ARMY reservists in Queensland lost a powerful anti-personnel mine at a weapons range, then spent weeks on a fruitless search of rubbish dumps that is believed to have cost the department $500,000.
News of the incident comes in a week the Defence Force has been rocked by soldiers posting racist messages on Facebook and the Chief of Navy has warned his arm of the service that binge drinking and sexual harassment are unacceptable.
The Defence Force has confirmed that reservists from the Queensland University Regiment had finished an exercise on a range near Ipswich in February when they realised the Claymore mine was missing.
''The security of all weapons and ordnance is taken very seriously,'' a Defence spokesman said last night. ''Defence is investigating the actions and circumstances surrounding the missing piece of ordnance and the possibility that the ordnance was inadvertently disposed of, which cannot be ruled out.''
The spokesman went on to confirm that Defence personnel frantically searched a number of rubbish dumps for the weapon.
''Extensive reconnaissance and searches has included the use of explosive detection dogs with no success. Defence will continue to monitor these facilities,'' the spokesman said.
''The matter remains under investigation by the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service and civilian authorities.''
Sources told the Herald the search had cost $500,000 and it is still unclear whether the mine was lost or stolen. It is also believed that the mine's trigger is accounted for.
Traditionally referred to as a mine, the Claymore is more accurately described as a piece of ordnance, as it is not triggered by a pressure device.
About the size of a small suitcase, it is triggered with an electrical switch and disperses a deadly spray of ball-bearings out to about 100 metres. It is customarily used to guard against ambushes, and during the Vietnam War, the Vietcong would infiltrate American lines at night and turn them around. When the Americans triggered the Claymores they themselves would be hit by the shrapnel.
When the Herald witnessed a test firing of a Claymore in Afghanistan recently, it shredded a man-sized wooden target.
Last week the Defence Minister was forced to apologise to his Afghan counterpart after an Australian soldier referred to Afghans as ''sand niggaz''.