Without a well maintained and functioning fleet of vehicles, motorised units would be hard-pressed to carry out their core function. However, maintenance practices are not always held to the standard they deserve. Motorised Infantry units transport and manoeuvre their soldiers through the use of vehicles organic to their unit. The 8th/9th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment (8/9 RAR) is a motorised infantry battalion within the Royal Australian Infantry Corps and its soldiers are afforded protected mobility by the Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle-Medium (PMV-M) group of vehicles. Capable of seating ten personnel (including the driver), together with their personal weapons and equipment, the PMV-M can manoeuvre troops both on and off-road all while providing mine blast protection through a v-shaped high tensile plate. The capability provided by the PMV-M is integral to 8/9 RAR, hence the battalion's designation as a motorised unit. This article will first discuss the need to reflect on motorised culture to improve maintenance practices. It will then outline the shortfalls of current technology used for vehicle maintenance and advocate for the integration of smartphones in vehicle maintenance processes.
Measuring the attitude of people is a useful tool when assessing if the culture of an organisation is at a good standard. First, a definition: the Oxford English Dictionary (2019) defines attitude as ‘Settled behaviour or manner of acting, as representative of feeling or opinion‘. When a PMV-M, for example, is in a state of poor maintenance, such as fluids below dipstick lines or heavily corroded batteries, the attitude of each member of the unit subsequently reflects in how they feel towards their vehicles, and the maintenance of them thereof. Vehicle first parades can provide soldiers and commanders with a snapshot into the effectiveness of the unit‘s motorised culture; that is, how good the unit is at collectively maintaining their vehicles - i.e. how good is their attitude. Consistent deviance from best practice warrants reflection on the current systems in place for PMV-M maintenance, as an adjustment may be needed to reinvigorate motorised culture. Fortunately, in the twenty-first century, technologies exist that can assist with and improve motorised culture.
One example of technology the Australian Defence Force (ADF) already uses for vehicle fleet management is the Military Integrated Logistics Information System (MILIS), which provides useful analytical information about the vehicle fleets and facilitates the processing of repair and maintenance throughout the lifecycle of the vehicles. However, all of those processes do not necessarily include the end-users, that is the soldiers who undertake routine maintenance and fight with the vehicles. Vehicle non-technical inspections are passed along to the logistical staff for action and all data entered into MILIS. By failing to keep the operator completely informed and participating in a more wholesome way with repair and maintenance procedures of their vehicles, the system of governance denies a greater sense of ownership and responsibility the soldiers have for the vehicle platforms that are integral to a motorised battalion. It is true soldiers may not use the same vehicle every exercise, and therefore may not identify with the equipment perhaps as much as in the way they would their private car in terms of a sense of ownership and care, however the point is to develop the way soldiers think about the vehicles from the moment they arrive at work.
Thus there is a void. Soldiers know that motorised battalions have vehicles, but they may not know their condition, if there is outstanding operator maintenance or the complete process to keep the vehicles maintained well. Technology can assist in filling this void. Contemporary soldiers own and carry a smartphone, which are already used in the workplace (such as for PME and group chat functions). I argue that a simple phone application may help improve vehicle maintenance practices by linking all end-users with vehicle platforms' data, complete with guides and instructions in the area of vehicle maintenance. An example of a phone application that already exists for this purpose is iAuditor—a digital inspection checklist application produced by Australian business SafetyCulture. The application ‘simplifies the auditing process by making it easy for anyone to effectively manage safety and quality from a mobile device. Frontline workers are empowered to report issues quickly to prevent an incident due to inefficiency and limited visibility.’ (SafetyCulture 2019).
iAuditor, and similar applications have several features that allow users to:
(1) Build custom digital smart forms and checklists through a template builder. A first parade checklist before driving on task could be digitised and completed on a smartphone or tablet, without missing a step during the process.
(2) Automate the sharing of data, automatically export the results, and get information to multiple people for corrective action on the spot for an issue that needs resolving by assigning actions to people. If a platoon commander does a spot inspection on a vehicle, they could automate alerts to a section to action operator maintenance such as washout corroded batteries. The platoon commander would receive an alert back when the job is complete.
(3) Set phone alerts for recurring inspections. A unit Commanding Officer (CO) could mandate that vehicle first parades need to be completed once a day, and all soldiers could receive alerts and know which vehicles need inspection.
(4) Reports and analytics that track inspection frequency and performance that will identify areas for improvement and send detailed inspection reports to relevant parties. All soldiers can see the condition of the fleet through graphs and analytics which show common faults or trends across the fleet. For example, transmission fluid consistently low when checking the dipstick. Some soldiers may not be fully conversant with the procedure to check transmission fluid; thus, a training shortfall is the identified common fault.
An application, such as iAuditor, can facilitate greater involvement in the maintenance process, and provide soldiers with the opportunity to direct their attention and thoughts to vehicles. The chain of command can empower soldiers to maintain vehicles through clear direction and clear expectations with the use of phone applications, which will grow and enhance motorised culture together as one unit.
Information is power, and ensuring those that operate the motorised battalion’s PMV-M fleet are better informed as to the availability and preparedness of their combat vehicles is essential to engendering a positive maintenance culture. An inexpensive and simple to use smartphone application may provide an answer.