Tactical and Technical

LAND 400 Phase 3: A Case for Review

By Bruce Cameron December 18, 2018


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.

Background

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.

Brigade Organisation

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’).

Conclusions 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.

 


Portrait

Biography

Bruce Cameron

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.

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.



Comments

Dear Dave,
It is civilian vessels that I was referring re the Vietnam and Falklands examples.
If it is being done as one would expect, one of the responsibilities of those charged with managing the ADF's contingency plans … is to keep up to date, a data base with specifications of all vessels on the Australian maritime register.
Your concerns may well be justified, however. I saw in this weekend's Australian there was an article questioning Australia's liquid fuel reserves. It was suggested that this is a strategic weakness which an enemy would be quick to exploit.
It seems to me that a national security strategy results from an assessment which is determined by the priorities allocated to a mix of quantitative evaluations and subjective judgements. I would've thought that the availability of maritime assets and liquid fuel reserves would be matters which could be determined quantitatively; the applicable lead times and necessary duration, however, are subjective judgements based on available intelligence.
All these matters are obviously classified; the methodology itself, however, should be in the public arena.
It's only when this is the case, that public confidence can be assured.

Response to comment by 'Dave' (by the author):

Hi Dave,
In response to your question, “How does the ADF plan to get these large, heavy and expensive combat vehicles to the theatre of operations?”, I offer the following in response …
Dr Joyo Sanyal from the Australian Army’s Research Centre (AARC) states in a recent article on the Land Power Forum that Australia has NO national security strategy.This means that there are no agreed national security objectives (the determinants of security strategy). These are not hard to identify … things such as the lead time for identification of an imminent enemy threat; lead times and stockpiling policy to ensure self-reliance if Lines of Communication were cut; size of ready reaction force based on threat assessment; response time for deployment of ready reaction force; lead time for deployment of sustainment force; nature and size of agencies for deployment of ready reaction force (air/sea etc).

So, the Australian Army is equipped with large and heavy (expense has nothing to do with transportability) AFVs to provide direct fire support to infantry. The characteristics of these vehicles are those deemed essential in terms of defeating the enemy seen to pose the most likely threat to our Nation.
You ask a very valid question. Do we have appropriate contingency plans to ensure our national security. Dr Sanval would suggest not. I disagree. Until recently there was a troop of Abrams tanks on stand by for deployment to Afghanistan. I happened to be visiting 1st Armoured Regiment when the Brigade Commander ordered a readiness inspection. I was impressed, not only with the professionalism shown by the tank crews, but also by the proficiency demonstrated during the drills to load the tanks aboard Globemaster aircraft at Darwin airport. I think we’re in good hands in terms of deployment contingencies.

Australia has no ability to conduct strategic movement of a Bde sized IFV/AFV/MBT fleet. It simply doesn't have the assets or experience required for such a movement.

Loading a M1A1 or two onto a C-17 does not equal strategic mobility of a fleet of vehicles. It might have ticked a box for readiness; however, does not equate to a viable option to the government in a near peer conflict.

How many of these vehicles can we load onto a LHD? The answer is very few...

I believe the Government is in the process of procuring a Defence of Australia fleet of vehicles. Too big, heavy and expensive to leave Australia. Definitions of 'Koalas'

Question. How does the ADF plan to get these large, heavy and expensive combat vehicles to the theatre of operations?

Hi Guys, I see that 'Dave' has posted the following comment:

"Australia has no ability to conduct strategic movement of a Bde sized IFV/AFV/MBT fleet. It simply doesn't have the assets or experience required for such a movement.
Loading a M1A1 or two onto a C-17 does not equal strategic mobility of a fleet of vehicles. It might have ticked a box for readiness; however, does not equate to a viable option to the government in a near peer conflict.
How many of these vehicles can we load onto a LHD? The answer is very few...
I believe the Government is in the process of procuring a Defence of Australia fleet of vehicles. Too big, heavy and expensive to leave Australia. Definitions of 'Koalas'".

My response is as follows:

Dear Dave.
I think there is a need to step back a little and consider the sorts of things that strategic planning involves. Contingency planning staff are working at this very moment to update existing plans and develop new ones … in accord with the changing strategic environment. These plans are sometimes tested in exercises (though participants are unlikely to be aware that this is what’s happening).
For example, Plan Ambrose was Australia’s contingency plan for a contribution to be made to a South East Asian Treaty Organisation (SEATO) response force.in the early 1960s. Exercises Nutcracker and Icebreaker were designed to test the plan (though this was not publicly stated). At one stage, the tank squadron on the Ambrose ORBAT was on seven days’ notice to move; weapons were issued accordingly. Plan Hammerhead was developed soon after. This involved a possible deployment to South Vietnam.
In terms of strategic mobility … not just ADF assets are involved. For example, follow up Centurion tanks were deployed to Vietnam using a freighter which had been requisitioned by the RAN. (There will often be an initial lodgement force and a sustainment force.) Similarly, British troops deploying to the Falklands, did so using a number of commercial vessels.
The point you raise is a very valid one. The question, however, should be: Has the Contingency Plan for an ADF response force correctly factored in the shipping tonnages, loading crane capacities and deck loadings associated association with the ADF’s AFVs?

What vessels could Australia requisition in 2019? Let alone taking into consideration of the tonnage, crane and deck considerations!

Australia would have to rely on Coalition or civilian vessels to provide a credible combat sized force of the L400 fleet. Australia cannot do it with our own assets in 2019.

A thought provoking read Mr Cameron.
Firstly I agree with your argument about ''penny-packeting'' armour and a lack of an additional Tank Squadron at Brigade level. Battle Grouping might not achieve the same amount of concentration that it is intended to do. It would be prudent for the Brigade to use the full tank squadron at their Main Effort or as a reserve and as you have identified the Infantry BG would miss out... or would it? having the greater firepower provided by the IFV that is organic to the organisation would mitigate some of the perceived risk.
Additionally, I know the APC squadron that operated as part of Australian Task Force in Phouc Tuy was a success story. However, I can speak from experience that when we were using Standard Infantry Battalion/ACR structure in 2014 there was some unpleasantness with the force structure. Loading was difficult as an infantryman – as you would pack everything expected for full dismounted movement as you were unsure when you would lose APC support. Sure “Fight Light” is a dominating concept amongst RAINF and all commanders attempt to follow this. But when the platform is organic to the organisation you simply don’t have that problem. Whilst the RAAC crews were good and had excellent work ethic, sometimes, in my opinion, it’s better to have an infantryman in the turrent and on the radio as you prepare for a stopdrop. Lots of successful countries manage to employ infantry as the vehicle crew – UK Armoured Infantry, US Mechanised Infantry and Bundswehr Panzer Grenadiers as you mentioned (albeit PGs are seen as different from infantry and armour).
Now the argument could continue on whether RAINF follows a path of developing a specialist Armoured Infantry capability where gunnery and specialisation of personnel occur (seeing qualified soldiers/officers remain in the mech line of employment) or a more generalised approach is followed where soldiers and officers could be employed in either type of battalion. That debate is currently ongoing within RAINF.
Also my final point - IFV = INFANTRY Fighting Vehicle. The evolution of this type of vehicle was to support dismounted forces with greater firepower and protection. When looking at a 6-person section/squad by itself it would seem limited. BUT the 6-person section/squad and an IFV is a complete organism. They fight hand in hand. Also vehicles are never employed alone, therefore you can guarantee that an additional section is likely able to support that 6-person section. Some terrain would limit freedom of manoeuvre (specifically close country and urban terrain) But there are good examples of this threat being challenged. One that comes to mind is during the second Battle of Fallujah in 2004 where a US Army mech Task Force (TF 2-2) became instrumental in the predominately US Marine light infantry based clearance through the city.
My opinion is that IFVs will be employed within the battalions and that’s the right decision to make. It will mean hard training, lots of lessons learnt, and also help from our RAAC colleagues, but in the end will make us a more potent force.

Hi Greg,
The value of these matters being robustly discussed, is (I believe) to be seen in the recent production od the draft Concept of Employment (CONEMP) for a Reinforced Combat Brigade (RCB). I gather this is something which might underpin some Contingency Plans.
Our concerns about the present brigade structure’s lack of flexibility in forming balance battlegroups, might be addressed by the ORBAT proposed for the reinforced brigade. The reinforced brigade deployed on Ex Talisman Sabre in 2017 included an additional 2300 personnel. This would suggest that a heavily augmented HQ would’ve been required.
I doubt that the RCB envisages would be anywhere as large, however, one would expect that significant improvement would be made to the limited battlegroup C&C options presently available.

My concern is if the infantry keep hold of the IFV after its initial entry into service and not let its ownership revert to the RAAC.

Given the likely contenders for the platform, the infantry will soon have the same or very similar capability to the incoming CRV. Will this inevitably lead to the CRV having to justify its use on the battlefield? With the infantry likely being able to conduct the same reconnaissance tasks and then move into an assault once tank support has moved up, will there be a need in the future for dedicated armoured cavalry?

It is hopeful to think that the RAAC will take ownership of the platform, given its complexity, the wealth of manoeuvre knowledge already within the corps and the previously established and successful career model of RAAC; however, we must consider the possibility that the infantry may want to take on more and more of the fight, given their vehicles capability to be more than just a battlefield taxi.

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