CBRNe Country Profile
By Elisa Morin, Analyst, IB Consultancy
Security Situation Overview
The current security situation in Australia could not be fully described without mentioning this season’s fires, which have incinerated more than 2,000 homes and killed at least 25 people throughout the country. New South Wales has been hit the hardest by the fires and Australia’s largest cities have been strongly affected – on the 1st of January the smoke was so bad in Canberra that air quality peaked at 20 times the hazardous level. On the same day the government announced the deployment of about 3,000 army reservists along with aircraft and naval ships being made available to help with the evacuation and firefighting efforts, highlighting the importance of interoperability, both between the Federal State and local States as well as between the Army and the Fire Rescue Services. Though this article will not focus on the Australian bushfires, we would like to acknowledge the significant work the Australian Fire Rescue Services and Army are providing to limit the impact of this ongoing catastrophe.
From another perspective, the general security situation in Australia has improved according to the report 2018 in which the country – which ranked 65th in 2017 – is now ranked 68th (countries are ranked in descending order with the worst scores listed first in the index).
The National Terrorism Public Alert Level was raised to “high” in 2014, meaning that a terrorist attack is likely at any time. The threat level is now at “probable” under a new system used by the government. Since September 2014, there have been 16 major disruption operations in relation to imminent attack planning and seven terrorist attacks targeting people in Australia, almost all occurring in Sydney or Melbourne. All of these terrorist attacks were carried out by lone individuals or small groups of Islamist extremists, notably belonging to ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and Al-Qaeda, and involved either stabbing, hostage taking or shootings. However, the possibility of more sophisticated attacks cannot be ruled out, as proven by the disrupted ISIL plot in August 2017 that would have involved the release of toxic hydrogen sulfide gas on an Etihad Airways flight from Sydney, thus directly targeting Australian interests.
Foreign fighters returning from the Syria-Iraq conflict zones also represent a growing threat for the country – out of the 230 who travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight, 40 would have already returned. Australian citizens were also targeted by large-scale attacks overseas such as in Bali in 2002 (88 Australians killed) and in 2004 against the Australian embassy in Jakarta (9 people killed). Australian soldiers, too, also fell victim to Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) abroad, as it is the insurgents’ common weapon of choice across the Middle East and parts of Indo-Asia. Approximately 40% of Australian troops were killed and over 60% of troops were wounded over the duration of the Operation Slipper in Afghanistan (2001-2014) in IED attacks.
Australia is signatory to many conventions regarding CBRNe threats:
- 1972 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and their Destruction (BWC)
- 1973 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and Treaty on the Prohibition of the Emplacement of Nuclear Weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction on the Seabed and the Ocean Floor and in the Sub-Soil thereof
- 1986 Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency and Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident
- 1994 Chemical Warfare Convention (CWC)
- 1999 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction
Ongoing Joint Operations
Australia is signatory to many conventions regarding CBRNe threats:
- Operation Augury (reviewed annually) is a partnership activity with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, focused on terrorist threats in the region
- Operation Highroad supports the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan
- Operation Mazurka is assisting the Multi-national Force and Observers (MFO) - along with 12 other countries - in the Sinai, Egypt
- Operation Okra is Australia’s contribution to the international effort to combat the terrorist threat in Iraq and Syria
- Operation Render Safe is a series of annual operations aiming to dispose of ordnance in South Pacific island nations and involves EOD teams from various countries
Overview of CBRN & C-IED Stakeholder
Australian Defense Force (ADF)
The Australian Army
- The Special Operation Engineer Regiment (SOER) provides specialist response to incidents involving chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) and/or explosive hazards and conducts domestic security and offshore operations
- The Government’s Department of Defense Science and Technology (DSTO) provides science and technology support to improve the ADF’s CBRN defense capability
- The Counter Improvised Explosive Device Task Force (C-IED TF) was established in February 2006 to coordinate and monitor the ADF’s response to IED threats
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN)
The RAN comprises two Clearance Diving Teams (CDTs):
- AUSCDT ONE deals with Improvised Explosive Device Disposal (IEDD), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and Mine Counter Measures (MCM); it also includes shallow water MCMs (VSMCM), reconnaissance, and the Surface Supplied Breathing Apparatus (SSBA).
- The AUSCDT FOUR also conducts EOD and is capable of locating and destroying or recovering underwater ordnance or maritime assets.Interesting fact: In July 2019 the Colombian Army’s International Center for Demining was admitted to NATO’s network of educational and training centers.
The Clearance Divers (CDs) can rotate on various positions:
- The Huon Class Mine Hunter Coastal (MHC) Vessels focus on the search, location and disposal of sea mines
- The Expeditionary Reconnaissance and Clearance (ERC) delivers overt and clandestine mine countermeasures, diving in shallow waters and littoral environments
- The Maritime Explosive Ordnance Disposal (MEOD) missions include the rendering safe and disposal of IEDs, Military Ordnance in a maritime environment
Australian Federal Police
- The Australian Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Data Center (CBRNDC) and the Australian Bomb Data Center (ABDC) merged to become the Weapons Technical Intelligence which analyses and reports on weapon systems and defense technologies that may pose threats to Australian forces
- The Public Health Laboratory Network is responsible for biological threats
Australia is a federation divided into the Commonwealth federal government and the six state governments as well as two mainland territories. Thus, the primary responsibility for protecting life, property and the environment lies with the states and territories, i.e. if a CBRN incident occurs, the primary operational responsibility, either for a criminal or a terrorist incident, will lie with state and territory governments and their agencies. In most states, the police forces and the fire and rescue services are in charge of first response for CBRN hazards and some of them have a special CBRN/Hazmat section, such as:
- The Public Order Riot Squad of the New South Wales Police Force deals with IED search and first response to CBR incidents and the Rescue and Bomb Disposal Unit with IED appraisal and removal
- The Research & Scientific Branch of the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service is in charge of dealing with CBRN emergencies
- The Special Tasks and Rescue Group Bomb Response Unit of the South Australia Police (SAPOL) is responsible for IED/explosive materials-related issues
- South Australia Metropolitan Fire Service: within the Special Operations Department, the Special Hazmat/CBRN Section is responsible for the provision of specialist Hazmat/CBRN response
- Bomb Response Group of the Tasmania Police
- The Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) of the Victoria Police Australia provides response to CBR incidents
Procurement & Capabilities
The AUSCDTs’ duties involve the use of self-contained mixed gas equipment for MCM tasks and the Maritime Explosive Ordnance Disposal missions, the use of Remote Positioning Vehicles (RPV), Portable X-Ray devices, bomb suits and high-powered disruptors.
In 2017, the Australian Defense Force received up to $300 million worth of new equipment to protect against CBRN threats, including detectors, suits, masks, protection tents, decontamination systems, contaminated-equipment containers, warning and reporting software, and simulation systems.
In September 2018, Leidos Australia and OPEC Systems signed a $23 million contract to partner on the Commonwealth’s Project LAND 2110 Phase 1B Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear Defence requirement. Under the contract with Leidos, OPEC Systems will provide the Kestrel medium weight protective CBRN suits, collapsible wastewater containment pools for capturing liquid contamination, collapsible liquid storage drum for containment of potable and wastewater, and decontamination mitts for rapid chemical decontamination.
In the meantime, DSTO researchers have developed ground-breaking nano-fiber technology to create next-generation protective suits and respirator canisters for face masks.
As its US partner, Australia is concerned about the threat posed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and has increased its participation in Republic of Korea-US led multilateral exercise. The country also collaborates with the US on non-proliferation, disarmament and arms control measures including through the Proliferation Security Initiative and hosts regionally focused as part of the PSI Asia-Pacific Exercise Rotation (APER).
Australia falls under the US Foreign Military Sales Program. Approximately 60% of Australia’s 10-year 145 billion USD defense acquisition and modernization budget is sourced from the United States through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS), Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) and International Cooperative Programs. In 2018, FMS sales to Australia totaled $1.47 billion.
Australia is also one of two countries that have a Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty with the United States that permits the license-free export of certain defense articles between the countries in support of combined military operations, cooperative defense research, and other projects for government end-use.
Mine Action Abroad
From 2013-2017, Australia’s contribution to mine action totaled more than A$47 million. Though Australia focuses its assistance on countries in the Indo-Pacific region, in 2017 half of Australia’s mine action support was allocated for clearance activities in Cambodia, Colombia and Afghanistan. In Iraq, Australia’s contribution to explosive hazards management has reached $A18 million since 2016. Australia announced that they will provide A$8 million over two years starting in 2018 in support of the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS)’s mine action program in Syria.
Although Australia’s contribution to demining is significant, the last official aid budget for mine action was published in 2013 and since then, the country provided more than three-fifths (66%) less than they did from 2008-2012, according to the .
Experiences: Exercise Thor's Hammer
From October 2019 to November 2019, more than 100 military personnel and scientific researchers from 12 NATO and partner nations tested their Force Protection Electronic Counter Measure systems at the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia. It is the first time that this exercise has been held in Australia. The systems can prevent the detonation of remote-controlled IEDs and also defeat small unmanned aerial systems, or "drones", that can be used to drop explosive devices or conduct surveillance. The purpose of this exercise is notably to ensure the 12 nations’ various force protection systems can operate effectively together.
Australia considers IED attacks to be one of the biggest threats against the country and its nationals, a threat that mainly arises from Australia’s participation in many joint operations deployed in sensitive areas throughout the world. While located in the South Pacific, Australia is still involved in many regions to support its Western allies - and especially the United States, with which it maintains a “special” relationship like the UK.
Nevertheless, it is important to understand that Australia is signatory to many founding treaties regarding CBRN threats and has been allocating significant resources for research and development to the field.