019

Fighting to Win: the importance of the tank to the Australian Defence Force in the 21st Century informs the reader of the role, utility and enduring need for the tank as part of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). It does so by answering four questions:

  • What is a tank and why is it unique?
  • Why is it important to Army and the Joint Land Force?
  • What is the relevance of the tank to Australia's strategic context?
  • How does the ADF maintain a credible, deployable and sustainable tank capability?



Chris Mills & Leo Purdy

Chris Mills is the Director General Modernisation within Army Headquarters. In this role he coordinates the modernisation of the Army which includes the next generation of Armoured Fighting Vehicles.
Leo Purdy is the Staff Officer Grade One Armoured and supervises the management and development of Australia's M1 Abrams tank capability and future armoured engineering systems.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.


The importance of this discussion paper is in the value of reiterating the Army position on the importance of Armour to the combined arms team. In the philosophical and committee battle that led to Army's successful prosecution of the case for Land 907 Phase 1 there was a huge amount of experimentation, operations analysis and advocacy that went into building the irrefutable case for a new tank capability. For those interested in this debate the famous/infamous David Kilcullen paper of 2004 that left Future Land Warfare is worth revisiting ( ada.asn.au/commentary/issues-index/tank-myths.pdf ) as is the 2006 AUSTHINK work funded by the Force Development Group ( http://vangeldermonk.com/uploads/1/6/5/2/16525252/tanks_complete_final.pdf ) which captures much of the Army effort of the time in an easy to explore format. I would also recommend for those still in Army a review of all the 2002-2003 experimentation and operations analysis activity that occurred as being worthwhile in that the ones and zeros of combined arms operations in the prosecution of littoral manouevre in complex terrain was thoroughly explored at great expense to the taxpayer. If anyone can also find the Army History Unit Analysis of every Vietnam Contact Report commissioned by DSTO and FDG you will find that all the information needed to support any argument for the employment of armour, artillery and engineers in the close fight is born out by very detailed experience and analysis. If I have a quibble with the above paper it is in the simplicity that it deals with the impact of other arms and services in the business of killing the enemy, especially the role of Artillery. If there were two lessons that came out in spades from Army's decade of analysis it is; Firstly, that it is in the power of force balance and optimisation that the exponential value of combined arms is fully realised. Over emphasis on any one component on the team in the force structure or in the budget wars weakens the Army capability, and Secondly, that littoral manouevre of combined arms teams optimised to fight in the complex terrain of the archipelago is a demanding activity that requires very hard choices in force structure and capability acquisition. There is a challenging balancing act in getting the right force to the fight between combat weight and deployability that can not be ignored. As found in 1942 with Gull, Lark and Sparrow Forces running into light combined arms teams with light infantry is bad or conversely being unable to deploy a heavier combined arms force where you need to and when you need to because its been optimised for other environments is just as ineffective. As Army moves back toward an analytical and inquiry based approach to force structure and capability development I think it would find great value, and certainly savings in time and effort, if it went back to review the operations analysis and experimentation work done between 1996 with A21 through to 2006 with the Hardened Networked Army. The body of work and findings from A21 through the Restructuring the Army Trials, the Enhanced Combat Force analysis to HNA was massive and the lessons learnt will save a lot of needless reinventing the wheel when it comes to future experimentation and OA activity. Works of note are The Future Battlefield (Chief of Army Conference notes 1997 published by Deakin Uni Press), the RTA Trial Report (published in 2000), the WINNOW Papers (published by FDG in 2001) and the DSTO 'Mission Area Analysis: Army's amphibious systems requirements to conduct Entry for Air and Sea' published in 2003. Each of these will lead you to further underpinning studies and analysis. There is treasure trove sitting on the old ACMS.

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