Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) scientist Dragana Calic admits watching six tonnes of hashish being hauled onto a deck of an Australian warship made for an interesting day in the office.
The Joint Task Force 633 Science Advisor was conducting a research task onboard HMAS Darwin on 28 June 2014 when the warship intercepted a vessel in the Arabian Sea and seized 6.2 tonnes of the trafficked drug.
The seizure was part of the Australian Government and the international community’s efforts to enhance the security environment in the Middle East and its maritime approaches.
"This is something I definitely could not have predicted being involved in before I deployed to the Middle East," she said.
Dr Calic, 30, with a PhD in Cognitive Psychology, is one of a small number of Australian Public Service personnel who are deployed to support the Australian personnel in the Middle East Region on Operations ACCORDION, MANITOU and SLIPPER.
Based at Headquarters Joint Task Force 633 at Camp Baird, UAE, Dr Calic is Australia's inaugural Science Advisor on operations.
With Darwin's notable achievements in the counter-narcotics space, Commander Joint Task Force 633, Major General Craig Orme deployed Dr Calic to the warship to systematically evaluate what had enabled Darwin to complete such a successful deployment in order to guarantee subsequent ships are able to replicate her success.
Dr Calic conducted interviews, observed the operations on a daily basis and observed the boarding in late June that seized the massive hashish haul.
Her operational analysis is intended to help improve the way future missions are conducted.
DSTO is a national leader in safeguarding Australia and deploying scientific advisors which benefits both the ADF and DSTO through delivering valued scientific advice and innovative technology solutions for Defence and national security.
The organisation is one of Australia’s largest employers of scientists and engineers, with a core role to support the conduct of operations for the current force and for acquisition of future Defence capabilities.
"The role is borne out of the long standing Operation Analysis (OA) capability which comprised a military specialist and a civilian scientist from the Defence Science and Technology Organisation.
"In April 2014, the OA team function transitioned into the liaison and advisory role filled by a DSTO scientist. Essentially, this is a science liaison role. I act as a conduit between JTF 633, DSTO, and HQ JOC."
Dr Calic said a key part of her role is being able to integrate and interact with various parts and personnel within JTF 633 and to identify aspects that can either be analysed, improved, or require specialist scientific advice.
"Once a task is identified, I am able to reach back to DSTO to seek appropriate subject matter experts to specifically address the requirements raised by JTF personnel.
"So far, this role has presented me with the most versatile, exciting, and interesting scientific tasks. What has been really interesting and rewarding is that those tasks have spanned across the three operations. I’ve had the opportunity to assist personnel in Afghanistan, the UAE, and on the ship."
"I do not have expertise in all the areas that I am asked to assist with. I rely heavily and work very closely with my colleagues from all over DSTO, particularly DSTO Operations Support Centre. The knowledge and expertise from my organisation behind me is reassuring."
"Being a civilian, I have not previously had the opportunity to fly on a Hercules, go on a ship, shoot at a range with a rifle or even the whole experience of having to wear my body armour and helmet.
"From a more personal perspective, it’s definitely been the can-do attitudes and positivity of people that has been a key highlight. The openness of people, willingness to answer questions, and just have a conversation makes this a highly rewarding role."
Dr Calic, a University of Adelaide graduate migrated to Australia from former Yugoslavia with her Mother Jadranka and sister Vladimira in 2000.
She completed her PhD as part of a collaboration between the University of Adelaide and DSTO and calls Adelaide home.