Australia’s CBRNE Defense


The Australian Government’s Defense Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) provides science and technology support to improve the Australian Defense Force (ADF) chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) defense capability through the protection of personnel from the strategic, tactical and physiological impacts of exposure to toxic chemicals and materials and CBRN weapons.

Raising of the Special Operations Engineer Regiment
Raising of the Special Operations Engineer Regiment

The science and technology program supports Defense capability to anticipate, train and equip for such eventualities, so that operations can continue in CBRN environments. A new, purpose-built laboratory is being built in Melbourne that will enable DSTO to better meet the growing needs of Defense for scientific support, particularly the research into defense against chemical, biological and radiological threats. The new facility expected to be completed in 2016.

The DSTO has a direct input in support of the ADF’s Special Operations Engineer Regiment (SOER) which is a new, unique addition to Australia’s Special Forces Command (SOCOMD). The unit began life in 1999 as the Chemical, Biological and Radiological Response (CBRR) unit, whose brief history included being part of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games security with Australia’s Joint Incident Response unit (JIRU), which was disbanded in March 2001. This left the CBRR unit independent until after the events of September 11, 2001, when it was renamed the Incident Response Regiment (IRR) in May 2002. At that time, it received an addition of an Emergency Response Squadron (ERS) and a detachment of military and civilian personnel forming the Scientific and Technical Support Organization.

The first combat for the IRR came in Afghanistan, as an early part of an operation codenamed ‘Slipper’, a three-phase operation of Australian military support for the US-led effort against terrorism. The regiment’s personnel had rotated for years throughout the country and the unit has suffered killed and wounded. During operations in Afghanistan they successfully disarmed many IEDs and mines allowing missions to continue almost uninterrupted. In 2006, the ERS was disbanded and eventually, on 24 February, 2012, in a ceremony at Camp Russell in Tarin Kot, Afghanistan, the entire unit was renamed once again as the Special Operations Engineer Regiment to signify a shift to its new mission of supporting special operations.

SOER training is similar to combat engineers, but goes beyond into Special Forces areas of ability and missions. Currently, the composition of SOER is A and B Squadrons and a Logistic Support Group, all of which are based in Sydney, New South Wales. The Regiment has grown in strength and depth to provide agile and highly trained teams that provide integrated, rapidly deployable and specialised capability to enable Special Operations. These include neutralising CBRNE threats, as well as mobility and survivability capabilities. The SOER is able to respond both domestically and in support of Australian forces deployed overseas in high threat environments. As a rapid response organisation, elements of the Regiment are maintained on short notice to move to incident sites at all times. The SOER’s motto is ‘Inter Hasta Et Hostes’, which is Latin for ‘Between Spears and Enemies’. This signifies the traditional Sapper role and enduring unit requirement to operate in the dangerous space between enemy threat forces and own troops in order to ensure mission success

The Regiment also employs specialist civilian staff to ensure that the unit is always operating at the cutting edge of counter-CBRNE technology. In addition to Royal Australian Engineers, the SOER consists of Australian Army, Navy and Air Force members from a range of other corps, including intelligence, signals, medical, nursing, ordnance, transport, and electrical and mechanical engineers.

Rehearsal Checking storage container for signs of chemical agent March 2011.
Rehearsal checking storage container for signs of chemical agent March 2011.

The Australian Defense Force (ADF) may provide specialist CBRN advice and resources to assist in the detection, decontamination, rendering safe and recovery of Hazmat emergencies. It can assist in the analysis of CBRN material as well as specified people and areas affected by CBRN materials. The ADF will usually be activated under a Defense Force Aid to the Civil Authority (DFACA) for an emergency or a Defense Force Aid to the Civil Community for less urgent or follow-on tasking.

The ADF also works in relationship with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) which a multi-faceted law enforcement organization is taking a strong lead in the fight against 21st century crime including counter terrorism in Australia andoverseas. Its International Deployment Group utilizes the ADF’s Specialist Response Group for particular medium and high risk planned operations or emergency incidents in addition to assisting with capacity building and force protection operations.

The Australian Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Data Center (CBRNDC) are part of the AFP Forensic and Data Centers Portfolio.

The CBRNDC provides technical intelligence products and services to relevant entities in order to support law enforcement and national security objectives. It also enhances Australia’s capability to prevent, prepare and respond to malicious use of CBRN agents within and against Australia and its interests. The CBRNDC collects, collates, analyses and disseminates technical information and intelligence relating to the unlawful use of hazardous CBRN materials.


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