This is a summary of my paper that examines tactical warfighting in a near peer or peer threat environment in the 21st Century. This paper examines the prevalence of sophisticated ubiquitous sensors across multiple spectrums, which drives a requirement for exceptional situational awareness and signature management at the tactical level.

Research shows that situational awareness is best presented to the warfighter as part of an augmented reality in a heads-up display, using three dimensional natural shapes and colours. This assimilation can be more rapidly undertaken and supported with the use of visualised uncertainty to support the combatant’s situational awareness. Situational awareness is the key driver to success in modern warfighting.

Another aspect to be considered is agility, particularly where it either enhances or detracts from situation awareness. Consideration is also given to the twin aspects of lethality and protection; two sides of the same coin that should be re-interpreted in different contexts for future warfighting. Lastly, it is important to consider sustainment, both where it enhances or detracts from support to situational awareness, and where sustainment in the commercial context can be utilised in the military endeavour to great effect.

Ultimately, continued adherence to current norms in warfighting will not prepare the Australian Army to fight and win the next war.


Digitisation is more than people and systems being able to connect effectively with each other. Digitisation is the evolution of communication from voice and text for transmission of knowledge (processed information) across the entire force as close to simultaneously as possible.  In realising digitisation in that context, the ability to use knowledge in a useful and timely fashion is paramount.


Digitisation’s purpose is to support the combatant. The ground combatant, in particular the close combatant, has five key combat needs.  These are:

  • Situational awareness (SA)
  • Agility
  • Lethality
  • Survivability
  • Sustainability

Each of these is important. It can be argued that of all these needs SA is the key overriding issue. In combat, irrespective of any other attribute of the combatant, SA is the most important attribute keeping the combatant alive and effective. When the combatant has superior SA to an adversary, this allows the combatant to dictate the terms on which the battle is fought, whether at the tactical, operational or strategic level. SA is afforded by knowledge, which must be assimilated. The combatant who assimilates the essential knowledge fastest achieves superior SA.

Next is agility, which includes mobility. Agility can be a positive support to SA, allowing the combatant to position, but not necessarily manoeuvre, to attain superior SA, as well as to improve lethality, protection and sustainability. Agility, or more specifically the lack of it, can also be highly detrimental to SA. Overburdening the combatant significantly degrades the combatant’s cognitive ability, degrading assimilation and thus SA. The greater the burden, the faster and more pronounced the cognitive decline.

Lethality is important but direct engagement in combat will prevent the combatant from functioning in what should be their primary role in modern combat: that of sensor (and node). Exponentially greater, and more accurate, firepower (lethality) can be obtained from external sources. From the air, there are (or soon will be) loitering munitions and close air support (CAS) in the form of air to surface missiles. From land, fires including artillery, mortars and a future new long-range rocket system capable of providing fire support from ranges of up to 300km. Small arms, much like ballistic protection, should be a last resort, much like the use of personal ballistic plates are the last barrier in protection.

Survivability is primarily afforded by SA. In 21st Century combat, if the combatant is aware of the threat before the adversary, the combatant can take protective measures, whether offensive (lethality) or defensive. Ballistic protection is one aspect but in the modern warfighting context signature management (SM) is the primary driving factor. If SM fails, or is discarded, survivability in close combat is primarily afforded by SA, agility and lethality. Too much emphasis on protection (risk management) is highly detrimental to SA and agility, the primary keys to success in combat.

Sustainability underpins the four “active” aspects of the combatant’s needs. The close combatant must be sustained just enough to maintain peak performance, but not too much, as this will be detrimental to the performance requirement. SA and agility, in particular, should always outweigh a ‘just in case’ mentality. Predictive sustainability is the most efficient methodology to ensure sufficient sustainment without detracting from agility, lethality or survivability.

In view of these statements, with SA as the key driver to success in modern combatant, assimilation of knowledge is the key driver to SA. Assimilation of knowledge on the battlefield can be accomplished faster and more comprehensively with visualisation of knowledge. For visualisation of knowledge to be most effective, it is best presented as 3D volumetric natural shapes, preferably as augmented reality (AR) to the combatant’s natural senses. These 3D volumetric shapes can be supported by colours and enhanced by representation of uncertainty in that knowledge to support decision making.


Dan's full paper:

Dan Skinner 2019 1 The Integrated Digital Soldier System Close Combat in the 21 st Century

You may be interested in Dan's first Cove Article: The Integrated Digital Platoon.