By The Hon Jason Clare, Minister for Defence Materiel,
Canberra, Oct. 21, 2010
The next issue is how we support our troops to get this work done.
There has been a lot said and written in the past few weeks about troop numbers, tanks and other equipment.
I welcome the comments by the Leader of the Opposition in this debate that the Opposition supports the deployment and has accepted the advice of the commander on the ground and the Chief of the Defence Force, that the mission has the resources it needs to get the job done.
Bipartisanship is the bedrock on which this mission rests. In this spirit I’d like to make a few comments about the support we are providing our troops.
Last year the former Minister for Defence initiated a review of Force Protection and from this the Government has allocated A$1.1 billion in new measures to improve the protection of our troops in theatre. They include:
-- upgrading the protection of our ASLAV and Bushmaster vehicles against Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and artillery fire;
-- Spark Mine Rollers that attach to the front of Bushmaster’s to help combat IEDs;
-- The roll out of an early warning system against rocket and mortar attacks called C-RAM – expected to be deployed later this year; and
-- The use of the SCAN Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle to provide our troops with increased surveillance coverage.
We are always reviewing what is needed to protect our troops – particularly from the threat posed by IEDs. It is important to stress that our troops are well equipped.
In June the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Ken Gillespie, told a Senate Estimates hearing that:
''The vast majority of troops acknowledged that they were among the best-equipped troops in the theatre.”
This was confirmed by Army’s most senior soldier, Regimental Sergeant Major, Warrant Officer Stephen Ward who said that:
“The issued equipment that is given to our soldiers is of world leading quality. This is not just my observation; it is reinforced through statements by soldiers who have combat experience. It performs very well on operations.”
An example of the quality and effectiveness of our equipment is the Bushmaster.
They have been hit hard by IEDs and have done an incredible job protecting the lives of the Australian soldiers inside. Most recently in northern Kandahar, two and a half weeks ago.
I went to the Bushmaster production line in Bendigo last week to thank the men and women who build them.
It’s a great Australian story. Iron ore from the Pilbara and coking coal from the Hunter, forged in Port Kembla and cut to size in Melbourne, and welded together in Bendigo to make a vehicle saving Australian lives in Afghanistan.
No equipment is perfect, and there are plenty of issues to work through.
But in the short time that I have been Minister for Defence Materiel I have seen a lot of evidence of Defence’s ability to respond to the issues raised by our soldiers in theatre.
The best example of this is the combat body armour our troops are wearing. The standard issue MCBAS body amour is very effective. But it’s heavy. It worked well in Iraq where troops required maximum ballistic protection - and weren’t required to regularly patrol on foot.
In Afghanistan, the feedback from troops was it made it very hard to do their job. Defence has responded by purchasing about 1000 sets of a lighter body armour called Eagle Marine. That means our troops can now use light or heavy body armour – depending on the mission.
That flexibility will be enhanced next year. The Army is currently trialling new tiered body armour that will allow troops to insert different armour plates in their rigs, depending on the conditions.
Army is working towards having this ready for Mission Rehearsal Exercises next year and expects that when Taskforce 8 deploy in the middle of next year they will go with this new equipment.
It’s just one example of the work being done by the team equipping our soldiers. (end of excerpt)