50 years service for M113
From their first service in Vietnam, through to UN deployments and local exercises, the M113 family has protected and transported soldiers for 50 years.
During Operation Bribie, in February 1967, one APC was destroyed by three hits from 75mm recoilless rifle and another destroyed by a mine made from a five-inch shell that blew the engine through the driver’s compartment. Mines were to remain the main threat in Vietnam, requiring a belly armour program.
3 Cav Regt began to withdraw from Vietnam in late 1971, with the last APC troop leaving country in May 1972.
Service in Australia
Back in Australia, the M113A1 became the Army’s light armoured fighting vehicle (AFV).
From 1967, a unique Australian vehicle had been developed by fitting a Saladin armoured car turret to an M113A1, adopted as the fire support vehicle (FSV).
Specialist tracked light reconnaissance vehicles (LRV) were rejected and the M113A1 APC became the APC/LRV.
As the ARA adapted to service in Australia, in 1972 the decision was made to equip all CMF units with the M113A1 vehicles.
The simple and robust M113A1 proved an ideal vehicle for the CMF. Easy to maintain and drive, it permitted part-time soldiers with limited training time an opportunity to focus on tactics.
In 1973, the CMF became the Army Reserve.
A new FSV based on the British Scorpion turret was accepted for service in 1976. It was the first RAAC AFV fitted with a passive (image intensifying) night sight. It was soon redesignated the medium reconnaissance vehicle (MRV).
As well as ARA reconnaissance squadrons, reserve RAAC units were issued MRV or the Saladin FSV to reintroduce full bore gunnery to the reserve force. In 1976, 5/7RAR began trialling mechanised infantry, with such success that the role became permanent and in 1 Bde the infantry operated its own M113A1 vehicles.
The mechanised role survived the de-linking of the battalions in 2007 but under Plan Beersheba the battalions converted back to light infantry in 2013. Armoured mobility will now be provided by RAAC APC units.
The focus on operations in Australia led to increasing interest in wheeled AFV.
In 1980, Project Waler examined replacing the Army’s fleet of Light AFV. Both wheeled and tracked vehicles were considered. The Defence of Australia paper of 1987 focused on Northern Australia, leading to plans to relocate 2 Cav Regt to Darwin and re-equip it with wheeled AFV, leaving a reduced M113 fleet of about 600, some of which would be upgraded.
The M113A1 family performed well once again, albeit the squadron had serious problems with maintenance, especially the supply of track link, in conditions where RAN sea transport was limited.
In 1994-95, the government accepted a further UN request for assistance in Rwanda. Operation Tamar initially involved a company of 2/4RAR deployed with a section of three APCs, plus a fitters’ vehicle. This was to be the first time RAAC AFVs were painted UN white.
In 1998, the first four M113A2 vehicles were delivered from upgrade. At this point, the Phase 1 upgrade was halted and combined with Phase 2, the new vehicle to be known as the M113AS3.
One more operation for M113A1
When Interfet withdrew, 5/7RAR became the first Australian battalion on Operation Tanager.
Subsequent Australian battalion deployments were supported by RAAC APC elements until 2002.
The M113AS3 concept was further modified, with a lengthened version to be called the M113AS4, while the short version remained the AS3.
CO 2 Cav Regt Lt-Col James Davis said 259 M113AS4 variants were procured as APCs, fitters vehicles and Armoured Logistics Vehicles.
“The unstretched A3 versions are used as ambulance, command, recovery and mortar vehicles,” he said.
“The upgraded M113 family have a new engine, drive train, electrical and fuel systems, as well as a redesigned internal layout to accommodate safe stowage in a variety of situations.
“The APC version has a new electrically operated turret with day/night weapon sights. The AS4 vehicle is lengthened, with the six, rather than five, pairs of road wheels each side providing an instant identification feature.”
The M113AS3/4 is planned to serve until at least 2025.