25 January 2010

Defence Procurement: the ‘Jesus sights’

In the 23 January edition of The Australian, Brendan Nicholson reported that the Minister for Defence, Senator Faulkner, had ordered the removal of biblical messages etched into US-manufactured gunsights in use by Australian special forces in Afghanistan (see article here).  The ADF has several hundred of the gunsights, which are also in use by US, British and New Zealand forces.

The previous day, Nicholson had broken the story that the American manufacturer Trijicon had undertaken to stop adding the references to gunsights for Australian use (see here).

According to Nicholson’s report, the gunsights

… triggered an international uproar when US soldiers in Afghanistan discovered that letters and figures they thought were simply stock or model numbers referred to passages from the Bible.

One example was JN8:12 which turned out to be a reference to chapter eight, verse 12 in the Book of John: “When Jesus spoke again to the people he said ‘I am the light of the world’.”

According to the family-owned, Michigan-based company that manufactures the sights:

As part of our faith and our belief in service to our country, Trijicon has put scripture references on our products for more than two decades.

As long as we have men and women in danger, we will continue to do everything we can to provide them with both state-of-the-art technology and the never-ending support and prayers of a grateful nation.

Nicholson reports that the ADF had stated on 21 January that it had been unaware of the meaning of the inscription when the sights were issued to the troops.

Some observations, comments and questions:

(1)  From the moment it was decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001, in response to a jihadist attack on the World Trade Centre, there was a danger that the so-called War on Terror could be represented as a war against Islam. Representing it in this way is of course of enormous benefit to al-Qaeda and jihadists generally. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the Howard Government did not take adequate steps to ensure that there was no flavour of this in relation to any aspect of Australia’s participation in the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq.

(2)  We are invited to believe that in as faith-based a society as the United States, even after the practice had been going on for more than two decades, no-one had any idea what the inscriptions meant until US troops in Afghanistan “discovered” what they meant. I don’t believe a word of it. Are we really expected to believe that after more than twenty years no-one in the US Army had any idea? Are we really expected to believe that the family that manufactures the sights has been protecting US troops with the power of prayer all this time, but never thought to mention it to anyone? The Christian Science Monitor reported here on 22 January that the Biblical references have been an open secret among US soldiers, some of whom refer to their weapon as a ‘Jesus gun’.

(3)  Given that the matter was an ‘open secret’ (surely a euphemism for generally known) amongst US soldiers, it is reasonable to suppose that it was also generally known within the Australian Army, which is in constant contact with the US Army at every level (including joint exercises and joint operations).

(4) This leads me to believe that we have something of a procurement problem. Did the Defence Materiel Organisation not know about the inscriptions, or did it not realise their significance, or didn’t it care?

(5)  By what means and when did this information first become known to Senator Faulkner?

(6)  Why don’t we manufacture our own high-tech gunsights?

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