Combat experience used to clear remnants of war in Solomon Islands

Published on CMDR Doug Griffiths (author), ABCD Matt Deloraine (photographer)

Location(s): Solomon Islands

Topic(s): Operation RENDER SAFE, HMAS Diamantina (M86)

ABCD Luke Woodcroft and ABCD Daniel Bird from HMAS Diamantina prepare explosives to destroy unexploded ordnance left on the sea floor in the Russell Islands during Operation RENDER SAFE 2013. (photo: ABCD Matt Deloraine)
ABCD Luke Woodcroft and ABCD Daniel Bird from HMAS Diamantina prepare explosives to destroy unexploded ordnance left on the sea floor in the Russell Islands during Operation RENDER SAFE 2013.

Since the events of September 11, 2001, the terms Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) have entered the common vernacular. Over this period, conflict across the Middle East, where there has been an increase in the use of complex and highly lethal IEDs as the enemy’s weapon of choice, has tested the EOD operator’s skill sets. The expertise of the EOD technician to render explosive devices safe, enable mobility, force protection, and combat effectiveness has evolved and adapted to a changing adversary in dynamic operating environments.

The skill sets that have been developed, adapted and refined over twelve years of conflict are presently being put to good use in Solomon Islands. EOD specialists from all three Australian Services have joined forces with participating personnel from Solomon Islands, the United States, Canada and New Zealand to use their disposal skills, experience and techniques (which until recently have mostly been used in conflict zones across the globe) to create an explosive ordnance‑free environment for the people of Solomon Islands.

Operation RENDER SAFE is an enduring Australian-led activity which is focused on reducing the explosive ordnance threat across the Pacific region. The operation is  necessary because there are many areas across the South West Pacific that remain contaminated by the existence of Explosive Remnants of War (ERW), a lethal legacy of World War Two that remains 68 years after fighting ceased. Operation RENDER SAFE’s EOD operators are now applying their years of experience to reduce the threat of ERW in communities across the Pacific region.

The exact number of combined combat tours undertaken by the EOD operators deployed to Operation RENDER SAFE is almost too difficult to calculate; with experience gained from operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Timor‑Leste, Bosnia, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan and a multitude of other conflict zones. The experience gained from these combat tours is now being translated to provide the highest level of effective conventional munitions disposal for the removal of ERW.

Lieutenant Commander Richard Brickacek is the Commander of Task Group 663.1 and is responsible to the overall Operation Commander for the clearance of ordnance across Guadalcanal. LCDR Brickacek said the operation was lucky to have some of the most combat experienced and proficient EOD operators in the world.

“Our operators are now using the skills they have developed while supporting multiple combat operations to focus on the humanitarian task of the removal of legacy munitions,” he said.

On top of the combat experience of the operators, a significant aspect of RENDER SAFE has been the partnership with the Royal Solomon Island Police Force (RSIPF) EOD unit.

“The opportunity to bring together operators from four nations and partner them with the professionals of the RSIPF EOD unit, acknowledged as one of the best in the region, is invaluable to the task,” LCDR Brickacek said.

In the first week of clearance operations, Operation RENDER SAFE has cleared 2671 individual pieces of ordnance with a combined explosive weight of nearly 1500 kg of TNT.

Operation RENDER SAFE will continue in Solomon Islands until December 7.

Imagery is available on the Royal Australian Navy Media Library at http://images.navy.gov.au/S20132172.