The science of Middle East boffins
9 August 2017
A team of ‘Boffins’ from the Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group are continuing to provide critical advice the Australian Defence Force (ADF) in the Middle East region.
Led by Science and Technology Liaison Officer Dr Christopher Wood, their role on Operation Accordion is to provide on-the-ground technical advice to the Joint Task Force 633 (JTF633) Headquarters and associated Task Groups in Afghanistan, Iraq and at sea.
Dr Wood said the term ‘Boffin’ is used in Defence to refer to scientific experts, specifically involved in technical research.
He said on operations, this research is used to identify problems, to develop solutions and ultimately help protect deployed personnel.
“We conduct research using analytical tools to assess trends and progress being made so that Commander JTF633 knows where to allocate recourses,” he said.
“We also work closely with deployed personnel to identify issues or problems affecting their work or the mission.”
When an issue or problem requires further analysis to provide a solution, Dr Wood and his team can call on the DST Group’s Reachback operational support capability.
“We act as the interface between deployed personnel and DST Group back home - essentially, we are the entry point to more than 2000 scientists and engineers available to support theatre-based tasks,” he said.
With about 1,700 ADF personnel operating in the Middle East region, the demand for Science and Technology support has seen Dr Wood’s team and previous rotations travel to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Since 1998, DST Group has deployed more than 200 scientists to support operations across the Middle East, Timor Leste, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.
Like those before them, Dr Wood and his team bring a unique skill-set when looking at operational issues.
Back in Australia, Dr Wood works within the DST Group Aerospace Division, specialising in gas turbine engine failure analysis and aircraft accident investigation.
He also researches advanced ultra-high temperature materials for high-speed flight applications.
His research requires an analytical mindset, which he said is useful in defining problems and developing appropriate solutions.
“As deployed scientists we bring a different perspective to problems,” he said.
“One of our primary roles here is helping people to work out what the problem is that they're dealing with, before we start looking for a solution.”
Often the solution is concerned with improving safety for deployed personnel.
Dr Wood and his Operations Analyst, Mr Tristan Goss, are currently working on a number of safety projects aimed at mitigating operational risk.
In the coming months, Mr Goss will be travelling to Iraq to conduct blast analysis on the .50 calibre Sniper Rifle.
“We're planning some trials to help analyse the effect of Iraqi weapon training,” Mr Goss said.
“This is to help ensure our training techniques are safe and effective.”
The blast analysis results will be used to inform force protection and personal protective equipment measures so both Iraqi soldiers and their Australian trainers can have the best possible protection.
Dr Wood said he finds this type of work extremely rewarding and knowing that he has “contributed to something that matters” by helping improve the safety of deployed personnel is why he chose to deploy again.
This is Dr Wood’s second deployment with the ADF to Australia’s main operating base.
While he admits it has been difficult being separated from his wife and that “six-and-a-half months on deployment is certainly not for everybody”, he said it is an experience worth chasing.
“For people with a bit of an adventurous side who like to get out of the office or lab, it's an amazing experience,” he said.
“My first deployment was a career highlight.
“Deploying with the ADF is a very unique opportunity that very few civilians get, so it is definitely worth doing if you get the chance.”
There are about 500 ADF personnel and Defence civilians deployed On Operation Accordion. They are employed in various headquarters, logistics and medical roles to support personnel and operations across the Middle East region.