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11 January 2022

The Australian government has agreed to spend $3.5 billion to secure the purchase of 127 tanks and armoured vehicles from the United States of America, at the same time as the Australian economy reels from the biggest outbreak of Covid-19 to hit the country.

Australian Minister of Defence Peter Dutton has confirmed that Australia will be buying 75 M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tanks from the US, along with other armoured vehicles. The M1A2 tanks will replace the 59 M1A1 tanks purchased in 2007. Australian Defence Force (ADF) Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Rick Burr said that the acquisition of these tanks is necessary if Australia wants to participate in coalition military operations in the future.

The new vehicles will be deployable from 2025, and are the first part of a major upgrade to Australia’s military capabilities. In the next few years, Australia is set to spend $30-$42 billion on armoured vehicles, including $18-$27 billion on infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs).

Although the Australian government will be making a major investment in upgrading the ADF’s armoured vehicle fleet, is this investment worth the cost? After all, the Australian government hasn’t used tanks in active combat since the Vietnam War, which ended almost 50 years ago. All that Australia has done is send IFVs and support vehicles alongside infantry contingents sent to Iraq, Afghanistan, and other theatres of war in that region.

One analyst from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), Marcus Hellyer, has called into question the Australian government’s decision, saying that the main issue here is whether the government’s decision to invest this heavily into armoured vehicles is worth it.

Right now, China arguably poses the biggest threat to Australian national security. However, some national security experts have argued that these tanks would not be necessary in a defensive war against China, which would primarily take place on the sea and in the air.

In a war against China, Australia would not need tanks if it could prevent Chinese forces from even reaching Australian soil. Therefore, it can be argued that investments in the Royal Australian Navy and Royal Australian Air Force would be better suited for defensive purposes, with air elements also being able to be deployed in foreign theatres of war. Naval vessels would be of little benefit in land-based wars.

The Australian government needs to deal with pressing domestic issues, like its Covid-19 response and the economy, before it considers a military spending spree. The current upgraded M1A1 Abrams that Australia currently has are among some of the best in the world, with the US military signalling in 2021 that it was not preparing to phase the Abrams line out in the foreseeable future.

Australia is currently facing its worst Covid-19 outbreak yet, with the country just reaching one million cases since the start of the pandemic, with around 80% of those cases happening since the arrival of the Omicron variant. Furthermore, there is a national shortage of rapid antigen tests (RATs), which is so severe that the largest pharmaceutical body, Professional Pharmacists Australia, raising serious concerns for the safety of frontline workers. A lack of RATs means that Australians have been forced to queue for hours to get a Covid test done, with some people reporting that they have had to wait for over 100 hours to get a result.

Meanwhile, Covid has had major consequences for the Australian economy. Already struggling from months of lockdowns in 2021, during which time Melbourne gained the record for the most days in lockdown throughout the world. Now, the latest wave of Covid has led to shortages of food so severe that Coles supermarkets have had to limit purchases of some meats, and Woolworths stating that customers should expect some goods to be in shorter supply. Fast-food outlet KFC has had to temporarily remove some items from its menus because of shortages.

Instead of spending more taxpayer dollars on armoured vehicles, the Australian government should focus its attention on its struggling systems. Rather than investing in tanks, the government should invest in RATs and ensure that Australians can make it through this outbreak as soon as possible, while also minimising restrictive Covid measures that have already left much of the economy battered.

Shiny new tanks are of no use to the government if the economy is in shambles.

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Stuart Jeffery, aka LibertyDownUnder, is the founder of the Australian Liberty Network. He is also the host of the Gumtree of Liberty and Gumtree of Liberty Live podcasts, and is editor of the Liberty Review. Stuart is currently studying a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts, majoring in international relations, at the University of Southern Queensland.

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