10 Mei 2010
Phalanx land based/C-RAM : Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (photo : murdoconline)
Anti-Rocket System in New Budget
TUESDAY'S federal budget will include funding for a critical rocket warning system to protect Australian troops in Afghanistan.
Confirmation that Defence will buy the Counter-Rocket, Artillery and Mortar (C-RAM) system comes as the Rudd government fights off claims it bungled the purchase, delaying the resolution of a ''life and death'' safety issue by months.
It also follows two recent insurgent rocket attacks on the coalition military base at Tarin Kowt where Australian forces are stationed. Early Thursday, three rockets were fired at the base, wounding one non-Australian civilian contractor.
A spokesman for Defence Minister John Faulkner confirmed yesterday that funding for C-RAM was ''being progressed in the context of the budget'', adding that the minister ''directed Defence to act on C-RAM in September last year''.
He says elements of the system should be in place by the end of the year.
The C-RAM system provides a ''sense and warn'' capability by detecting and tracking rocket, artillery and mortar fire in flight. It relies on audible and visual alarms to give military bases time to counter the attack.
According to opposition defence spokesman David Johnston, C-RAM's alarms provide ''a lifesaving 24 seconds for troops to find cover when an incoming rocket attack is detected.''
The opposition says it alerted the minister to the need for a C-RAM system in December last year.
Senator Johnston says the government had originally scheduled the C-RAM purchase for 2019, but the first of the two recent attacks in Tarin Kowt brought ''a panicked response from the Defence bureaucrats to get on the phone and place an immediate order to buy the urgently required warning system''.
He says the delay in ordering from C-RAM's manufacturer, Saab, means ''the Australian order goes to the bottom of the queue and won't be available for delivery for at least seven months''.
Senator Johnston accused Defence Materiel and Assistant Climate Change Minister Greg Combet of being ''asleep at the wheel and distracted by climate change and insulation batts for far too long [allowing] defence procurement [to] lapse into the bureaucratic black hole at Russell''.
''The levels and layers of bureaucracy within the defence procurement process are a sad indictment of the efforts of ministers Combet and Faulkner, who have allowed procurements to drag on and on with little result.''
Mr Faulkner's spokesman hit back, saying, ''Any suggestion that the government decided to purchase [C-RAM] because of rocket attacks on Tarin Kowt …is completely untrue, as is any suggestion that the government is acquiring a C-RAM system in response to suggestions from the opposition.''