THE Navy has been forced to modify its two main transport ships to allow them to carry the 63-tonne Abrams tanks the Army is buying from the US.
New amphibious landing ships presently under design will also be built to ensure they can handle the weight of the tanks due for delivery by 2007. The 59 tanks Australia is buying hail from the late 1980s but have as little as 1000km on the clock and have fired very few shells, according to a just-completed army study.
But in the face of criticism the steel behemoths were too heavy to move, the Navy has begun to strengthen stern ramps on two troop transports at an undisclosed cost.
"HMAS Manoora had its stern ramp modified last month to ensure we can get the vehicle across and the other one (HMAS Kanimbla) is going to be done by December," army Abrams implementation team member Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Hayward said.
There were no RAAF aircraft that could transport the Abrams but that was also the case with the existing Leopard, he said.
The American tanks that Australia wants to introduce to replace its ageing European-built Leopards in 2007 face a comprehensive "rebuild" in the US over the next 24 months in which more than 5000 out of 6000 components will be replaced.
"(The upgraded Abrams) is a quantum leap in technology and capability over what we've got at the moment," Lieutenant-Colonel Hayward said. "These tanks were sitting in a (US) combat equipment battalion storage facility for ages, however they were maintained at high readiness levels for the Cold War."
Speaking to The Australian after returning from a trip to the US to examine the tanks, Lieutenant-Colonel Hayward said the tanks had covered only low kilometres, their turret guns had barely been fired and they had spent a significant part of the 1990s kept "battle ready" but warehoused at a US storage facility in Germany.
He said the tanks had not been used in either Gulf war although the US was still checking service records on the 1991 Gulf War.
As part of the $530 million contract, the 59 tanks will be dismantled and reassembled.
Some 5368 of the tank's 6265 parts will be replaced "as new" while a further 888 parts including the chassis and turret guns will be checked to see if they meet specifications and replaced if required.
Lieutenant-Colonel Hayward said that despite the age of the tank hulls only one of the 6000 Abrams built so far had experienced hull structure problems, and state-of-the-art composite armour would be fitted.
The log books on the turret guns showed they had fired between 50 and 118 rounds. A turret gun is supposed to last about 1500 rounds before it is replaced.
He said the Abrams was also one of the safest tanks on the market for crew because ammunition was stored in a separate blast-proof compartment.
Also thrown in with the deal will be seven Hercules recovery vehicles, which are used to right the tanks if they roll over or lift engines for maintenance, six training simulators for tank gunners, one tank driver-training simulator, 14 tank transporters and trailers and up to eight tank refuellers, three years of spare parts and three years of ammunition.
Buy a LHD or a LPD, we have also 2 Newport(Pizarro and Hernan Cortes) LST class to be replace by LHD, and we have the heaviest version of Leopard, our problem is with assault boats, they can' bring our tanks to the beach.