Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Questions on Notice

Defence: Explosive Detection Dogs (Question No. 1025)

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Due to reasons of operational security, the Australian Defence Force does not publicly comment on the number of Explosive Detection Dogs employed in Afghanistan or other areas of operation. Likewise, it does not comment on the ratio of Explosive Detection Dogs to deployed personnel as this would allow the number of Explosive Detection Dogs to be determined indirectly. The protection of deployed forces is of paramount concern for senior military leadership and the Explosive Detection Dogs make a valuable contribution to the Counter Improvised Explosive fight. The Counter Improvised Explosive Device fight relies on the application of multiple detection and defeat methods, of which the Explosive Detection Dog forms one component. The Australian Defence Force continually reviews all levels of operational capability, including Explosive Detection Dogs, and is satisfied that the assets deployed are appropriate for the mission being undertaken.

(2) Over the past two years, there have been seven deaths in five separate incidents caused by Improvised Explosive Devices on either mounted or dismounted patrols. On every occasion that a combat death has occurred, Defence has conducted a detailed investigation into the cause and followed through on all recommendations received as part of that investigation. Explosive Detection Dogs and / or High Risk Engineer Search teams were deployed in support of four of the incidents involving Improvised Explosive Devices that resulted in the deaths of Australian personnel. Over the period 2010 and 2011, there were 58 incidents where Improvised Explosive Devices caused injury to Australian Defence Force personnel. Any further breakdown of this information could be used to determine the availability of Explosive Detection Dogs and High Risk Engineer Search teams for use on operations and can not be released for reasons of operational security. Likewise, the number of patrols supported by Explosive Detection Dogs, and the reasons as to why these patrols may or may not have been supported by Explosive Detection Dogs, is classified and can not be released. At all times, the manoeuvre commander retains the authority over tactical considerations associated with the employment of capabilities to aid in the Counter Improvised Explosives fight. This is in keeping with the highly successful and battle tested philosophy of mission command that forms the cornerstone of Australian combat leadership.

(3) The Australian Defence Force can not publicly comment on the number of Explosive Detection Dogs employed in Afghanistan since the commencement of military operations due to reasons of operational security; however, it is a matter of public record that Explosive Detection Dog Razz was killed in action on 20 September 2007 and Explosive Detection Dog Herbie was killed in action on 7 June 2010.

(4) (a) Three Explosive Detection Dogs have died as a result of accidents not related to combat. Explosive Detection Dogs Merlin, Andy and Nova all died as a result of vehicle related accidents. Immediately following each incident, a thorough investigated was conducted and any recommendations implemented.

  (b) Two Explosive Detection Dogs have been listed as missing in action and subsequently recovered. Explosive Detection Dog Sarbi was recovered after a significant period of absence and returned to Australia where it is currently employed at the School of Military Engineering in support of training courses. In July 2011, Explosive Detection Dog Sparky was recovered after a short period of separation from its handler.

  (c) One Explosive Detection Dog is currently listed as missing in action. Explosive Detection Dog Lucky has been missing since an engagement with insurgents on 4 July 2011. It was during this action that Sergeant Todd Langley was killed. At the time of the action, deployed forces attempted to recover the animal but were prevented from doing so by heavy insurgent fire. Since that time, extensive searches have been conducted for the animal, including the offering of a monetary reward in the local area.

  (d) Due to reasons of operational security, the Australian Defence Force is not able to provide public comment on the total number of Explosive Detection Dogs that have been repatriated to Australia since the commencement of military operations as this would allow the level of capability employed to be indirectly determined.

  (e) The remains of three Explosive Detection Dogs have been returned to Australia. All animals received a memorial service in Tarin Kowt prior to being returned to Australia and the names of all deceased Explosive Detection Dogs are recorded on a dedicated memorial at the School of Military Engineering. The remains of two Explosive Detection Dogs killed as a result of Improvised Explosive Device explosions have not been returned to Australia as the lack of remains meant that recovery was not possible.

(5) See response to question (1) above.

(6)    (a) Explosive Detection Dogs are employed in both the on-lead and off-lead capacity depending on the type of search being conducted. In Afghanistan, Explosive Detection Dogs are predominantly employed in the off-lead capacity.

  (b) Each Explosive Detection Dog is fitted with a working harness constructed of nylon. This material is similar to that used in the construction of individual load carriage equipment provided to Australian personnel. Each Explosive Detection Dog handler uses a lead constructed of nylon cord. This nylon cord forms the link between the animal and the handler when the Explosive Detection Dog is employed in an on-lead capacity. When employed in the off-lead capacity, Explosive Detection Dogs are trained to return to the handler on command in the event that the tactical situation dictates that the animal be secured. The Australia Army is currently in the process of re-fitting all Explosive Detection Dogs with purpose made, individually fitted harnesses and leads, as well as a wide range of ancillary items such as clothing. This activity is part of the remediation plan implemented by the Chief of the Army to ensure the animals and handlers have the most up-to-date and fit-for-purpose equipment available.

  (c) In the event that the handler is wounded or immobilised during the employment of the animal in the on-lead capacity, the Explosive Detection Dog remains secured to the handler by the nylon lead. The ability of the animal to free itself in this situation is dependent on the manner in which the lead was attached to the handler prior to the incident.

(7) In the event that an Explosive Detection Dog is injured, it is subject to the same evacuation procedures used by Australian personnel. This includes triage, casualty prioritisation, and methods of extraction. If an Explosive Detection Dog handler is injured and requires evacuation, every effort is made to evacuate the animal with the injured handler. Where this is not possible, the animal is assigned to the care of another member of the Royal Australian Engineer search team who assumes responsibility for the safety and welfare of the Explosive Detection Dog for the remainder of the mission. At the Forward Operating Base, the Explosive Detection Dog is re-united with its handler or, where this is not possible, commences a re-teaming procedure with another trained handler. In the event that both the handler and Explosive Detection Dog are injured, evacuation of the handler takes priority.

(8) Explosive Detection Dogs are not currently employed in any other foreign countries.

(9) In January 2011, the School of Military Engineering deployed an Explosive Detection Dog supervisor to the United Kingdom to conduct and observe the United Kingdom Basic Dog Handlers Course. This course is equivalent to the Australian Basic Dog Handlers Course that is conducted annually at the Australian School of Military Engineering. The primary focus of the exchange serial was to evaluate the training curriculum employed by the British Explosive Detection Dog trade in order to provide recommendations towards maintaining the best practice for Australian Explosive Detection Dog training. A secondary focus of the exchange serial was to evaluate methods of procuring and assessing animals with the necessary pre-requisites to be trained as an Explosive Detection Dog. The Australian Army currently spends $60 000 each year on the procurement of animals using both commercial and non-commercial methods. Historically, only 10 per cent of animals who commence the assessment trials go on to be qualified Explosive Detection Dogs. The current commercial contractual arrangement for the provision of animals has improved the training success rate as the animals commence their military assessment having been screened for initial suitability and having been scent orientated by a commercial dog expert. The School of Military Engineering is confident that Australian Explosive Detection Dog training is in line with trade best practice for employment in Afghanistan as well as for the wide variety of domestic support missions that are undertaken by Australian military Explosive Detection Dogs.

(10) In April 2011, the then Chief of Army received specialist advice on Explosive Detection Dogs from a qualified serving veterinarian. This advice informed the Chief of Army's decision regarding the implementation of the current Explosive Detection Dog remediation plan.

(11)

  (a) The term cynology refers to the study of dogs and is extremely wide in its application. The classification of cynology as a field of science in its own right is contentious, but may refer to anyone who holds a formal qualification in biology, genetics, zoology, behavioural science, history, breed specialists and veterinarians. Informally, cynology can also be linked to people with no specific scientific training, such as breeders, animal trainers, animal communicators and those with an element of personal experience with dogs in general. The Commanding Officer of the School of Military Engineering has responsibility for the training provided to Explosive Detection Dogs and has almost 20 years experience in both regimental and staff appointments, a number of which are Corps related, involving dealings with Explosive Detection Dogs.

  (b) The School of Military Engineering is a component of the Combined Arms Training Centre. The Combined Arms Training Centre is commanded by the Forces Commander who in turn is responsible to the Chief of Army.

(12)    (a) The cost to maintain one Explosive Detection Dog annually is approximately $90 000. This includes all aspects of the animal's welfare and on-going training requirements as well as the salary for the specialist handler.

  (b) The Australian Army currently spends $60 000 annually on the procurement and training of new animals as Explosive Detection Dogs. The majority of this money is allocated to a commercial contract that provides pre-selected dogs that have demonstrated increased suitability to successfully qualify as Explosive Detection Dogs.

(13) Explosive Detection Dogs are not trained exclusively for Afghanistan but rather for a wide range of tasks. These include domestic as well as international contingencies. With effect 2012, the Australian Army will significantly increase its quota of trained Explosive Detection Dogs and has already commenced putting in place the domestic support and infrastructure requirements to facilitate this. These requirements were endorsed by the then Chief of Army in April 2011 as part of ongoing Explosive Detection Dog remediation activities and include new kennel facilities at a number of major Army bases, the standardisation of specialist canine carriage vehicles for domestic training, and the establishment of a veterinarian position at the School of Military Engineering. The School of Military Engineering veterinarian will assist in the ongoing development of doctrine and enhance the combat medical skills of handlers to enable them to continue to provide a high level of medical care to their Explosive Detection Dogs during deployed situations. In addition to the increased training quota previously highlighted, the Australian Army forecasts an additional four trained dogs in 2011, six in 2012, and six in 2013.

(14) A memorial service is held in Tarin Kowt for every Explosive Detection Dog killed in Afghanistan. Where physically possible, the cremated remains are returned to Australia and the name of the Explosive Detection Dog recorded on a dedicated memorial at the School of Military Engineering.

(15) As with a wide range of military specialists, commitments to operations in Afghanistan have necessitated that a number of Explosive Detection Dog handlers complete multiple deployments. These deployments range from two to nine months in duration. Since operations in Afghanistan commenced in 2001, several handlers have completed two or more deployments and one handler has deployed on four occasions for periods of two to nine months.

(16) Explosive Detection Dog handler applicants are subject to a robust screening and on-the-job training process before being selected for the Australian Basic Dog Handlers Course. Prior to the course, all applicants are assessed through the use of a trial job placement and on-the-job training period at one of the regular Army Explosive Detection Dog sections in either Darwin, Brisbane, Townsville, or Sydney. If, as a result of their performance during placement training, soldiers are recommended for attendance on the Basic Dog Handlers Course, they are posted to the School of Military Engineering to attend the 12 month basic course. During the course, each trainee undertakes formal training in all areas of Explosive Detection Dog employment and welfare as well as an extended period of further on-the-job experience under the supervision of a qualified instructor. This regime ensures that the personnel selected and trained are of the highest quality. Most applicants wishing to become Explosive Detection Dog handlers are sappers and non-commissioned officers within the Royal Australian Engineers. This background means that most potential handlers have worked with Explosive Detection Dogs prior to pre-selection during routine unit activities. While the selection process is rigorous and detailed, there is no shortage of applicants and no difficulty in recruiting quality handlers.

(17) There are currently two veterinarian positions established within Army and a further two that have been approved for establishment with effect 1 January 2012. The first of the new positions is at the School of Military Engineering and a qualified veterinarian has been identified to fill that position in 2012. The second is at the 2nd Health Support Battalion. In addition, Headquarters 1st Division has a qualified veterinarian acting in the role of Staff Officer Grade Two Prevent Medical—Veterinary. Specialist veterinary and surgical support to deployed Explosive Detection Dogs is provided through a robust and reliable coalition system.

(18) There are no qualified veterinary nurses serving as veterinary nurses in the Australian Army.

(19) The employment classification designated for nurses in the Australian Army does not specify which specific skill sets are held by the individual. As such, this question could not be answered without an extensive search of historical records and it may not be possible to determine with certainty whether any nurse previously enlisted held a specialist veterinary nurse qualification. A full search, dating back to the 1970s, would require significant time and resources to complete as many records pre-date electronic record keeping.

(20) See response to question (17) above.

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