An army marches on its stomach

Napoleon Bonaparte said, “To be effective an army relies on good, plentiful food.”

That is sometimes interpreted as “An army marches on its stomach”, though in today’s lean, green, fighting machine, Shakespeare’s “fair, round bellies with good capon lined” are frowned upon.

As are soldiers “full of strange oaths and bearded, sudden and quick in quarrel, while seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth”, who are deemed inappropriately triumphal.

For army readers, capon is what the RAAF calls chook, cockerels castrated to improve flavour.

CLICK LINK to continue reading …

An army marches on its stomach | Australian Defence History, Policy and Veterans Issues (

China’s neighbours seek expanded partnerships with US to deter, defend.

By Joe Gould

The Chinese Coast Guard ship made its presence known.

First, the ship sped near the Philippine patrol vessel Malapascua close to the Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef in the hotly contested South China Sea. Then, it allegedly came within 150 yards, blocking the Philippine ship’s path in what government officials later described as “dangerous manoeuvres,” before the Chinese crew pointed what Manila called a green “military grade” laser at some of the Philippine crew, temporarily blinding them.

China denied it was operating unsafely, but Philippine officials were unassuaged. President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian to express “serious concern.”

In the days before the alleged Feb. 6 incident, the United States and the Philippines had announced an expansion of their 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. Instead of periodic access for U.S. forces to five Philippine installations, they will have access to nine. The U.S. Navy’s top admiral has since offered Manila a chance for joint patrols: Philippine vessels cruising side by side with their American allies in the face of Chinese coercion.

Photo: The Philippines has accused China of using a green, military-grade laser at sea that allegedly blinding some Philippine Coast Guard crew members. (Philippine Coast Guard)

The agreement marked a striking reversal from Manila’s flirtation with ending most military cooperation with the U.S., as it sought to balance relations with Washington and Beijing. It capped a wave of personal diplomacy, in which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited the Philippines in 2021, President Joe Biden called Marcos to congratulate him on his election and Vice President Kamala Harris visited Manila in November.

And now the newly strengthened defence relationship was on full display. Austin called his counterpart days after the reported incident to reiterate that “an armed attack on Philippine armed forces, aircraft, and public vessels, including those of its Coast Guard, anywhere in the South China Sea, would invoke U.S. mutual defence commitments,” according to an official readout.

The Pentagon’s efforts to improve U.S. force posture in the Pacific have yielded a flurry of major agreements in recent months, with allies motivated by China’s aggressive behaviour to embrace the U.S. With new arrangements, the Pentagon aims to spread what it calls “combat credible” forces closer to Taiwan as a way to deter China from invading the island and ― if deterrence fails ― win any resulting fight.

The U.S. military’s problem is that heavy concentrations of its forces in Northeast Asia ― 50,000 in Japan and 28,000 in South Korea ― offer fat targets for China’s long-range missiles, which can reach areas as far away as Guam. Shifting to smaller, more distributed groupings not only complicates Chinese targeting but increases the presence of U.S. troops in the arc of islands east of Taiwan. China considers Taiwan a rogue province and has threatened to take it back by force if necessary.

In early December, Ely Ratner, the assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific security affairs, publicly pledged that 2023 would be a “transformative” year for U.S. force posture in the Pacific, and in the eight weeks that followed, the Pentagon made good with moves Ratner has said “will make our forward posture more distributed, resilient and lethal.”

Beyond increasing access to sites in the Philippines, the U.S. military is transforming a Marine regiment in Japan into a quick-reaction force. At the same time, Australia rotations for U.S. Air Force bomber task forces and fighters are due to increase this year, in addition to newer Army and Navy rotations there. Australia is also expected to agree to host U.S. submarines when it announces on March 13 the type of nuclear-propelled submarine it will obtain.


With tension over Taiwan escalating in recent years, amid Chinese military flights near the territory and controversial visits by U.S. politicians, the Biden administration has pushed for deeper ties in the region. Three months after Ratner forecast the new arrangements, he said on March 2 that “it’s already been really a breakthrough year for U.S. alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.”

A change of pace in Manila

The Philippines is a case that might give a defence watcher whiplash.

In 2020, then-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced plans to cancel Manila’s 1999 agreement to allow U.S. forces to visit, but he reversed course when Austin visited in June 2021 following a series of incidents that included a standoff with China over the contested Whitsun Reef. Fast forward to Austin’s visit with Marcos in February, where the two nations agreed to expand U.S. military presence there with access to four more bases.

The Philippines has long been a target of China’s maritime coercion in the resource-rich, busy South China Sea. There, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan are among the countries involved in a tense, decades-long territorial impasse.

It’s unclear how a greater American presence will impact that dynamic. But the U.S. and the Philippines are planning high-level talks this spring to clarify the locations of the newly accessible sites — potentially in the northern Philippines, near Taiwan and the South China Sea. (The 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA, authorizes U.S. military use of Philippine sites, but rules out permanent basing.)

The Philippine government said it earmarked $66.5 million to construct facilities for training, storage and more. Further infrastructure improvements, including airfield repairs and pre-positioned fuel supplies, are on the table.

“U.S. access to Philippine bases will offer a new level of training, exercises and interoperability between forces to modernize and develop the Philippines military ― to enable us to respond to events more quickly,” Ratner told Defense News. “Meetings in the spring will afford an opportunity to clarify which airfields may need repairs or be suitable for pre-positioned equipment so that we can respond to contingencies in the South China Sea or conduct joint disaster relief missions.”

Stacie Pettyjohn, director of the defence program at the Center for a New American Security think tank, said that because the existing sites have languished, it’s unlikely that, without more investments, the runways or aprons are strong enough to support fully loaded U.S. fighters or bombers. The two countries also may be considering modest locations from where U.S. Marine or Army forces could operate surveillance drones or launch less expensive, mobile missiles.

There are several questions involved in the site selection process, according to Pettyjohn: “Is it a mountainous area? What can it range from that place, and can they actually reach the targets the U.S. wants to be able to hold at risk or that they want to be surveilling if they have unmanned or manned aircraft conducting surveillance in that area?”

U.S. Army Secretary Christine Wormuth said she’s hopeful the Philippines, alongside Australia, Guam and Japan, will host logistics hubs for pre-positioned fuel and other supplies the Army wants to bring to the region. The service’s role in a Pacific fight would be to furnish the joint force with long-range fires, as well as secure staging sites and communications.

“The folks in the Philippines have expanded the EDCA sites because of their concerns about what they see [China] doing,” Wormuth said at a Feb. 28 event in Washington. “I would like to see us continue to have wins like those four new sites. Our job in the Army certainly is to just be as ready as we can to take advantage of those agreements when they get signed.”

U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday said in a Feb. 22 visit to Manila the U.S. is “committed” to joint maritime patrols with the country in the South China Sea, and that details will likely emerge from broader bilateral talks.

In the meantime, the U.S., the Philippines and Australia plan to show off their strengthened ties with a bigger version of the joint Balikatan exercise, set for April. Last year’s exercise with the U.S. and the Philippines was billed as the largest since 2015, with a combined 8,900 troops.

“You’re going to see an increase with respect to the numbers. I think you’re going to see an increase with respect to the joint mix of capabilities that we bring together this time in Balikatan,” Gilday told reporters, adding that the drill “would provide a very powerful optic of assurance.”

Watching Taiwan from Japan

When the Chinese military’s large-scale drills near Taiwan last August managed to send some missiles into the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japan saw it as a warning. And it reacted.

In January, Washington and Tokyo announced a new U.S. Marine quick-reaction force on Okinawa and unveiled plans to deepen military cooperation on Japan’s other southwest islands near Taiwan. The Okinawa-based 12th Marine Regiment, an artillery unit, will become the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment ― with advanced intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, anti-ship and transportation capabilities.

Japan has also announced it will acquire new counterstrike capabilities and raise defence spending to 2% of its gross domestic product, which would total about 43 trillion yen (U.S. $315 billion) through 2027. This marks a dramatic change for a nation that forged a pacifist approach to its defence after World War II and historically kept defence spending below 1% of its GDP.

Japan wants to buy American-made Tomahawk cruise missiles and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles that can reach potential targets in China ― and extend the range of its Type 12 land-based anti-ship missile. Tokyo also announced plans to buy all 400 of the Raytheon Technologies-made Tomahawks it is seeking from the U.S. at once this year, rather than over several years as initially planned.

Photo: The U.S. Navy submarine Annapolis and aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan participate in an antisubmarine exercise with South Korea and Japan in waters between the two countries on Sept. 30, 2022. (South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)

The U.S. and Japan also agreed to the shared use of U.S. facilities on Okinawa. Marine officials say the littoral regiment will bolster the U.S. presence beyond Okinawa, into the first island chain, which stretches from Japan’s East China Sea islands through the Philippines.

Japan may use Okinawa as it adds bases, radars and air defence units on its chain of southwestern islands, which extend from Japan’s largest island to Yonaguni, which is 70 miles east of Taiwan. The deal also opened up these islands for joint training ― offering U.S. forces a greater familiarity with the terrain on which they’d operate in a confrontation over Taiwan.

“These islands are proximate to where the [Taiwan] conflict would be playing out, and in concept at least they would allow these small [American] units to place Chinese naval assets at risk,” said Christopher Johnstone, a former White House director for East Asia who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank. “The idea of this distributed presence with self-reliant comms, ISR capabilities and weapons has a pretty strong logic if it plays out according to the concept.”

Marine littoral regiments are designed with stealth, speed and military prowess in mind. From beaches and straits throughout the region, they’d have naval strike missiles with 100-mile ranges capable of conducting anti-ship strikes or gaining sea control with just the threat of being able to target enemy ships.

“Having the [Marine littoral regiment] outfitted with anti-ship cruise missiles would allow them to really go after a potential Chinese invasion fleet, if China were to launch an amphibious invasion of Taiwan,” said Becca Wasser, who leads the Center for a New American Security’s gaming lab. “In line with the Marine Corps concept of stand-in forces, the Marines are supposed to be able to conduct sea-denial [missions] and be able to bottle up Chinese forces to ensure they don’t go outside the first island chain.”

Marine littoral regiments are also designed to use MQ-9A Reaper drones for extended-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance ― sensing what’s happening in the region and passing those findings to joint force commanders in the theater or directly to Marines with the anti-ship missiles to take immediate action.

According to a Marine Corps spokesman, Marine Corps Air Station at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, will be home to two General Atomics-made Reapers later this year, and six by fiscal 2025 ― replacing the smaller Boeing Insitu RQ-21 Blackjack.

A new squadron on base and activated in January, Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 153 will this year absorb the first of six KC-130J tankers. The aerial refuelling aircraft are meant to allow more Hawaii-based Marines to move throughout the vast region in the event of a crisis.

Speaking at the West naval conference in February, the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Eric Smith, teased that the Reapers and refuelling aircraft were just two on a “laundry list” of U.S. military moves in the Pacific that “gets a lot longer and a lot sexier” at the classified level.

Australian modernization

Australia is expected to announce this month how it will acquire a fleet of submarines powered with U.S. nuclear technology as part of the trilateral AUKUS pact. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese recently called the program “the single biggest leap in our defence capability in our history.”

Options to replace the Australian-built Collins-class diesel-electric submarines that went into service more than 20 years ago include a next-generation U.S. Virginia-class sub, a British Astute-class boat or a new hybrid design.

But whatever the decision, Australia is also expected to host new rotations of U.S. nuclear-powered submarines as it begins a long ramp-up to 2040, when the plans call for the boats to arrive. That would give Australia’s naval personnel a chance to acclimate themselves to operating and maintaining the complex submarines.

“The rotation issue, I would be shocked if that’s not openly discussed in the next couple of weeks,” Connecticut Rep. Joe Courtney, the top Democrat on the House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, said during a March 3 interview.

Eric Sayers, a former staffer for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command during the Trump administration, said he also expects U.S. and U.K. naval nuclear power schools to welcome Australians, who will “have to get on our nuclear submarines, deploy and learn.”

“It’s already going to be a long pathway to deliver this capability; it’s better to start that training now,” Sayers said.

Also likely, according to Pettyjohn, is that the Pentagon acquires rotational basing for its ships and submarines in locations like Perth, the Western Australian city that houses Australia’s Collins fleet. By her thinking, the U.S. could seek to build Australia-based stockpiles of missiles for its ships and submarines with vertical launching systems, especially if the Pacific ally operates the same kinds of munitions.

Amid criticism that Australia’s lack of nuclear expertise will leave it heavily reliant on nuclear-armed partners, Austin has vowed Australia will not face a capability gap as it waits for nuclear-powered subs. Without disclosing details, the defence secretary also pledged to increase U.S. rotations of bomber task forces and fighters in Australia in addition to bolstering Army and Navy rotations there.

The moves in 2023 dovetail with rotations in 2021 of F-22, B-2 and B-1 aircraft, and with fuel, runway and ordnance storage infrastructure projects underway at the Darwin and Tindal airfields in Australia’s Northwest Territory. The U.S. spent millions of dollars in recent years to build ramps and storage for munitions and fuel so that, in a crisis, American refuelling aircraft could use Darwin and bombers could use Tindal.

Last year, the U.S. announced plans to accommodate up to six nuclear-capable B-52 bombers by upgrading facilities at Tindal by 2027. The project, expected to cost as much as $100 million, would build a new concrete apron and squadron operations facilities as a means to better host bombers, tankers and fighters.

“We’re building physical bases in places like Japan and Guam, but we’re also building infrastructure that we could quickly fall in on, that has what we need to scale up quickly ― in the Philippines and northern Australia,” Sayers said. “Some of these things are permanent for a heavier presence, while others are lighter so that we can go there if we need to.”

Military construction

Defence experts and at least one key lawmaker believe the recent moves are positive steps, but that the U.S. must make more investments in military construction. Budget watchers will be looking at the Pentagon’s military construction budget, known as MILCON, and the separate Pacific Deterrence Initiative for new proposals.

“If we’re going to be serious about pre-positioning Marine Corps, Navy and air assets, it goes hand and glove that you’ve got to build support for it, which obviously is airfields,” Courtney said.

A recent Center for Strategic and International Studies war game for a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan highlighted the vulnerability of allied aircraft. It found that most would be destroyed on the ground as China launches missile attacks on U.S. bases in Japan and Guam.

Cognizant of the threat, the Air Force wants to establish a system of resilient basing that relies less on established forward bases that are well known to enemies and more on the “agile combat employment” concept of flexible satellite bases dispersed in a “hub-and-spoke” system.

Wasser is among the experts calling for the military to invest more in passive defences by building hardened aircraft shelters, particularly on Tinian in the Mariana Islands and on Guam, which has none.

“Looking at some basic resiliency efforts, there are things that you need to do to create passive and active defences on U.S. air bases,” Wasser said. “We announced these EDCA sites, but the state of the sites is unclear at the moment. All this suggests you’re going to want to see a request in MILCON or line items in [the Pacific Deterrence Initiative] for base resilience or infrastructure enhancement.”

Another expense is coming as the U.S. military shuts down a major fuel storage facility — Red Hill in Hawaii — after it leaked petroleum into Pearl Harbor’s tap water last year. Because Red Hill supplied fuel for Navy jets and surface combatants, the public health disaster may also hamstring U.S. operations in the Pacific, Sayers said.

“We basically didn’t address the issue of critical aviation and surface combatant fuel storage at this location for years. We just didn’t resource it properly,” Sayers said.

The Red Hill underground fuel storage facility consists of 20 steel-lined underground storage tanks encased in concrete, which together could store up to 250 million gallons of fuel.

“This fuel was not just protected, relatively safe, but huge portions of it are necessary to be able to sustain a maritime fight, not just for days, but weeks and months,” Sayers said. “We basically shut all that down without a clear plan or a budget for how we would disperse it.”

While stateside military construction funding is popular on Capitol Hill because it provides local economic boosts, military construction overseas can be a tough sell. It remains to be seen whether the tab for these moves would be picked up by or shared with host countries ― or be small enough, given the modest footprint for the forces involved, to fall under the budgets for training and military exercises.

Courtney predicted that a request for more military construction funding to support the plans would be “well-received” by centrist Democrats and Republicans.

“Despite the fact that maybe some people think members of Congress view MILCON as earmarks for their district, I think the drumbeat of briefings on new dispersed presence is really sinking in, and people get it,” he said.

Megan Eckstein, Geoff Ziezulewicz and Jen Judson contributed to this report.


Ridiculous reporting on 3RAR training/news video

Photo: Australian Army soldiers from 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and 1st Military Police Battalion defend against role players as part of a Populations Protection Control course at Lavarack Barracks in Townsville, Queensland. Photo by Bombardier Guy Sadler.

Daily Mail Australia newspaper published a ludicrous story this week headlined – “Outrage as the Australian Army releases a chilling recruitment ad showing soldiers attacking ‘civilians’ rather than foreign enemies”.

The newspaper’s headline justified with the sub head – “Commenter compares it to anti-lockdown protests in pandemic”. The newspaper report said “A new Australian Army recruitment advertisement has sparked outrage for showing soldiers engaged in a battle with ‘civilians’ rather than foreign combatants.

“The ad opens with soldiers wearing visors and carrying riot shields rushing to a stand off with people wearing casual outfits, but some of whom have military backpacks” [though the video clearly shows most of the ‘civilians’ wearing military chest webbing]. “The ad is titled ‘Population Protection Control training’, but a commenter under the video said what they’re doing should be called ‘riot-control training’ [we actually agree with this line – Defence regularly shoots itself in the foot trying to make things sound more innocuous]. “‘Hopefully you guys don’t employ these tactics next time there’s a peaceful protest in Melbourne’, they said, referring to anti-lockdown protests during the pandemic [which were exclusively handled by police]. “In the clip, as soldiers crouch behind their shields they’re pelted with bricks, then a soldier with a German shepherd dog on a leash orders the protestors to ‘Move back’. “The dog, who is wearing a military vest, salivates at what’s happening and later bites into the arm of a protestor who [just happens to be] protected by heavy padding. “Amid dramatic music, the soldiers move forward on the protestors, who continue to pelt them with bricks, while one attacks the officers with a baton. “As the intensity of the pounding music builds, the soldiers come under fierce attack by kicks, batons and having a huge tractor wheel [actually two small-ish truck tyres, which anyone who actually watched the video and knew the difference between a truck and a tractor or a tyre and a wheel would have easily identified] rolled into them.

“The soldiers eventually prevail, though one of the protestors then uses a loudhailer to say ‘They can’t take us all,’ to laughter from those around him. “The ad, filmed at Lavarack Barracks, Townsville, Queensland includes soldiers from the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment and the 1st Military Police Battalion. “The Australian Defence Force denied it provides training to soldiers to suppress domestic protests when asked by Daily Mail Australia. “Population Protection Control employs non-lethal techniques to assist soldiers responding to large or aggressive crowds in situations of civil unrest while on overseas deployments,” a Defence spokesperson said. “This includes peacekeeping operations where soldiers may be faced with large crowds at food distribution points or evacuation operations where soldiers are required to hold the security of perimeters in the face of desperate crowds.” “The department added that the training tested their ability to cope with what the ‘realistic, high-pressure scenarios, preparing them for stability operations and ensuring the Brigade remains a capable and ready force’. “But [not to let the truth get in the way of a shite story, the newspaper continued…] many commenters were concerned at what the advertisement portrayed. “‘Let’s not kid ourselves this isn’t about ‘protection’ but about ‘Control’ we haven’t forgot what happened during 2020 & 2021,’ said one [who couldn’t cite a single incident where military riot control was used – because domestic riots are handled by relevant State police forces]. “Another wrote: ‘Take out the protection and you have the real meaning of this.’ [because he obviously knows] “A third added that this is what happens ‘when the govt is afraid of their own citizens’. [god help us!] “There were some commenters however who voiced their support for the ad. [ooh, a fair and balanced ending…] “One commenter who claimed to have participated in similar training with the Australian Army also gave his take on the situation. “‘When we did it prior to the Sydney Olympics, we were dealing with Molotov Cocktails being thrown at us and a bunch of other stuff,’ the person said. “‘Would have loved just to get rocks and the occasional tyre’.”

CONTACT’s favourite comment on the Daily Mail Australia post was “To be fair one of the rioters had Parramatta footy shorts on”.

Port Kembla emerges as preferred site for new submarine base.

By defence correspondent Andrew Greene in San Diego


The bustling New South Wales maritime gateway of Port Kembla has firmed as the Defence Department’s preferred location for a new east-coast submarine base which would eventually house Australia’s future nuclear-powered boats.

Last year former prime minister Scott Morrison announced Port Kembla as one of three potential options for a new naval facility, along with Brisbane and the NSW city of Newcastle.

Defence, government and industry figures have told the ABC that Port Kembla, south of Wollongong’s CBD, is now the strongly favoured option because of its deep ocean approaches, superior surrounding infrastructure, and more suited location.

A final decision is yet to be made by the Albanese government, but in recent months officials have begun carrying out initial scoping work on the site, focusing on Port Kembla’s outer harbour.

This week, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will join his British counterpart, Rishi Sunak, and US President Joe Biden in San Diego, California, for the long-awaited unveiling of Australia’s “optimal pathway” for acquiring nuclear-powered submarines — but a decision on where their future base will be may not be announced for months.

One defence official, who was not authorised to speak publicly, said the partial Chinese ownership of Newcastle Port, as well as its river approach, had presented difficulties for the site.

Similarly, the Port of Brisbane is considered an inferior option because submarines would have to transit across Moreton Bay, and stormwater problems caused by the flooding of the Brisbane River are considered a risk.

For many years, there has been a push by some advocates in the Illawarra region to relocate Australia’s existing main east-coast naval base from Sydney’s Garden Island to Port Kembla.

However, in Port Kembla there are also strong local reservations about turning the facility into a future naval base, with critics considering the harbour too small and already very congested with commercial shipping traffic.

Shortly after Labor’s election win last year, federal minister Stephen Jones, who represents the Illawarra electorate of Whitlam, voiced his opposition to Port Kembla becoming a submarine base.

“Port Kembla has got a big future and the question for the people of the Illawarra is whether that big future is compatible with having nuclear submarines and all the necessary infrastructure that would go with that occupying space in Port Kembla harbour when that could be given over to literally dozens of other commercial opportunities.”

“Let’s calm it down and have a serious analysis of what’s in the best interests of our national defence and of my region, and I think we can do both of those things in the cool hard light of day,” Mr Jones told the ABC in June 2022.

In a statement to the ABC, the Defence Department insisted no decision had yet been made and studies of all three shortlisted sites were continuing.

“The three potential locations for an east coast naval base are subject to detailed feasibility assessments,” a spokesperson told the ABC.

“Engagement has commenced with the New South Wales and Queensland governments to progress the feasibility work.”





Today I will not be able to post any articles as Julie and I are off to the Gold Coast Caravan Show. The weather report says rain but I’ve been wet before today and survived.

I’ll be back online tomorrow.


PS: I’m not allowed to buy anything … we’ll see, Haha.

1RAR Brisbane Anzac Day 2023

These are the current Brisbane ANZAC Day details as they currently stand for those marching with the 1RAR Association.

Post-March Function:

The 1RAR Association has not organised a post-march function this year as the organisers and the vast majority of past function attendees will be in Canberra for the Somalia 30 year reunion.

If anyone is prepared to organise or nominate a venue for get together let please let Andrew Skinner know so that he can spread the word.

Buggy Transport:

If you require buggy transport for the Brisbane Anzac Day March, please email Andrew at [email protected]  and he will email you a request form.

March FUP:

This year 1 RAR’s FUP is at the corner of George and Charlotte streets at 1015 am, look for the 1 RAR banner.

I will keep you updated on any changes in the lead-up to ANZAC Day 2023.

Andrew Skinner


[email protected]

What It Was Like To Be a Trench Soldier in WWI

WWI was one of the most catastrophic events in human history. But soldiers at the front lines who spent life in the trenches lived through a particularly harrowing war experience. Their stories reveal an experience that was often bleak, but also movingly human.

Insecticide deceit?:  the truth about insecticides used at Nui Dat 

By John Mordike*


Over the last two years I have undertaken a study on the use of insecticides at the 1 ATF base at Nui Dat, the home of the Australian and the New Zealand fighting force in Vietnam. The most important finding of this study is that much of the truth about insecticide use by 1 ATF has never been revealed. 

Taking a broad perspective, my study has revealed the roles played by the Army, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Primary Industry in the examination and reporting of the use of insecticides by the Australian Army in Vietnam.

This article narrows the focus. It presents a synopsis of the findings of my study in relation to the use of insecticides at Nui Dat. 

The article is based on primary source documents from Army’s Vietnam records. The records are held by the Research Centre, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, and are available to the public for research under the terms of the Archives Act (1983).

After the passage of forty years and a Royal Commission in 1983-5, it is time the truth was revealed. 


Developments at Nui Dat in 1970

In August 1970, the Officer Commanding Detachment 1 Field Hygiene Company at Nui Dat realised that very serious errors were being made with the use of insecticides. He brought his concerns to the attention of Headquarters 1st Australian Task Force (HQ 1 ATF), Nui Dat. In turn, HQ 1 ATF wrote to Headquarters Australian Force Vietnam (HQ AFV), located in Saigon, with the advice that:

‘All insecticides/pesticides containing DIELDRIN are to be withdrawn from issue, as in the Hygiene Officer’s opinion the use of this chemical in any form is dangerous to humans …’.

The Hygiene Officer’s advice about Dieldrin was correct. He subsequently advised that Dieldrin’s toxicity was officially rated as ‘Extremely Toxic’. Dieldrin was a very dangerous chemical and it posed real dangers for human health and the environment. But there were other very dangerous insecticides being used at Nui Dat, such as Chlordane, Lindane and Diazinon.

How toxic were these insecticides?

On 22 May 2001, delegates from 120 nations, including Australia, signed an international treaty banning twelve of the world’s most dangerous chemicals in Stockholm. The dangerous chemicals were described as ‘persistent organic pollutants [which] are among the most dangerous of all manufactured products and toxic wastes which cause fatal diseases and birth defects in humans and animals’. 

Dieldrin was one of those chemicals. Chlordane was another. 

Both of these insecticides were used regularly at the 1 ATF base at Nui Dat.

The Hygiene Officer’s advice should have brought a stop to the use of Dieldrin, at least, in 1970. But it did not.


Army’s Supply Policy on Insecticides was Flawed

Although Dieldrin and Chlordane were banned internationally in 2001, their extreme toxicity and danger to human health were known in the 1970s. Yet Army supply policy failed to reflect this.

When the Hygiene Officer’s advice to cease using Dieldrin was considered at HQ AFV in August 1970, it was realised that Army’s official supply policy placed no restrictions on the issue and use of Dieldrin and any other insecticides with ‘extremely toxic’ and ‘very toxic’ratings. According to Army’s documented supply policy, any unit could request these highly dangerous insecticides. Furthermore, personnel dispersing them required no qualifications or training. It was a very serious policy error. 

My research has shown that, as a result of the policy and lack of awareness, ‘extremely toxic’ and ‘very toxic’ insecticides were dispersed at Nui Dat over a period of years in alarming volumes. An indication of the quantities involved will be given later in this article.

Remarkably, the realisation in August1970 that the Army’s supply policy was wrong produced no changes in the issue and use of Dieldrin, Chlordane and other dangerous insecticides at Nui Dat. The same insecticides were used again without restriction in 1971. 


Two Classes of Insecticides

To assist in understanding what happened at Nui Dat, it is necessary to understand how insecticides are classified and how they work.

Insecticides are divided into two classes which dictate the way in which they are intended to be used:

  • Knockdown Insecticides; &,
  • Residual Insecticides

Everyone will be familiar with Knockdown Insecticides. They are the insecticides that we use in our homes in pressure-pack spray cans. The insecticide is released into the air in the form of an aerosol or vapour. Knockdown insecticides are also dispersed by mosquito coils and, for larger areas, by fogging and misting. The insect comes into physical contact with the vapour or aerosol, generally when in flight. The pyrethrum in the spray paralyses the insect while another mild toxic element kills the insect. Because of their low toxicity, Knockdown Insecticides are relatively safe to use in areas of human habitation.

Residual Insecticides function differently. This class of insecticides is designed to be sprayed or applied directly to hard surfaces, sometimes plants but generally buildings, where it forms a film which eventually dries and crystallises. When the insect alights on, or crawls over, the treated surface and remains in contact with the treated surface for a period of time, it is poisoned and dies. To be effective, Residual Insecticides require a high degree of toxicity and they also need to be persistent, that is, they need to be long lasting. Only properly trained personnel should use these insecticides in special circumstances under close supervision.

Significantly, documents show that when the Hygiene Officer’s representations were considered at HQ AFV in August 1970, it was realised that the Army had no bulk Knockdown Insecticide in its inventory. It never had. Therefore, all area spraying and fogging at Nui Dat was executed with Residual Insecticides alone. This supply problem was never rectified. The only Knockdown Insecticide available was in the hand-held pressure-pack spray can. 

The following table lists the range of Residual Insecticides used by the Army in Vietnam. The toxicity rating of each – taken from the Hygiene Officer’s documents at the time – are also shown. It will be noted that Dieldrin and Chlordane were two of the most toxic insecticides.

Residual Insecticide
Toxicity Rating
Extremely Toxic
Extremely Toxic
Extremely Toxic
Very Toxic
Moderately Toxic
Slightly Toxic

Although Malathion was rated as ‘slightly toxic’ in the 1970s, in July 2006, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reported the results of research that: “Malathion …is converted to its metabolite, malaoxon … in insects and mammals’.  The US EPA reported that tests on rats showed that Malaoxon was ‘61x more toxic to adults [rats] than malathion’. When Malathion was dispersed it could convert to Malaoxon through oxidation in water treatment processes or through reaction with ambient air. It was inevitable that Malathion dispersed from aircraft over Nui Dat would settle on Rowe’s Lagoon, the open water supply for Nui Dat. During the wet season, Residual Insecticides would also have found their way into the water supply through run-off.


Further Developments at Nui Dat in 1970

In September 1970, a month after he first raised the issue of insecticides, the Hygiene Officer wrote to HQ 1 ATF and HQ AFV with the advice that:

‘Residual insecticides are dangerous poisons and therefore are issued and used only by trained Army Health personnel.’

Apparently, the Hygiene Officer did not know that Army supply policy permitted the ‘dangerous poisons’ to be issued freely to any unit and to be dispersed by unqualified personnel. The officer then explained briefly how Residual Insecticides worked and highlighted the problem with the use of insecticides at Nui Dat:

‘It has been the incorrect practice in the past to use Residual insecticides in a knock down capacity.’

Dispersing Residual Insecticides as though they were Knockdown Insecticides was a largely ineffective method of eradicating insects, but, significantly, as the Hygiene Officer pointed out to HQ 1 ATF and HQ AFV, it was ‘somewhat dangerous to humans’.

Toxic insecticides could enter the human body through inhalation, ingestion and absorption through the skin.

As a result of the Hygiene Officer’s advice, a senior medical officer was alerted to the problem with insecticide use at Nui Dat. He commented that: 

‘It is obvious that previous insecticide practice in 1 ATF is [sic] unsound.’

And again in his end-of-tour report the same medical officer noted that:

‘Use of insecticides in 1 ATF has not been subject to adequate control.’

Before leaving Vietnam on 23 December 1970, the senior medical officer directed the Hygiene Officer to prepare an AFV policy document on the use of insecticides.

In the draft policy document, the Hygiene Officer recommended that:

‘the chlorinated hydrocarbons, CHLORDANE, LINDANE, DDT and DIELDRIN and any other of this group of insecticides be removed from the scale of issue to Aust forces in Vietnam’.

There is no evidence that the AFV insecticide policy document was ever promulgated. But, sadly, there is abundant evidence that the same errors with insecticide dispersal were made at Nui Dat during the next wet season in 1971; Residual Insecticides continued to be dispersed in a knockdown capacity. Indeed, it is evident the method of dispersal in 1971 was somewhat more dangerous for human health than it had been in the past.


The Wet Season of 1971 at Nui Dat

On 15 May 1971, the Commander of 1 ATF issued Routine Order Part 1, Serial 28, Number 111. The subject of the Order was ‘Medical – Prevention of Insect-Borne Diseases’.

In the introductory paragraph, the Order explained that insect-borne diseases had caused high manpower loss in previous wet seasons and, therefore, a co-ordinated campaign had been designed for 1971 to combat the insect threat. Spraying insecticide from Australian aircraft was to be the centrepiece of the campaign. In previous years, US fixed-wing aircraft had sprayed insecticide over Nui Dat.   

According to the Routine Order, the 1971 campaign was based on ‘the latest medical advice’ and was to consist of the following measures:

‘(1)  Residual spraying by fixed and rotary-wing aircraft initially at fortnightly and later at weekly intervals.

(2) Residual spraying of bunkers and building interiors.

(3) Ground fogging of unit areas with residual and knock down sprays.’

Remarkably, the campaign was based almost entirely on the use of Residual Insecticide and, of most concern, the aerial dispersal of Residual Insecticide.

Unfortunately, the Hygiene Officer who had warned in September – just 8 months previously – that Residual Insecticides were ‘dangerous poisons’ and that using them as though they were Knockdown Insecticides was ‘somewhat dangerous to humans’ was no longer serving at Nui Dat. He had returned to Australia on 7 April.

Veterans who served at Nui Dat in 1971 recall that, each week, the aerial spraying was executed by Iroquois helicopters from 9 Squadron RAAF. Documents show that the helicopter spraying commenced on 25 May 1971.

My research has revealed that the documented medical advice given to the Commander 1 ATF, like the Commander’s subsequent Routine Order, failed to specify a particular insecticide to be used in the aerial and ground spraying or fogging dispersal campaign. The medical advice simply stated that the class of Residual Insecticides was to be used in both aerial and ground dispersal. The lack of specific advice opened the door for the use of dangerous insecticides.


Two Veterans Speak Up

In 1982, one veteran, who served at Nui Dat with 3rd Battalion RAR as a member of the regimental hygiene squad, submitted a statutory declaration to a Senate Enquiry on pesticide use in Vietnam.  The veteran said his duties ‘included dispersing Malathion and Dieldrin with a swing fog device’. He went on to explain that he ‘did not dilute any chemicals’ during his service at Nui Dat from February to October 1971. ‘Nor did any of the men I worked with to the best of my knowledge.’  The veteran continued:

‘We sprayed to kill mosquitoes, cockroaches, scorpions and snakes. The fog was dispersed under floorboards of tents, into tents occupied by soldiers, between sandbags around tents, around grease pits and rubbish cans, and kitchen waste areas.’

While undertaking this spraying, the veteran stated that he wore no protective clothing, nor did his workmates. The veteran also stated that after returning from Vietnam he had ‘suffered from a number of medical problems including depression, nervousness and many bouts of irrational behaviour’. His sons also had ‘medical problems’. The veteran died in May 2011, aged 66.

Another veteran, who had served with 12 Field Regiment based at Nui Dat in 1968-69 and again, in 1970, for a total of eight months with the Detachment 1 Field Hygiene Company at Nui Dat, gave evidence to the same Senate Enquiry observing that:

‘The high incidence of malaria and encephalitis caused operators and supervisors to lift concentrations to very high toxicity to achieve a kill. Many sprays were over three times the usual concentration and mixed into cocktails of different chemicals.’

This veteran died in 1994 at the age of 46


What Quantities of Insecticides were used at Nui Dat?

On 15 October 1968, a Supply and Transport staff officer on HQ 1 ATF, wrote to the Deputy Assistant Director of Supply and Transport on HQ AFV, informing him of the results of a survey of certain expense supplies that were demanded by units at Nui Dat over a three-month period. The quantities of insecticides being consumed at Nui Dat were included in the survey and they are presented in the following table.

Amount Used at Nui Dat in 3 Months – 1968
Toxicity Rating
600 gallons
Extremely Toxic
520 gallons
Extremely Toxic
Lindane Powder
216 two-ounce cans
Extremely Toxic
Diazinon Liquid
600 gallons
Very Toxic
Diazinon Powder 
300 pounds
Very Toxic
222 gallons
Moderately Toxic
520 gallons
Slightly Toxic

The supply officer who completed the survey recommended that these usage rates be adopted to establish the working stock levels for supply units at Nui Dat. 

These are alarming quantities. In a three-month period in 1968, 1,120 gallons of ‘extremely toxic’ Dieldrin and Chlordane alone had been dispersed at Nui Dat. Remember that both of these chemicals were among the world’s twelve most dangerous chemicals that were banned internationally in 2001.

It should be remembered that while the Australians were dispersing these quantities of insecticides at Nui Dat from ground-based equipment, US fixed-wing aircraft were also aerially spraying the base with either Malathion, or, perhaps, DDT, each fortnight.

The quantities of insecticides being used in 1968 were not an aberration. Other Australian supply documents from Vietnam show that in mid-1970 there were 285 gallons of Dieldrin in stock with a further 300 gallons on order, 35 gallons of Chlordane with a further 100 gallons due in, 100 gallons of Lindane Liquid with 300 gallons due in, and so on with similar amounts for the other Residual Insecticides.


Why hasn’t this information come to light before? 

Responding to the public controversy over the spraying of herbicides in early 1982, Army Headquarters, Canberra, established a research project to examine its 21,000 working files from the Vietnam war – the very same records used to write this article. While the original aim of the Army’s research project was to determine what herbicides had been used, the scope of the project was expanded to include insecticides and other chemicals that had been used by the Army in Vietnam. Although this was essentially an Army project, Department of Veterans’ Affairs also played a part in the research and writing. 

The work of the research project was completed in May 1982. The findings were incorporated in a large, complex document which was known thereafter as the Army Report. But the original May version of the Army Report was subject to some amendment action before Minister of Defence Mr Ian Sinclair presented the report to Parliament in December 1982. Mr Sinclair had already explained in October that the ‘original version of the report [had] been revised to add information where a more detailed description was felt necessary; [to] make minor corrections such as spelling and typographical corrections; and [to] make other editorial changes to improve the flow of the report.’

The December version of the Army Report became an evidentiary base for information on the exposure of Australian veterans to Agent Orange, insecticides and other chemicals. Indeed, in relation to insecticides, the Army Report was used by, and quoted extensively in, the final report of the Royal Commission.

What becomes clear as a result of my recent study is that, on the subject of insecticides, the Army Report is a most unsatisfactory document. Indeed, I have discovered it to be riddled with obfuscation, omissions and misleading comments. For the sake of brevity, only three examples are considered here. 


Failure to Report Aerial Spraying in 1971  When the Army Report examined the contents of the medical advice given to the Commander 1 ATF in May 1971 to implement an insect eradication campaign, the report gave precedence to the ground spraying program and simply failed to mention the aerial dispersal element. Likewise, when the Army Report mentioned the Commander’s subsequent Routine Order to implement the campaign, it reported that the order detailed ‘the contents of a coordinated campaign against insect-borne disease’. And that is all. The contents of the campaign were not reported.

Therefore, in a remarkable omission, the Army Report failed to mention the aerial spraying program of Residual Insecticides that was undertaken on a weekly basis using 9 Squadron RAAF helicopters. Aerial dispersal was the centrepiece of the whole campaign. This was a critical omission because it had implications for veterans’ health.

The Royal Commission accepted the Army Report as it stood, so it too failed to report that RAAF helicopters had undertaken a weekly spraying campaign of Residual Insecticide at Nui Dat, commencing on 25 May 1971.

Thus Vietnam veterans were denied the possibility of Repatriation medical treatment and benefits for illnesses that may have been caused by exposure to these Residual Insecticides.


Obfuscation over Amount of Dieldrin Dispersed  Similar unsatisfactory reporting was evident when the Army Report detailed the quantities of insecticides dispersed at Nui Dat.

The Army Report claimed that it could report accurately the quantities of each insecticide used at Nui Dat on a monthly basis from December 1967 to September 1971 because a detailed set of 1 ATF accounting records existed. So the Army Report listed all of the insecticides in all their forms that were used at Nui Dat. For example, there were 133,557 large pressure-pack aerosol cans, 2,832 pounds of Diazinon powder, 123,502 three-ounce bottles of insect repellent and 2,360,350 packs containing 150 Dapsone tablets. It was also reported that 2,792 gallons of Malathion and 2,940 gallons of Chlordane were dispersed by Australians at Nui Dat. Yet in the midst of all this accounting accuracy, it was remarkable that Dieldrin alone was the exception.

In the Army Report that was submitted to Parliament in December 1982, the amount of Dieldrin issued at Nui Dat over the four-year period was simply listed as 430. But 430 what? The units of quantity were not mentioned.

To claim that detailed Army accounting records did not designate what quantity of Dieldrin was being issued, while all other insecticides were accurately accounted for, is nonsense. While I have never been able to locate the detailed accounting records cited in the Army Report, I have found a number of documents in the Army records held by the Australian War Memorial that show that Dieldrin came from a US source in 5 gallon drums and that the Australian unit of issue was the gallon.

Further highlighting the unsatisfactory reporting of the quantity of Dieldrin issued, readers will also recall that the survey of usage rates at Nui Dat reported that 600 gallons of Dieldrin had been issued at Nui Dat in just a three-month period in 1968. The Army Report, however, did not mention this documented fact.

Was this misreporting, incompetence or something more?

Again, the Army Report misled the Royal Commission. The final report of the Royal Commission reproduced the usage rates listed in the Army Report showing that 430 had been issued at Nui Dat, while noting ‘quantity not specified’. Obviously, the commission took no further action to find out the truth on this matter; it simply accepted the Army Report without question.


A Significant Deletion in the Army Report As already explained, there were two versions of the Army Report. The first was completed in May 1982, but, before being submitted to Parliament in December, some amendments were made. 

In the following extract from the original May version of the report, I have emphasised in bold type certain words. These words were used to describe the 1 ATF Hygiene Officer’s initial concerns about the use of insecticides at Nui Dat:

‘The concern, that untrained personnel were apparently using toxic insecticides without any knowledge of concentrations, dilution factors, human toxicity factors and general safety precautions, resulted in the intended publication in Routine Orders of information on safe insecticide practice.

Note : A draft routine order was discovered but it is not known whether it was actually published.’

This statement was a succinct, realistic assessment of the situation.

But the statement was amended before submission to Parliament. And the amendment was certainly beyond the scope of the revisions explained to Parliament by Minister of Defence Mr Ian Sinclair in October. 

The words I emphasised in bold type from the original May version were deleted and the following statement substituted in the December version:

‘The 1 ATF Hygiene officers [sic] concern that practices for the use of toxic insecticides needed improvement resulted in the intended publication in Routine Orders of information on safe insecticide practice.’

Note : A draft routine order was discovered but it is not known whether it was actually published.’

Who deleted the words ‘that untrained personnel were apparently using toxic insecticides without any knowledge of concentrations, dilution factors, human toxicity factors and general safety precautions’?

On 25 November 1982, Mr Phill Thompson, National President of the Vietnam Veterans’  Association of Australia put out a press release claiming that Department of Veterans’ Affairs officers were ‘currently revising’ the original May version of the Army Report before its submission to Parliament in December. Further evidence from an Army officer working in Army Office at that time supports this claim.

Whoever the culprits, it is clear they intentionally removed vital information describing a longstanding dangerous misuse of toxic insecticides. Why? The original words highlighted negligent practice in the use of insecticides that could have led to searching questions during the Royal Commission. It is also clear that the original words would have helped veterans pursue claims for medical treatment and compensation. 


A Concluding Comment

The above examples raise key questions. Was information about the use and misuse of toxic insecticides deliberately omitted or deleted from the Army Report and to what end? Were any omissions and deletions made to protect those guilty of possible negligence or to deny exposed veterans grounds for their lawful benefits? And exactly what part did the Department of Veterans’ Affairs play?

Given the rates and methods of dispersal of Residual Insecticides and their toxicity and persistence in the environment, it is clear that the Nui Dat base was an increasingly toxic and dangerous environment for human habitation. Consequently, it is highly probable that the health of Australian and New Zealand veterans was adversely affected. I believe that a thorough examination of the morbidity of these veterans is warranted.

As a final comment, it is certain that the Australian Army will never again use herbicides – at least not on the scale and in the way that they were used in Vietnam – but the Army will be using insecticides. It is essential that the protocols developed for the use of these chemicals consider the safety and well-being of soldiers as the first priority.

John Mordike


*John Mordike is a Vietnam veteran and professional historian. He graduated from the Royal Military College in 1966 and served in Vietnam as the Officer Commanding 12 Field Regiment LAD. He has a BA and LittB from the University of New England and a PhD from the University of New South Wales. He is the author of ‘An Army for a Nation : A history of Australian military developments 1880-1914’  and ‘“We should do this thing quietly” : Japan and the great deception in Australian defence policy 1911-19

United States Navy submarine USS Asheville is visiting Perth.

US Navy Giant Submarine Hunting China Warships in disputed water Near the South China Sea

US Navy Giant Submarine Hunting China Warships in disputed water Near the South China Sea United States Navy submarine USS Asheville is visiting Perth, Western Australia for combined training exercises with Royal Australian Navy submarine forces as part of a regularly scheduled patrol in the Indo-Pacific region.