TRANSCRIPT: JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE SYDNEY
TRANSCRIPTION: PROOF COPY E & OE
DATE: 15 October 2012
TOPICS: Blast gauges, PM’s visit to Afghanistan, Asylum seeker arrivals and off shore processing
WARREN SNOWDON: I’m here with my Ministerial colleague Jason Clare, Colonel Jason Blain and this young gentleman here, who’s name is Gary Fintelman an engineer with the Army’s Diggerworks program. We’re here to discuss with you this morning Blast Dosimeters.
Just to give you some background in early 2011, I visited Washington and attended a briefing at the Defence Advance Research Agency or DARPA, with Colonel Geoff Ling. Colonel Ling is a medical surgeon, involved in neurological studies and he gave us a presentation on the impact of exposure to blasts and what it does to the human brain. As part of that he showed us what are called Blast Dosimeters.
These blast dosimeters are to measure the overpressure and acceleration of explosions. They can be then used to register the blast pressure, in terms of acceleration and overpressure on the individual soldier who’s exposed to a blast event. This is very important because when people may be involved, sadly say in a Bushmaster which goes across an IED they may not have physical manifestations of the blast. But depending on the nature of the blast they may well have internal injuries or brain injuries. What these blast dosimeters are designed to do is register as a result of the overpressure and acceleration the intensity of the blast exposure on the individual.
Measuring the blast exposure gives us an appreciation of what may have happened internally as a result of that exposure, so it’s quite important. Now these blast dosimeters have been developed by DARPA. Jason, as Minister for Defence Materiel, took the initiative of purchasing a number of these for our use in the Australian Army. They’re being fitted to around 400 soldiers, I believe, in Afghanistan at the moment. What that will do is start to give us some baseline data on exposure and provide us with the capacity to share information with our allies, principally the United States around this data.
What it will mean for the future is that having these measurements we’ll be able to tell, what the impact has been on individual soldiers. There is a light system, red, amber and green. And depending on the exposure the light will say red-very high, amber-moderate and green-it’s ok. Then we can take immediate action with the individual on that exposure. So these are really very important. A great initiative and I want to thank the Diggerworks Program for their role in it. The Defence Science and Technology Organisation for their role in it. And my Ministerial colleague Jason for the fine work he’s been doing in making sure we can get these in a timely manner.
I’ll pass over to him.
JASON CLARE: Thanks Warren. This is what the devices look like. This small device about the size of a 50 cent coin, can help to protect our soldiers in Afghanistan. Our job back here in Australia is to make sure our soldiers have the equipment that they need to do their job and to help protect them and this small piece of equipment can help to do that.
We know that in Afghanistan the greatest danger that our soldiers face are IEDs, improvised explosive devices. They’ve killed 13 Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. You don’t have to be hit by the bomb to be hurt. The blast from an IED can cause enormous damage to our soldiers. We know back in Australia that when a footballer is hit, or a boxer is hit it can cause enormous damage to the brain. A blast from an IED is much, much worse.
The pressure wave that is caused by and IED can collapse the lungs of a soldier and it can also cause enormous damage to the brain. That’s why these devices are important, they measure the size of the impact and they give information to the medics in the field and back at base about what they need to do to treat the soldiers that have been hit by that blast.
As Warren said, Diggerworks, the Australian Diggerworks team lead by Colonel Jason Blain, are responsible for rolling out this equipment. It’s not the only thing which Diggerworks have done. On display here are some of the work that the team are doing. Whether it’s the new lighter combat body armour, called T-BAS, or the new helmets that we’re trialling in Afghanistan, or the new Australian made combat uniform which we’re rolling out as well. Or the new Steyr rifle. The Diggerworks team are making sure that our people in Afghanistan have the equipment that they need to do their job.
The American Army is rolling this equipment out as well. They’re collecting the data to know the impact on their soldiers, we’re rolling it out as well. It’s already begun and over the course of the next 12 months, 10,000 of these devices will be rolled out to our soldiers in Afghanistan.
I’ll now hand over to Colonel Blain to explain in detail how these devices will support and protect our soldiers.
COLONEL JASON BLAIN: Each soldier will wear three of these blast gauges on their combat ensemble. If you look at LT Fintelman, you can see a device on his chest to measure the blast wave that may hit him from the front. One on his shoulder, his non-firing shoulder to also detect blast which may come from a different direction and one on the back of the helmet as well.
This allows us to make sure we’re covering across all the areas that a blast may come from an IED. You may not be directly exposed or looking at that blast when it hits you. By getting this data we can start measuring what the actual effect of that blast wave, the overpressure is on the brain. And to start working out if there’s a correlation between the overpressure and mild traumatic brain injury. We do know that there’s a link between brain injury and PTSD. So now we’re finding ways to measure overpressure and the effect on the brain is very important for us.
We will continue to collect this data, we have a number of, obviously in our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq, of soldiers exposed to blasts, and indeed multiple blast events, so it’s right and proper that we now start finding more data on what those blast events do mean to our soldiers and particularly brain injury if they’ve suffered one.
When the medic or the commander has a soldier exposed they go through a number of procedures to make sure the soldier is getting treatment. We have a directive in the Defence Force, which talks about what we have to do if a soldier is exposed to a blast event. And that is getting some testing done to see if there has been any sort of injury to the brain. This device also compliments that. By that green, amber or red system we can support the medic in the field in determining if a soldier has been exposed to blast pressure and to make sure that soldier is being looked after and being looked at by the medics on the ground.
If a soldier is exposed to a blast and receives actual wounds from the blast and is taken to a medical facility, that soldier will be, at the medical facility, will also have his device interrogated and the doctors can determine if they’ve also been exposed to a overpressure which may have caused some sort of brain injury. So they can have the soldier tested under a thing called MATES, with is a cognitive state test process. To see how that soldiers brain is performing to see if there may be an issue to be looked at further.
WARREN SNOWDON: Any Questions? I might just add, this will give us potentially for use in training exercises because clearly when people are in training, depending on what corps they are in they may be exposed to a blast on a regular basis. So what we may be able to do is use these eventually in training to make sure we’re not exposing people to blasts bigger than what they ought to be exposed to.
JOURNALIST: So this is for the medics, will the troops on the ground be able to use this?
WARREN SNOWDON: Well for example, it the Lieutenant here were, unfortunately involved in a blast, we’d be able to gather the information directly off the blast dosimeter that could be interrogated at the base and used to determine whether the Lieutenant needed treatment for a brain injury or a potential brain injury and it may well then be that he’s taken off-line immediately depending on the size of the overpressure measurement. Or it may well be it says, give him the MATES test, he’s had the MATES test, he’s ok to go back to work.
So it’s an indicator of what may have happened, it’s doesn’t demonstrate certainty of what happened in the explosion event.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister Julia Gillard has just come back out of Afghanistan, how much of an impression do you have of what morale is after the most recent attacks.
WARREN SNOWDON: I have not spoken to the Prime Minister directly, but I know from my own conversations with ADF members that morale remains high. Clearly measures have been taken at a command level, as far as we possibly can to make sure that these events aren’t repeated.
The Prime Minister met with President Karzai and General John Allen to talk about the transition of security arrangements. They’re on track. It’s been a very good visit by her, she’s met the troops, visited a medical facility at Tarin Kowt. She’s had these important discussions.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the strength of morale within the ADF, particularly for those who are deployed. This is the job they were trained to do. They are very well trained, very well led and we’re very confident in their ability to do the job very successfully.
JOURNALIST: Can you tell us more about the roll out of these, 400 in Afghanistan.
COLONEL JASON BLAIN: We’re rolling out enough to support us for 12 months, there are about 550 soldiers in Afghanistan now who’ve been issued with these blast gauges, our intention is to continue for the next rotation going in to support the mentoring taskforce. So the one that replaces 3RAR Taskgroup will also be issued with this blast gauge. So will our Special Operations Taskgroup, they’ll also be provided with the blast gauge into the future as well.
JOURNALIST: Colonel, how long has the technology been available?
COLONEL JASON BLAIN: This technology has been developing over the last 18 months. There are a number of different systems being used by the US Army in particular, one is the blast gauge system, the other is a helmet sensor system which looks more at a soldiers acceleration, to try to get the correlation between that acceleration of the head and also resulting brain injury.
This system here measures acceleration as well, but it’s main aim is to measure overpressure. So the US Army is trialling a number of systems, we’re trialling this system initially and we’ll see what it can show us.
JOURNALIST: How much are each of the gauges worth?
COLONEL JASON BLAIN: They’re worth about $50 each and they last between 40 and 60 days. So it’s not that high a cost to provide us with the data we need to show what is happening to our soldiers brains.
WARREN SNOWDON: Can I make this observation, there’s a lot we don’t know about mild traumatic brain injury and the impact of explosive events. The US Government has announced a $100million investment into doing research into mild traumatic brain injury and PTSD. So this is an important part of that, this is learning which we’ll take into the future and help us protect our soldiers and make sure that they remain well.
JOURNALIST: Will Australia launch a similar trial to this one being undertaken by the US?
WARREN SNOWDON: We’re part of that trialling event, because the information we gather will be shared with our United States friends.
JOURNALIST: Can I ask Minister Clare, we’ve heard of more asylum seeker arrivals over the weekend does this show the Off-Shore process doesn’t work?
JASON CLARE: Well remember what this is all about. You’ve got people smugglers who earn more than a million dollars a boat. On some they’re making up to two million dollars a boat, they’re not going to give up easy. When you make that much money, these people are making more money than some drug smugglers. They’re going to fight hard to keep making money.
Now the approach that we must take, the approach that we are determined to take is to introduce every recommendation from Angus Houston’s report. That means implementing off-shore processing at Nauru, that means implementing off-shore processing at Manus Island. But it’s much more than that, they’re just two of 22 recommendations. We have to implement all of them and that means regional processing in Malaysia.
JASON CLARE: I think it’s very clear that people smugglers are going to do everything they can to protect their market. They’re going to do everything they possibly can to make a much money as they can and you’re seeing that in the boats that are arriving in Australia.
JOURNALIST: We’ve heard of self-harm incidents in Nauru, we heard fairly early on that the Government was going to maintain some duty of care are there three incidents and what is the Government planning to do?
JASON CLARE: My understanding is the Department of Immigration issued a statement about that over the weekend and the Minister for Immigration made some comments on radio this morning, I don’t have any additional information beyond that.
JOURNALIST: Will we need to bring those people back to the mainland?
JASON CLARE: I don’t have additional information other than what the Minister said this morning.
JOURNALIST: Do you have any comment in regards to the two Serco workers who’ve been stood down for alleged assaulting a mentally disabled man?
JASON CLARE: Only to say this, these are very serious allegations and the AFP are conducting an investigation. That’s appropriate, while there’s an investigation on foot it’s not appropriate to provide additional comment.
JOURNALIST: and also Tony Abbott is selling his policy in Indonesia at the moment, are there concerns that his policy is tougher and will be welcomed by the Indonesians, in preference to what the Government is trying to organise?
JASON CLARE: There are two Tony Abbotts. He says one thing in Australia and another thing in Indonesia. In Indonesia he says he’ll increase aid, but in Australia he says that he’ll cut aid to Indonesia. We see in the papers today that Tony Abbott says that he’ll work together with Indonesia before he ever announces a policy, but back in Australia he announces that he’ll turn back the boats without speaking to Indonesia at all, and that’s been slapped down by the Indonesia Government.
He says in Australia that the core element of his policy is turning back the boats, but then he goes to Indonesia and says he’ll only do things in harmony with Indonesia. As I said he’s now saying that he’ll increase aid to Indonesia, but after the Queensland floods he said he’d cut the aid budget to Indonesia. So there are two Tony Abbotts he says one thing in Australia and another thing in Indonesia. Which one can you believe?
JOURNALIST: Do you think what he is saying in Indonesia is a threat to the Government’s relationship and policy development with the Indonesian Government?
JASON CLARE: Australia has a very strong relationship with Indonesia. I was in Indonesia only a few weeks ago, where we worked on a search and rescue package; working very closely with Basarnas and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. I had great meetings with the Head of the Indonesian Police as well as my Ministerial counterparts. That relationship is in better working order, a better condition than it’s ever been.