Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Australian Soldiers Cheaper Than Robots

Troops In Afghanistan Denied High-Tech Bomb Detecting Bots

An Australian soldier in Afghanistan, Sergeant Michael Lyddiard, had his arm and eye blown away over the weekend when a roadside bomb detonated only a metre from his face. He was flown to a medical base in Germany and members of his family have now joined him there. Some 28 Australian soldiers have been wounded in Afghanistan since 2001, two have died.

On that back of the news of Sergeant Lyddiard's injuries comes the shocking revelation that Australian troops have been denied the kind of bomb-detecting robot technology that has saved the lives of countless American and NATO troops in Afghanistan :

...the Howard Government cancelled work in 2004 to develop robotic technology capable of dealing with roadside bombs.

The aim of the program was to develop robotic technology to counter IEDs. Questions are now being asked inside Defence as to why Australian soldiers and explosive detector dogs are being used to render roadside bombs safe when other NATO forces use advanced robotics.

Thousands of remote-control mine and IED detectors have been rushed to Afghanistan and Iraq by the US military, with more than 5000 in operation last April, compared with 150 in 2004.

The ADF, however, relies mainly on sniffer dogs and perilous manual defusing, such as the job Sgt Lyddiard was attempting when the device exploded in front of him.

The robot plan, known by its army designation Project Land 133, was shut down by former defence minister Robert Hill.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Brendan Nelson yesterday admitted the project had been shut down but said the decision was taken on the advice of the army.

Brendan "We Didn't Do It" Nelson keeps up his usual standards of buck-passing.

What's happened to the endless promises made by John Howard and defence ministers Hill and Nelson that Australian soldiers could always count on being given the very best equipment during overseas deployments?

The grim truth is that even though the Australian government spends almost $1 billion a year fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our troops are forced to continually cut corners and often have to make do with inferior or substandard equipment.

Robot development programs are expensive, and number crunchers have clearly worked out that it's cheaper to put soldiers' lives at risk than to spend the money needed to build and deploy bomb-detecting robots.

It's a miracle the casualties in Afghanistan, and Iraq, have not been higher.