TRANSCRIPT: LAND WARFARE CONFERENCE
JASON CLARE: I'll make a few introductory remarks and then I'll hand over to General Caligari to say a few words, and then invite some questions. We also have here Adam and Jacob. Adam is wearing the new combat uniform that we're going to introduce into Afghanistan for all Australian soldiers who are operating outside the wire, and Jacob is wearing the current combat uniform that Australian soldiers are wearing as part of the mentoring taskforce in Uruzgan outside the wire.
So this morning I've announced that we're extending the trial of a new combat uniform for our troops in Afghanistan. For the last 12 months our special-forces soldiers have been trialling this new combat uniform in Afghanistan, and the feedback has been very positive.
They've told us that this is the combat uniform that they want to wear.
And so as a result we're now extending the trial of this new uniform to all Australian soldiers who are using, who are operating outside the wire. So we're extending the trial of this new uniform to all Australian troops operating outside the wire. We're doing this because it provides better protection, better camouflage, and it's a better fit.
Better camouflage because the tests have shown us that this pattern operates well in green terrain, in desert, and in urban areas. That's why they call it multi-cam. And it's also proving to be a better fit. You'll see from the uniform that it's got built-in knee pads and built-in elbow pads, and that helps to reduce those soft-tissue injuries that soldiers can get on patrol.
You'll also see that there is a different type of shirt material, and that is specifically designed to be worn underneath combat body armour.
It's also a lot cooler as well.
In addition to that there's the padded waistband that makes it easier and more comfortable when you're carrying a pack and webbing. And there's also more pockets and stretch fabric at the joints.
We'll initially source this new uniform from the United States so that we can get it into Afghanistan for our troops as quick as possible. I've also instructed Defence to contact the company that produces this uniform to pursue the potential to purchase a licence for this uniform so that it can be manufactured here in Australia with their own unique Australian camouflage pattern.
I'll now ask General Caligari to say a few words.
JOHN CALIGARI: Oh, thanks Minister. The idea behind having a new uniform like this is nothing more than the Army remaining adaptive to the environment and the threat and the mission in Afghanistan. It's clearly a new uniform which both the Americans and the United Kingdom have established for themselves now.
We've seen it. We work in Coalition with them overseas. Army sees that these are opportunities to do the best we can to camouflage our soldiers to make them the hardest to see in Afghanistan – which is clearly our mission.
So to give them this uniform as quickly as possible is a demonstration of our adaptation to provide the best equipment to our soldiers in Afghanistan and I think for a soldier who operates in the green zone and then steps into the desert, this uniform which all countries have discovered is a problem, this uniform solves that problem for us. Thank you.
JASON CLARE: Thanks very much general, now happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Minister, any idea on when we might see all those soldiers in this gear?
JASON CLARE: Yeah, we've placed the order now and it's our intention to have this uniform available by the end of the first quarter of next year.
QUESTION: Will this replace the existing [indistinct] uniform right across the board, throughout the ADF?
JASON CLARE: It's initially an extension of the trial in Afghanistan, so first Special Forces, their feedback's been very positive. So we're extending it now to soldiers operating beyond the wire in Afghanistan. And as part of extending that trial, I've said that I want to pursue the purchase of a licence. That gives us the potential to manufacture it in Australia, with our own unique pattern.
Gregor, you might be aware that we've – we've been doing a piece of work developing a midpoint camouflage design here in Australia. I've asked Defence to now merge that project with the licence purchasing project, so that we can expedite the development of a new, next-generation combat uniform in Australia.
QUESTION: When do you see that happening?
JASON CLARE: Well I want to get that done as quick as possible. The faster we do that the better. But let's first see the outcomes of this trial. Let's make sure that this uniform not only works well for Special Forces, but works well for all Australian soldiers operating in Afghanistan. That's our top priority. Get it into Afghanistan. Make sure it works, but at the same time pursue the purchase of a licence that gives us the potential, long-term, to manufacture this in Australia.
QUESTION: So the current uniform has been manufactured in Australia?
JASON CLARE: Oh yeah, yeah. The standard combat uniform that you see there, is manufactured in Australia right now.
QUESTION: Does this mean that the Australian troops will be wearing the same camouflage pattern as the United States troops?
JASON CLARE: As some United States troops that are wearing this, and some British troops that are wearing this. And the reason for that, the decision was made because the level of protection that you get from better camouflage is the most important thing that we can do to enhance the protection of our troops in the uniform that they wear. And that's why Army made that decision and that recommendation to me. But at the same time it is important that Australians have their own unique camouflage pattern, particularly to keep open those longer-term options, and that's why I've instructed Defence to pursue the purchase of a licence to give us that capability.
QUESTION: You're not concerned that our troops will face more danger, because the enemy troops will think that they are American?
JASON CLARE: Australian troops are operating by and large in different areas to the American troops, working with Afghan troops. The most important thing here is to provide better levels of camouflage. That's what is going to give Australian troops better protection in the dangerous and difficult work that they're doing outside the wire. So that's the reason that we've made that decision, but I'm happy to invite the general to say a few words on that question if you like.
JOHN CALIGARI: No, that's – what the Minister says is exactly right. We operate in groups with the Afghan National Army, the Fourth Brigade, and we do that as an Australian contingent. So there are seldom any Americans anywhere near us anyway, but I'd have to tell you having been in Afghanistan last year as the National Commander, the Afghans and the Taliban are – don't draw a distinction between any of the Coalition Forces. As far as the Coalition are concerned, they're all the enemy. So the most important thing, as the Minister said, is that we give the soldiers the best camouflage we can possibly give them.
QUESTION: Minister, can I ask you, there was reports this morning that the US – reports coming out of [indistinct] that the US has repeatedly asked for more troops on the ground from Australia to Afghanistan [indistinct]
JASON CLARE: No, no. No, that's not correct and I refer you to the words that Secretary Gates used at AUSMIN last week where they expressed their satisfaction with our deployment. And it's important to make the point that over the last 18 months we've increased the number of Australian troops on the ground by about 40 per cent and there are now – Australia has more troops in Afghanistan than any other non-NATO country.
So we think we've got it about right. We act on the advice of Defence, on the advice of the Chief of the Defence Force, and his advice to us, for the mission that we're doing – and let's remind ourselves what that mission is; it's to train up the Fourth Brigade of the Afghan National Army in Uruzgan – that we've got the numbers about right.
Now from time to time we'll – we will change the nature of that, to address the needs on the ground and that's why in response to the request from General Petraeus, we're now putting more soldiers there for artillery training, and we're also considering a request for more police officers to provide more support there. So more focus on artillery training.
The focus is on training the Afghan National Army, so that when we transition from lead responsibility, hand over responsibility, the Afghan National Army have the skills and leadership they need to take control of the country and the security of Afghanistan.
QUESTION: So with that in mind – the Prime Minister and Defence Minister in Portugal at the moment. Do you expect any further requests to increase [indistinct]
JASON CLARE: I think the focus of discussions in Lisbon over the next few days is going to be on that transition plan; putting more detail on that transition plan and making very sure that when ISAF forces transition from leadership in Afghanistan, that it's irreversible. We don't want to make the same mistakes in Afghanistan that had been made in the past, where you have to come back in. So the key here is a transition plan that's irreversible.
QUESTION: Minister, how is this project being funded? Is it a [indistinct] acquisition, or coming from an existing project fund?
JASON CLARE: It's coming from within existing resources. This uniform costs a bit more. It's about $400 this uniform, so a bit more than your existing uniform, but with good reason. It's a better uniform, better protection and a better fit.
QUESTION: For those of us who aren't au fait, what does outside the wire mean?
JASON CLARE: Oh sorry, so these are soldiers that are operating outside the bases. They're on patrol with Afghan soldiers. They're doing the most difficult and dangerous work in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: You mentioned that the troops that have used it already are pretty happy with the uniform. Is it just the sheer lack of availability that is extending the trial instead of just rolling...
JASON CLARE: No, no, no. No, no, no. I think it's important to continue to trial it, and at the same time pursue the purchase of the licence, so it gives us the flexibility to adapt it for our purposes and have that unique Australian design. This is a perfect fit for us in Afghanistan. That's the feedback from Special Forces, so I want to extend it to all the soldiers that are operating outside the wire in those dangerous jobs in Afghanistan.
But before we go even further, I want the flexibility to be able to adapt it to have a unique Australia camouflage design and to be able to manufacture it long-term here in Australia.
QUESTION: So the fabric as well as the actual uniform?
JASON CLARE: Yeah, that's right.
QUESTION: I understand US troops have been wearing this [indistinct] type of uniform for many years now. Why has it taken Australia so long to catch up?
JASON CLARE: This uniform's been available for about 18 months I'm advised, and some Americans are wearing this in Afghanistan and some British are now wearing this in Afghanistan. So we've been using this, our Special Forces have been using this for about 12 months, or a little bit more in Afghanistan. We were waiting for the feedback from that trial, that's been positive. So it makes sense now to extend it to all Australian soldiers that are operating beyond the wire in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: So how many uniforms have you ordered? [Indistinct]
JASON CLARE: Yeah there's about – there's about 800 soldiers who will be patrolling beyond the wire who'll now be able to wear this uniform when it's deployed into Afghanistan early next year.
QUESTION: Minister, if I could ask you on another topic. What's your position on same-sex marriage?
JASON CLARE: My position is the same as the Prime Minister's.
QUESTION: Is there any concern that you have that the Greens are hijacking the debate, because of the same sex marriage sort of issue being on the agenda? Is that an example of the Greens hijacking the debate?
JASON CLARE: No, look I think if you ask everybody on the street what are the most important issues that affect their daily lives it's things like cost of living, making sure that they've got a job, making sure that their kids get a good quality education, making sure that if you get sick or your kids get sick in the middle of the night that you've got access to great healthcare and a good hospital system. Making sure that we protect the national security of Australia and give our troops the best quality protection that we can in Afghanistan. That's my priority and that's the priority of the Australian Government.
QUESTION: General we've got a correspondent in [Indistinct]. How are they progressing with the local army?
JOHN CALIGARI: They're doing very well. In fact one of the things, if you asked Australian soldiers who've been back on several deployments as one of the key performance indicators, you'll have them tell you they are amazed at how much the development in Uruzgan and the development of the National Army has been in that period of time.
Some have deployed early several years ago and they've gone back a second time and seen that the development of the army and their professional skills is growing out of sight. It's actually very rewarding for a soldier to come back a second or third time and see how much development there is. On the ground it is phenomenal the degree of development.
JASON CLARE: All right. Thank you very much.