ANIMAL rights campaigners have demanded an end to the use of goats in painful military experiments in Hampshire.

The tests, carried out by defence research company QinetiQ at a facility in Alverstoke, Gosport, involve subjecting goats to extreme pressures in sealed chambers.

The Ministry of Defence, which commissions the experiments, say they are essential for researching the effects of "the bends'' to help keep Royal Navy crews safe.

The results are used to establish "safe escape strategies'' for submariners who are forced to leave their vessel deep underwater.

The MoD told the Daily Echo that QinetiQ carried out 57 procedures on goats during 2006.

No goats died during the experiments in the first ten months of the year, the latest period for which information is available.

But the MoD said over the same period eight animals were killed "humanely'' following experiments. Two goats were re-homed.

Since 2000, a total of 406 procedures have been carried out on goats.

The MoD, which has overseen hyperbaric experiments on goats for many years, said at no time during the experiments are goats placed in or under water.

A MoD spokeswoman said: "Research into pressure and time limits for escape from a sunken submarine is vital to ensure that our Royal Navy crews have access to the best possible advice and equipment during their operational duties.

"The utmost care is always taken to treat the animals humanely.'' The MoD said it was "currently reviewing the need and scope of further research'' as part of its contract renewal process.

It plans to make a decision on whether to renew QinetiQ's contract and continue with the experiments later this year.

Tom Harris, spokesman for Southern Animal Rights Coalition, said: "We are opposed to tests because they have been shown time and time again to have little relevance to human submarine disasters.

"The goats are put into a hyperbaric chamber under pressure to simulate deep sea conditions under extreme pressure to stimulate the bends in the goats. It is very painful and we are calling for the tests to end immediately.

"Just because a goat isn't killed doesn't mean it doesn't suffer.'' Last month about a dozen protesters assembled outside QinetiQ's testing facility to protest against the experiments.