A specialist team of combat experienced soldiers, scientists and engineers are part of a new team called Diggerworks delivering new equipment to better protect Australian troops, the Minister for Defence Materiel said Aug. 27.

Diggerworks has been established to respond to the changing needs of soldiers in the field, Jason Clare said. Digger is a term used for Australian soldiers dating back to World War I, and has several stories behind it.

Diggerworks comprises Defence agencies responsible for developing combat solider capability and is similar to the United States Marine Corps’ Gruntworks. It is led by Col. Jason Blaine, who commanded Mentoring Taskforce 1 in Afghanistan in 2010.

Diggerworks is in addition to the package of initiatives worth $1.6 billion the Government committed to following the 2009 Force Protection Review.

The latest example of their work is the acquisition of a new pelvic protection system to soldiers currently operating in Afghanistan. The system includes a protective under garment to prevent fine dirt and shrapnel particles that result from explosions causing infection in any wounds sustained.

As of November, this protection system is expected to be provided to Australian troops on patrol in Afghanistan.

Defence will also trial a soft armor ballistic groin protector worn over the combat uniform designed to provide increased protection against larger shrapnel. This decision was made based on the experience of the British Army, whose soldiers have suffered an increasing number of pelvic injuries in Afghanistan.

“This system will provide another layer of protection for Australian soldiers against infection and injury in the field,” Clare said. “The work Diggerworks is doing is very important. It’s about soldiers who have been in Afghanistan using their experience to help soldiers in the field.”

Diggerworks is also responsible for developing the new lighter combat body armor called TBAS, which has just been rolled out to Australian troops in Afghanistan.

TBAS was designed based on feedback from troops in Afghanistan that the existing body armor was too heavy and made it difficult to do their jobs. TBAS is lighter, fits better, is more comfortable and makes it easier for soldiers to get into a firing position, Clare said.

“I was in Afghanistan last month and spoke to our soldiers about their new body armor,” he said. “The feedback I got was extremely positive. Soldiers told me it made it easier for them to do their job.”

Diggerworks will also work on a $20 million research project with the defense industry, the Defence Material Technology Centre, the University of Wollongong and RMIT to improve the protective equipment worn by soldiers to combat a range of existing and evolving threats like IEDs.

As part of this package, delivered improvements include: upgrading Bushmaster vehicles to provide better protection for troops inside; equipping Bushmasters with heavier caliber weapons; attaching mine rollers to the front of Bushmasters to roll ahead of the vehicle to take the impact of an IED explosion; purchasing new handheld mine detectors; improving counter IED training here in Australia; and the Counter Rocket Mortar and Artillery early warning system.