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Australia bets on heavy Armour for its Land forces, M1A2 SEPV3 Abrams to replace M1A1 SA Tanks

Australian Army operates the M1A1 SA Abrams tank
Australian Army operates the M1A1 SA Abrams tank. Image: Australian MoD

On January 10, 2022, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton announced the agreements with the U.S. government to acquire 75 M1A2 SEPV3 Abrams Main Battle Tanks and associated vehicles through the U.S. FMS (Foreign Military Sales) program for the Australian armed forces. The associated vehicles include twenty nine mine killer M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicles (ABV), eighteen armoured bridge layers M1074 Joint Assault Bridges (JAB) and six M88A2 Hercules armoured recovery vehicles (ARV). The total value of the agreements is A$3.5 billion ($2.51 billion).

The equipment is a part of the Australian Department of Defense programs to modernize the fleet of main tanks – LAND 907 Phase 2, and acquire armoured engineering vehicles – LAND 8160 Phase 1. Deliveries of M1A2 SEPV3 tanks to Australia is scheduled to begin in 2024, with initial operational readiness achieved in 2025. Australia will produce the rounds for 120-mm guns of M1A2 SEPV3 Abrams tanks.

The M1A2 SEPV3 tanks are intended to replace the 59 M1A1 SA Abrams tanks currently in service with the Australian Army, purchased by Australia under the LAND 907 Phase 1 program along with seven M88A2 BREM ARV’s. The replacement or modernization of Australian M1A1 SA tanks with M1A2C tanks – M1A2 SEPV3 – was provided by the LAND 907 Phase 2 program approved in 2016 by the Australian Department of Defense.

M1A2 SEPV3 Abrams

In April 2021, the U.S. Department of Defense Agency for Military Cooperation (Defense Security Cooperation Agency – DSCA) had sent a notification to the U.S. Congress about the planned upcoming sale of Australia at the request of the Australian government through the American FMS program 160 M1A1 Abrams tank hulls from the storage of the U.S. Department of Defense and on their subsequent conversion for the Australian Army into 75 M1A2 SEP v.3 Abrams tanks, 29 M1150 ABV armoured engineering vehicles and 18 M1074 JAB tank bridge layers.

For the conversion, the U.S. is expected to supply 122 Honeywell AGT1500 tank gas turbine engines, armour protection kits, CROWS-LP remotely controlled machine gun turrets, night vision devices, and various related equipment and components. Training and technical support packages are included in the package. The six BREM M88A2 Hercules are to be manufactured by BAE Systems Corporation. General Dynamics Corporation will carry out the main work on re-equipment in the United States. The proposed delivery and re-equipment work cost is around $ 1.685 billion. 

The M1A2 SEP v3 (M1A2C) is the latest U.S. Army Abrams tank modernization program. The first six pre-production upgraded tanks of this modification were delivered to the U.S. Army in October 2017. Deliveries of serially upgraded tanks M1A2C (M1A2 SEP v.3) to the combat units of the U.S. Army began in early 2020.

Australia may be the first foreign customer M1A2 SEP v3. It is not known if Poland has inked an agreement for 250 of these tanks. Poland may take M1A2 SEP v3 tanks deliveries by the end of 2022, but it is not confirmed. 

Currently, the Australian Army operates the M1A1 SA Abrams tanks in three armoured and armoured cavalry regiments – the 1st armoured in Adelaide – as part of the 1st Brigade, the 2nd cavalry in Townsville – as part of the 3rd Brigade, and 2 / 14th Light Horse Regiment in Brisbane – as part of the 7th Brigade. Each regiment includes one tank squadron with a strength of 14 tanks – each regiment also has two squadrons of ASLAV wheeled armoured personnel carriers (Australian Light Armoured Vehicle), a headquarters squadron and a support squadron. The remaining tanks are used as training and reserve tanks at the Armored School in Puckapunyal and the Army Logistics Training Center in Bandiana.

BREM M88A2 Hercules. Image: BAE

In addition to the above procurement plans, the “Land 400” project, known as the largest in the history of the Australian Army, is now in its third phase. The Australian Army will procure 450 modern infantry fighting vehicles and 17 mobile support vehicles during this phase. According to the “Land 400” project plan, Australia will spend tens of billions of dollars to purchase more than 600 advanced armoured vehicles.

Helicopter Gunships and Howitzers

In December 2021, Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton stated that Australia plans to retire the existing 40 European MRH-90 helicopters by 2037 and purchase the same number of US-made UH-60M helicopters as the future utility model of the Army. The American AH-64E gunship replaced the European “Tiger” gunship in early 2021.

The Australian Ministry of Defense then signed an arms purchase agreement with the South Korean military company Hanwha Defense. According to the agreement, Hanwha Defense will produce 30 K-9 self-propelled howitzers, 15 K-10 armoured ammunition supply vehicles and an artillery reconnaissance school positioning radar for Australia.

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