UNSW Canberra to offer course in explosive weapons from 2023

By Nadia Maunsell

UNSW Canberra will introduce a Master degree in ‘Explosive Ordnance’ from the beginning of 2023 to teach students about the manufacture, usage, and disposal of explosive weapons.  

Explosive ordnance’ (EO) refers to munitions containing explosives, nuclear fission or fusion materials and biological chemical agents, according to the Australian Department of Defence.

Instruction in explosive ordnance was previously offered as a 3-day short course but from Semester 1, 2023, UNSW Canberra will offer a full Master program for the first time.

It will also continue to be offered as an unit within the School of Engineering and Information Technology at UNSW Canberra (ZEIT8233). 

According to acting Associate Dean (Education) at UNSW Canberra, John Young, the degree was introduced “in response to a requirement from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) to educate personnel in EO at Master level in Australia.” He said the program will initially only be available to ADF personnel working in EO.

When asked what students would learn about, he told us, “The program will cover scientific underpinnings, domestic and international regulatory and policy frameworks, related to manufacture, logistics, usage and disposal of EO.”

The specific program description and course outlines are in development so a UNSW handbook link is not yet available.

Tharunka was unable to find any universities which offer comparable postgraduate degrees in Australia.

Perhaps the closest, the Australian Government Department of Employment, Skills and Employment offers a Graduate Certificate in Explosives as part of a Defence Training package.

Professor of Impact Dynamics at UNSW Canberra, Paul Hazell said the new Master program “will be an additional program similar in scope to a course offered by Cranfield University (another Defence aligned institution) in the UK.” The course he is referring to is the Master of Explosives Ordnance Engineering (MSc).

He added that the course satisfies a gap in teaching at UNSW Canberra, as “there is no coherent program” that covers all aspects of explosive ordnance.

Many students will be familiar with the disposal of ‘UXO’ or ‘unexploded weapons’ in Australia. Large parcels of Australian land were once approved for military use and there are many sites still affected by unexploded weapons. The Australian Department of Defence is responsible for identifying areas where UXO are present and disposing of them.

A number of these sites are Indigenous-owned or managed. For example, SBS News conducted an investigation into an unexploded missile at an Aboriginal heritage site in remote South Australia.

What is less clear however, is the choice to instruct students in the “manufacture, usage and logistics” of explosive weapons at UNSW Canberra.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, ordnance and explosives present human health and environmental risks.

When asked why UNSW Canberra has chosen this direction for the new Master program, acting Associate Dean (Education) Young said:

“The development of programs in partnership with our Defence colleagues is essential in providing future leaders in Defence and Australian industry with the background and detailed scientific knowledge required to support their decisions in an increasingly uncertain international environment.”

He added that UNSW has had a long-standing relationship with Defence from 1986 with the opening of the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA).

When asked about the impact this Master degree might have for students who study the course in future, SRC President Nayonika Bhattacharya said:

“As an institution, UNSW needs to make a call on where it draws an academic and moral line. Given the situation erupting around the world and the impacts on civilians, the move to study such a degree that can have life or death impacts on people, is not one that the SRC can see merits in.”

“The SRC will always prioritise the safety of students and recognises that such a course, and this knowledge could be used dangerously in the future. We do not attempt to police students’ views but actively encourage everyone to remember that war and conflict affects a lot of Australians, migrants and other members of our UNSW community.”

The SRC will raise a motion regarding the new Master degree at the next SRC meeting.