Minister for Defence Materiel – Opinion Piece

What is a soldier issued with when they go to Afghanistan? Before I started this job a year ago I had no idea. I’ve since learned its 105 different items, worth about $9,650. Everything from boots to body armour.

Soldiers push a shopping trolley through the Defence kitting store to collect it all. It’s my job to make sure they have what they need in those shopping trolleys.

The equipment our soldiers have in Afghanistan is very different to what they had ten years ago. It is very different to what they had one year ago.

This year we have rolled out new body armour, new combat uniforms and longer range machine guns. We have also upgraded our Bushmaster vehicles in Afghanistan to make them even safer.

Earlier this year we also installed a counter rocket system at Tarin Kot (and at a number of our forward operating bases) to warn troops of rocket attacks. So far this year they have provided advanced warning of 23 attacks.

All up we are spending more than $1.6 billion on new equipment to better protect our troops in Afghanistan. It’s a lot of money. I think it’s money well spent – it’s saving Australian lives.

No one knows what a soldier needs in Afghanistan better than someone who has been there. That is why we have set up Diggerworks – a team of scientists, engineers and soldiers who have recently returned from Afghanistan. Their job is to fix problems identified by our troops.

It is led by Colonel Jason Blain who commanded our soldiers in Afghanistan last year.

Twelve months ago the biggest concern our soldiers had with equipment was body armour. It was heavy and designed for patrolling in vehicles in Iraq – not patrolling on foot in Afghanistan. It was also very bulky which made it difficult for soldiers to use their rifles.

The team at Diggerworks worked with Australian industry and fixed this. They developed new lighter body armour called TBAS – and our soldiers are now wearing it in Afghanistan.

When I spoke to our soldiers about it in Tarin Kot a few months ago they were very happy – they said it made it easier for them to do their job.

Soldiers have also asked me for changes to their combat helmets to make it more comfortable and easier to wear. Diggerworks has responded by putting more padding and a better chin strap on all the helmets in Afghanistan.

Is everything perfect? No. There is a lot more to do, particularly in the area of IEDs – improvised explosive devices. These are the homemade bombs the Taliban bury in the road and along pathways.

Early next year we will start operating trucks with ground penetrating radars. These trucks will drive at the front of convoys to detect IEDs buried in the road. We are also delivering new unmanned surveillance aircraft to give our soldiers better information about the areas they operate in.

Today  the Prime Minster will update the Parliament on the work our troops are doing in Afghanistan. They are doing an incredible job in a very difficult place.

We have lost 11 brave young men in the past year. We have a duty to honour their memory and protect their mates.

Most of them won’t be home before Christmas. So as you push your trolley around the supermarket this Christmas, think about the soldiers pushing a trolley through the kitting store picking up their equipment, and the work they are doing for us.

Media contact: Korena Flanagan – 02 6277 7620

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