Amphibious war games prepare Australia to fight rapid change and constant threats
How to float a 60 ton tank? This is a problem that the Australian Defense Force (ADF) has just solved after years of effort.
- Instability in the Indo-Pacific causes rapid escalation of maritime warfare training
- There are calls for more agile personal watercraft so that Australian troops can fight between islands and along rivers
- Automation and new long-range weapons present benefits and challenges for the Australian Defense Force
But the bigger question is: why would you want him to do it?
Getting Australia’s main battle tank, the M1A1 Abrams, from ship to shore has been one of the most difficult pieces of a much larger puzzle.
How can the Australian military prepare for war on and around the Pacific Islands and Asia?
If you think this sounds like something from WWII you would be right.
This is the last time Australia had the need and the capability to launch large-scale amphibious operations.
But 70 years ago tanks were much lighter, communications much simpler, and warfare was fought in the air, on land, and at sea, without the added complications of cyberwarfare, autonomous systems and even warfare. spatial.
But the Pacific and Asian islands are once again at the forefront of Australia’s national security interests.
Once again this week, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was “perhaps at the forefront and at the center of the geostrategic challenge in the Indo-Pacific”.
Which brings us back to the floating tank.
The ADF’s amphibious warfare exercises consist of quickly landing troops, weapons and supplies, without being annihilated by the enemy.
However, as combat vehicles get heavier – to better protect soldiers and carry better weapons – it becomes more and more difficult to move them to combat positions.
Efforts to install Army tanks on Navy landing craft in 2016 were scrapped due to security concerns.
While these latter efforts were successful, they took place in relatively calm seas and the tanks were transferred from large warships within sight of the shore – they did not have to travel far.
Investment in maritime strategy
Major General Jake Ellwood is the Commander of the Royal Australian Army’s 1st Division, which oversees the country’s amphibious military operations.
“If you are conducting an operation against a capable enemy, I would like to make sure I have a tank by my side,” he said.
“No matter where we are, we have to make sure we can put tanks there to support our people in our operations.”
However, he noted, rapid technological change would force constant adaptation.
“The minute you stop, you actually start to decline,” he said.
“We have to make sure that we have considered space, cyber, air, land and sea.
“The threats – and the opportunities – lie in several areas.
“There isn’t a single ability that is the one thing that fixes everything.”
Mix of new and old technologies
The prospect of fighting a capable enemy in this region led to the purchase of more and better landing craft.
It also means retraining an army that spent 20 years mired in conflict in landlocked Afghanistan and dusty Iraq.
This army would face a style of maritime warfare not seen since World War II, said Professor Peter Dean, director of the University of Western Australia’s Defense and Security Institute.
“Amphibious operations are among the most difficult operations the military can undertake,” said Professor Dean.
“We have to be able to project the force and we have to be able to move our forces around the region.”
Professor Dean said new technologies could both hamper and help Australia’s amphibious ambitions.
“The impact of artificial intelligence, robotics, automation [and] cyber warfare is really crucial, ”he said.
“Autonomous submarine systems are already well advanced and well under development.”
He said the development of precise, long-range weapons that can be fired from autonomous trucks on land could be a game-changer.
They would allow the military to control the ocean space that an adversary is trying to dominate – just as long-range bombers gave armies protection and control during World War II.
Automation is useful but won’t win wars
But there is no need for pilots in the cockpit, or even people on a boat, if everything can be done independently.
“There are a lot of developments that are starting to happen in future systems and capabilities where you could have either small fully automated landing craft or considerably larger amphibious ships that have a very small crew on board because most systems on them are automated, ”said Dean.
While automated transport could prove useful for logistics and troop resupply, he said, Australia is far from going to war without boots on the ground.
“The issue is around communications, the ability to control these unmanned systems and, of course, there are ethical issues as well,” Professor Dean said.
“Wherever we see the ability to advance technology in warfare, there is always a counterpoint – someone developing a defensive system or a way to undermine that system. “
What about small boats?
While the ADF must seek to acquire – and defend against – advanced weapons, the capabilities of past decades may also require reconsideration.
“At the moment we have a larger, high performing force delivered by Navy helicopter landing ships, but what we are largely missing is a large number of better and smaller craft than the military can use it once they are operational. area, ”Professor Dean said.
“In an environment like the islands in northern Australia, there is more water than land.
“[We need] machine which can go up rivers, machine which can operate near the shore to move a small number of forces.
Armored personnel carriers that can cross waterways have been phased out over the past decades, replaced by heavier versions that can carry more troops and supplies.
Earlier this year, the ADF announced plans to update its amphibious fleet with larger landing craft.
The $ 800 million program also includes the acquisition of lighter amphibious cargo vehicles that can travel both on land and on water.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘Has it taken too long to come and will it be enough? “,” Said Professor Dean.
“This is what makes the development of military capabilities so complex and so difficult – we really don’t know if we have the right balance until we actually have to clash and use those forces.”