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Ukrainian army to receive Australian Thales Bushmaster armoured vehicles

Brendan Nicholson and Marcus Hellyer of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute report that, in a speech to Australia’s parliament on March 31 night, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky asked for ‘wonderful’ Bushmaster troop carriers, which he said could significantly help his country: ‘For example, you have wonderful Bushmaster armoured vehicles that can significantly help Ukraine. As well as other models of equipment and weapons that can strengthen our position. If you have the opportunity, Ukraine will be grateful to you.
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Thales Bushmaster of the Australian Defence Force (Picture source: ADF)

On April 1, Brendan Nicholson and Marcus Hellyer report that Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne, representing Defence Minister Peter Dutton in a Senate estimate hearing, indicate that Bushmasters would be sent to Ukraine. A RAAF C-17 Globemaster II transport aircraft can carry four Bushmasters. An air bridge using the C-17s could get a meaningful number to Europe within a matter of weeks. The resourceful Ukrainians could master their operation very quickly, Brendan Nicholson and Marcus Hellyer write. Since the Netherlands already has nearly 100 Bushmasters, it’s a potential area for cooperation between two Western democracies eager to demonstrate their support for Ukraine. The Dutch, as Europe’s major Bushmaster operator, could potentially provide forward logistics and training support, for example.

In the role they were designed for, Bushmasters would be a useful, but not game-changing, capability for Ukraine. As protected mobility vehicles, they safeguard their occupants against mines, IEDs, small arms like machine guns, and artillery blast and fragmentation. They could move forces around rear areas, or potentially evacuate non-combatants from besieged cities. They won’t protect against a direct hit from a tank, howitzer or anti-tank missile, all of which Russia has in abundance.

The daily grind of war will take its toll on the vehicles. Australia will need to provide training in their maintenance and an ongoing, liberal supply of spares. How to sustain a logistics chain to Bushmasters scattered across Ukraine is anyone’s guess. But the Ukrainians have shown themselves to be adept at putting all kinds of equipment from around the world into service.

More than 1,000 Bushmasters have been delivered to the Australian Army and to Royal Australian Air Force airfield defence guards. In all, 116 Bushmasters have been sold to the Netherlands. Thirty were sold to the UK for its Special Air Service Regiment and it used some of those in Syria and Iraq.

If providing Bushmasters to Ukraine proves successful, the next step could be to provide Abrams tanks, as commentators quickly proposed in the wake of Zelensky’s speech to parliament, Brendan Nicholson and Marcus Hellyer report. Australia hasn’t deployed its tanks since the Vietnam War and, as Zelensky said, it’s better for equipment to be put into service against Russia than sit around in parks. Moreover, Australia has new Abrams tanks on order as replacements for its fleet of 59 older-generation Abrams. Certainly, providing a tank capability would be a major step up in terms of training and logistics requirements compared to Bushmasters and would need careful planning. So, rather than sending them straight to Ukraine, providing them to Poland (which has also ordered Abrams from the US) to free up its Soviet-era tanks for Ukraine could be an option, Brendan Nicholson and Marcus Hellyer comment.


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