Australian Army returns to heliborne refuelling operations for tank operations

Australian Army CH-47
Australian Army CH-47 supports tactical refuelling. (Australian DoD)

The Australian Army has resumed tactical refuelling operations of its M1 Abrams main battle tanks (MBTs) during Exercise Eagle Walk at the Townsville Field Training Area, the Department of Defence (DoD) announced on 11 April.

The event, also known colloquially as a ‘Fat Cow’, marked the first such interaction between the army’s 5th Aviation Regiment (5 AVN) – which used a specially equipped CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter – and the M1 Abrams MBTs of 2nd Cavalry Regiment (2 CAV) in five years.

CH-47 helicopters configured for Fat Cow missions are known to be equipped with an extended range modular fuel system that can include up to four 600-gallon fuel pods along with associated electric fuel pumps, venting system and mounting hardware.

The fuel system enables the refuelling helicopter to ferry and transfer fuel to other vehicles as well as aircraft. The fuel pods can be rapidly deployed from the landed helicopter “within minutes” and can therefore readily support the setting up of forward arming and refuelling points (FARPs).

Major George Flannery, a squadron commander of 2 CAV, noted that ground-based fuel trucks are not always able to keep up with combat elements due to rough terrain.

The Australian Army’s M1 Abrams fleet is undergoing major reliability and lethality upgrades under the DoD’s Project Land 907 Phase 2 programme, with up to 75 M1A2 SEPv3 (Systems Enhancement Package Version 3) Abrams MBTs expected to be delivered. A separate programme for combat engineering vehicles under Land 8160 Phase 1 also calls for the provision of 29 M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicles, 17 M1074 Joint Assault Bridge Vehicles and an additional six M88A2 Armoured Recovery Vehicles.

Deliveries are due to commence in 2024, with upgraded vehicles intended to reach Initial Operational Capability (IOC) by 2025.

by Jr Ng