The Redback 1 is a third-generation main battle tank developed by Zuytdorp Munitions - Land Systems in 1990s and early 2000s for the Westralian Army, aiming to replace the obsolescent Leopard AS1(W) in the Armoured Corps. Armed with a 120mm smoothbore, fitted with a modern composite armour package and powered by a V12 turbo-diesel engine, it is broadly similar to contemporary Western-designs such as the Leopard 2, AMX Leclerc, and M1 Abrams. As the first entirely-indigenous MBT design to come out of Westralia, it helped cement the Westralian defense industry as a global competitor in all realms of warfare.
Zuytdorp Munitions - Land Systems Redback 1D Main Battle Tank
Weight: 62.5 tonnes as produced, up to 70.8 tonnes combat ready
Length: 10.95m Gun-Forward
Width: 3.85m with Standard armour package
Height (Commander's Sight): 2.9m
Crew: 3 (Commander, Driver, Gunner)
Armour: Chobham composite (exact composition classified), additional MCA applique armour packages available, frontal package fitted as standard
- ZM120-55 120mm L55 Smoothbore gun with 34 rounds stored in bustle cassette and an additional 8 rounds stored in hull
- 1 x 7.62mm Coaxial Machine-Gun
- 1 x 7.62mm FN MAG mounted above commander's position
Powerplant: EuroPowerPack (MTU MT883 Ka-500/501), 1500hp
Transmission: Renk HSWL 295TM
Suspension: Horstman InArm Active-Hydropneumatic Suspension
Operational Range: 500km
Speed: 68km/h on-road
The Redback MBT program has its origins in the Zuytdorp ZM105L L70 105mm gun-project of the late-1970s. This involved the creation of a new tank gun of improved performance, whilst maintaining a higher number of stowed kills and retaining the existing ammunition logistic systems of the L7 105mm gun prevalent in Western armies. This project continued on into the late-1980s, finding mixed success. By 1987, the gun was beginning to perform to the desired levels, delivery close to 10MJ of muzzle energy. However, the sheer length of the gun meant that a new design of tank would be required to mount it, likely of a somewhat unorthodox design.
Design work began in 1987, and by 1990, a preliminary 'proof-of-concept' prototype, XVG 90 (Experimental Ground Vehicle 1990) emerged from the Zuytdorp manufacturing plant in Bunbury. Whilst the hull was of conventional design, the tank lacked a conventional turret, with the gun mounted externally above the low-profile turret roof and fed by a two-stage autoloader not unlike that on the MGS platform. This allowed the gun to be placed as rearward as necessary to mitigate its extended length. However, it was significantly flawed in a number of respects. Ammunition stowage was limited by its placement at the bottom of the turret basket, so as to be accessible by the autoloader, and the gun elevation was controlled through exposed hydraulic pistons.
Around this time, the Westralian Army began considering replacement of its Leopard 1 tanks, which had not seen an upgrade since their entry to service in 1977 and were rapidly becoming obsolescent. Whilst it considered foreign designs such as the M1 and Leopard 2, it took a close interest in the XVG 90 project, and believed it to have enough merit to be explored further. Furthermore, the Westralian Government saw the potential for the project to invigorate the Westralian defense industry, which had slumped with the advent of the peace dividend, hoping to export any potential design as well as introduce into domestic service. With Westralian Government approval, Zuytdorp began to prospectively market the design concept as the 'Redback MBT', after the venomous spider endemic to the Australasian continent.
Zuytdorp began to work on a new, more refined design to meet the Westralian Army's new requirements. In 1995, it emerged with XGV 95 'Redback 1B', which incorporated a more conventionally-styled turret but retained the unconventional armament layout. The L70 gun was now mounted in a separate center-line casing, that, whilst appearing to be a part of the turret, still existed externally. This was lifted into the firing position by two large, armoured hydraulic arms akin to those used on the US RDF (ELKE) project of the 1980s. Ammunition was kept in the left third of the turret, fed to the gun through a complex three-stage autoloader. This consisted of a 'cassette' of 48 rounds the fed to a turntable that rotated the rounds in line with the gun, before sliding them cross-ways into the breech through a door that would open between the turret and gun when the latter was lowered to the loading position. The commander and gunner occupied the right hand third of the turret. The unorthodox gun mount allowed it to have impressive elevation and depression abilities, often able to shoot from a completely obscured hull-down position by elevating above the tank. However, unsurprisingly, the autoloader presented significant troubles, and by this point the 120mm smoothbore had become the primary weapon of Western tanks, offering better performance and logistics than the cumbersome 105mm. Zuytsorp Munitions had even recognised this, having developed a new L55 120mm gun (ZM120L -55).
Following a period of trials, the Westralian Army directed Zuytdorp to reconfigure the design to use the new 120mm gun, though retaining the existing hull design. In 1998, this was unveiled as the XGV 120 'Redback C', using a re-manufactured turret from one of the XGV 95 prototypes. This was of distinctly conventional design and appearance, especially when compared to previous prototypes. Gone was the complex autoloading system and external gun-mount, the gun now installed in the same manner as nearly every Western-MBT and fed by a loader who had access to 42 rounds in an armoured turret bustle compartment with verticle blow-off panels. However, this design was only considered preliminary, enough to pass trial evaluations and get the Westralian government to accept a purchase contract for 90 future vehicles of an properly updated, production ready design.
In 2001, the first pre-production ZM Redback 1D rolled out of the Bunbury plant. Distinctly modern in design, it featured a more angular turret, a hull with revised hydro-pneumatic suspension, new optics and a modern, modular composite armour package. The gun was now fed by an autoloader yet again, though this time modelled on the proven system found in the French Leclerc. Vehicle trials commenced later that year, running into early 2003, at which point a full production contract was awarded. The first production vehicles were accepted into Westralian Army service in 2004, with IOC coming in late 2006, though by this point the tank had already proven itself in a number of exercises.
From the out-set, the Redback MBT was intended to be taken to export. During the XGV prototyping stages, the vehicles were finished in the Australian Army's AUSCAM camouflage, a not so subtle tilt towards a possible sale to the Australian Army to replace their Leopard 1s. Whilst at first the Australian Army did not show any significant interest, following the acceptance of the first examples into Westralian service their interest began to grow. Whilst the US offered refurbished M1A1s at a cut-rate price that severely tempted the Australian government, the Westralian government offered industry incentives to the Australians that ultimately saw them decide to purchase 59 Redback 1Ds. Whilst Zuytdorp had created an 'Export' model that featured some minor limitations in capability, the Australian Army received the full-spec variant, the first of these entering service in late-2006, and seeing significant use in Exercise Talisman Sabre the following year. An additional 69 tanks were purchased in 2019, of that latest Redback 1F variant, bringing the total number to 128.
The next export customer came in the form of Canada, looking to replace their ageing Leopard C2s. Whilst the obvious choice had long been the German Leopard 2, the Canadian government controversially picked a custom specified variant of the Redback 1D, featuring a new modular armour package, communications and battlefield management equipment. The first of these was delivered in 2010.
As of current, the only other operator of the Redback 1 is the Royal Army of Oman, having bought 30 refurbished early-production models with reduced capabilities in line with the export version.
The Redback 1, whilst not as widely adapted as contemporaries such as the Leopard 2, has still seen its fair share of variants. Following the Redback 1D and its export version, the Redback 1F serves as an upgrade over older vehicles, based on many of the components created for the Canadian 1D CAN variant. It is fitted with a new Modular Composite Armour package, as well as upgrades in the communications and battlefield management equipment, making it even more suited to the modern digital battlefield. This version can also be fitted with an Active Protection System, similar to the Israeli TROPHY.
With the reveal of the T14 Armata in 2015, Zuytdorp began investigating potential upgrades to make Redback for competitive. Whilst many of these ended up going into Redback 1F, one significant upgrade is still undergoing testing, and may even find its way into a new tank. A 130mm gun, being developed by Zuytdorp Munitions offers increased firepower and penetration performance over the already impressive 120mm gun fitted. A notable feature is the 'pepper-pot' muzzle brake that still allows the use of saboted rounds whilst reducing recoil energy by roughly 30-40%, allowing the gun to be lighter overall by fitting within the existing 120mm cradle.
The Redback has also seen itself adapted into a number of more ancillary roles, including that of a Drover Training Vehicle, which sees the turret replaced by a cab for an instructor and two observers. More notably, an AEV and ARV have been developed from using the Redback hull as a basis.