The Australian Army spends about $50 million every year outfitting its troops – everything from boots to back packs, uniforms to ammunition pouches. The organisation responsible for sourcing and providing this equipment is Combat Clothing, part of the Defence Materiel organisation in Victoria Barracks, Melbourne.

Soldiers across the Army are effectively in revolt because of the sub-standard equipment they are being issued.

Their boots, touted as “the most advanced combat boot in the world”, are being re-designed for the fifth time. The Army began issuing these boots in 1998 after years of alleged research and design. Soldiers immediately found the skin being torn from their feet and the boots falling apart after limited wear. The boots weigh nearly 1kg each when dry. They lock water in rather than keep it out and take days to dry.

Combat Clothing is required to investigate soldier complaints, and its investigations have revealed that 50% of the boots have “manufacturing faults”. This begs the question: why is Defence spending $6 million a year on boots when 50% are faulty? Since 1998 that adds up to $18 million of defective equipment.

And soldiers who are demanding permission to buy their own boots are prevented from doing so. The official reason is that only the issued boot has been trialled, tested and declared fit for the purpose. Unfortunately, the issued boot was itself never trialled at all – it was issued to two Infantry Battalions as a fait accompli, with promises to fix any problems that materialised.

TOMORROW: The jackets that fall to pieces the first time they’re washed.

Peter Fray

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