Body armour – including helmets and various types of so-called bulletproof vests or flak jackets – is increasingly used by defence forces around the world.

With enormous fanfare in 2004, Combat Clothing released the Australian Army’s version. It “invented” a system that is so restrictive that heat exhaustion is a significant risk to soldiers wearing it, to the point that soldiers in Baghdad are being issued a cooling vest to be worn under the flak jacket.

Unfortunately the vest requires refrigeration and only works for about 20 minutes. Soldiers are now complaining that if they wear the body armour they are actually at a greater risk of becoming a casualty because the armour prevents them from moving quickly or using their weapons effectively. More millions wasted.

The so-called ‘enhanced combat helmet’ recently introduced to replace the Kevlar helmets in use since the mid-nineties has also been touted as cutting-edge technology. Combat Clothing is particularly pleased with the internal harness system. It claims it is a massive leap forward in design.

A small amount of investigation reveals, however, that this harness system was actually offered for use in the first Kevlar helmets. Combat Clothing rejected this system and demanded one that dated from World War II. What the troops have ended up with is a harness designed in the 1980s, put into a helmet designed in the 1990s, for use in 2005.

How is it that this organisation is able to continue to pour millions of dollars into equipment that is faulty, badly designed or dangerous to wear? Why isn’t the minister or the generals kicking down the doors to demand answers? The reason is twofold.

Combat Clothing cleverly keeps each individual purchase under $5 million, which makes it fall under the radar of the various oversight bodies. The purchase of a new helicopter or tank will draw scrutiny down to the last nut and bolt, but no-one cares about “minor” purchases under $5 million.

The result is that a small group of civilian armchair generals are routinely putting the health, wellbeing and the very lives of our soldiers at risk. They waste millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money and continue to get away with it.