'The modern world is consumed by science and technology. It is in everything we see, everything we do and everything we touch. If we don’t have people who understand it deeply and understand the possibilities and potentials of it, then we are not going to build a modern Defence Force that is a capable as it should be.'
General Angus Campbell, AO, DSC – DST address for STEM week
The discipline of engineering has been inextricably linked to armed conflict since its origins and has become increasingly critical to the functioning of contemporary militaries. The origins of the word 'engineer' dates back to the 12th and 14th centuries, with the Latin ingeniare, meaning 'Engineer, architect, maker of war-engines; schemer' (12c) and from the French word enginour, meaning 'Constructor of military engines' (14c) (engineer | Origin and meaning of engineer by Online Etymology Dictionary, 2020). These words arose from the strategic competition and warfare between the major powers of the time, which caused an increase in the use of complex siege weapons.
With the industrial revolution came significant technological advances that dramatically changed the face of warfare (McFadden and Loeffler, 2020). As warfare became more industrialised, the role of the Engineer, both at home and in the field, became a matter of strategic importance. An example of this is the contributions made by Sir William L Bragg, CH, OBE, MC, FRS to the war effort during the First World War (The Nobel Prize in Physics 1915, 2020). As a 25 year old Second Lieutenant (LT) serving with the Leicestershire battery of the Royal Horse Artillery (Lawrence Bragg, 2020), he was pivotal in the development of artillery sound ranging technology (Kruszelnicki, 2020). This led to the Allied artillery having a significant overmatch on the German artillery as they could target their heavy guns with accurate counter battery fire without line of sight. This is one of the many factors that lead to the decline in German combat effectiveness by the end of the conflict. A second example was the development and iterative upgrade of the British tank capability from the Little Willie (History.com, 2009) to the Mark V variants (Kempf and Radley, 2016).
These two advances, enabled by teams of Land Engineers, were critical to the Allies turning the tide of the conflict. From these examples it is easy to see how critical it is for an Army to have a highly skilled and experienced land engineering workforce. Without people who have the technical expertise and desire to use it, an Army becomes unresponsive to technological changes in the battle space. This will cause valuable opportunities to innovate at the tactical level to be missed. The Australian Army, unlike the RAAF or the Navy, treats people as the key to its capability, rather than a specific vehicle platform or weapon system. This has proven to be an effective framework for the close fight; however, it does mean that less focus has been applied to the development of a land engineering system which can design, develop and manage each platform at the tactical level. This paper will discuss the current framework, how it fails to utilise the full capability of Army’s integral Land Engineers and what improvements can be made.
The Current and Future Operating Environment
The 2020 Defence Strategic Update released outlines the increasing complexity of the global and domestic operating environments. Along with increased strategic competition between major powers and the degradation of the rules based global order, the other major disrupting factor is the rapid rate of technological advancement in the near region. This technological advancement translates rapidly into military modernisation projects, as seen with the adoption of weaponised commercial off the shelf drones and the increasing prevalence of cyber espionage.
To continue to compete with this rate of change the Australian Army needs to be more adaptive with its current major land systems, while prioritising more agile development models for future acquisitions. The Chief of Army has addressed this by introducing the concept of 'Accelerated Warfare' to make the Army 'Future Ready' by outpacing, out-manoeuvring and out-thinking conventional and unconventional threats (Burr, 2019). To achieve this from a technical design perspective, an agile design model that incentivises grass roots solutions to common problems should be used (Waterfall Methodology - ProjectManager.com, 2015). Based on recent developments, it appears likely that future design iterations of major systems will become more technically complex and increasingly digitised. This demonstrates the requirement to maintain a highly technical workforce with an emphasis on the effective use, training and management of the Army’s Land Engineers.
Current Employment of Land Engineers
As noted in the Defence Industry Skilling and STEM Strategy; engineering, design, manufacturing and project management have been identified as four of the six most important skills to Australia’s defence industry. It is also stated in the Defence Industry Skilling Survey that the discipline of engineering has the most vacancies, noting that 73.4% of respondents have self-identified as having a perceived shortage (Pyne and Clobo, 2020). The Army is no exception from this figure, noting that in the RAEME CMC 2022 CMA slide pack, it was stated that 'RAEME are currently experiencing a shortage of Engineer qualified Officers. The Corps will seek to reduce Engineer Officer postings to non-technical positions' (Career Advisor Group Update, 2020).
This ongoing technical liability emphasises the need to reconsider the management of the land engineering workforce. There are approximately 8-10 qualified Land Engineers (Career Advisor Group Update, 2020) of various trades and ranks integral to each Combat Brigade; however, these Engineers are poorly utilised with their skills generally being relegated to an optional extra regimental duty. It is currently up to the Engineer themselves to seek out and apply for the technical authority delegation required to conduct local technical determinations. It is also up to the individual to conduct Continuous Professional Development (CPD) activities around their current work taskings and Unit PME (generally not technical in nature).
In many cases the Engineer whose primary role is generally as a workshop Platoon Commander or a Staff Officer is given up to two other extra regimental duties, which generally include a WHS appointment, a Mess committee position or a social position. Currently the majority of the benefit Army gains from Engineers is received during the mid to late Captain years. This is when they will likely fulfil the role of Brigade Maintenance Approval Authority Representative or a project position at CASG. In most cases, there has been little to no technical skills maintenance or development since completing their Bachelor.
This is an inefficient use of a scarce resource. Engineers should be enabled from first appointment to employ their technical expertise. This would provide tangible benefit to the force in being, better develop the Army’s land engineering workforce and enhance retention among technically-inclined Engineers.
Army has also started to recruit a significant number of Specialist Service Officers who are qualified Engineers, but are not required to complete the full RMC-D training continuum. Many of these Officers are tasked as Platoon Commanders, preventing them from providing any real technical engineering outcome due to their focus on developing and succeeding in that role. If they are posted directly to CASG to work on projects, they can lack some of the intricate knowledge of how equipment will likely be used by soldiers, which is a negative when compared to the generalists; however, they are excellent Engineers who can provide significant capability working in the technical positions that they were specifically recruited for.
Recommendations for Effective Employment of Land Engineers
Recommendation one. To effectively manage land engineering in the Army, a common framework should be developed to understand what is required from Engineers at each stage of their career. The best way to achieve this is to separate each engineering stream into its own MAE entry in order to fully define the role, training requirements and expected career progression. An example of this can be seen by how the Artificer Sergeant Major (ASM) stream is managed, whereby they break down each ASM by trade (Mechanical, electrical and ground) into separate ECNs. This would be ideal, noting that the streams of Land Engineering Officers are nearly identical to that of the ASMs. Coincidentally a technical design team, which is similar to a command team, is always made up of an ASM and an Engineering Officer.
As part of this MAE entry, emphasis should be placed on defining the technical requirements for LTs and junior Captains during their regimental time, what CPD requirements there are and what specialist technical courses are required or recommended.
In addition to the above, it needs to be specified as to what form the technical chain of command will take. Particular focus should be placed on how each key position will interact with each other, including when they are under separate command chains, and a priority needs to be placed on filling those key positions with qualified Engineering Officers rather than an ASM, or a Non-technical RAEME Officer. This would enhance the mentorship of junior Engineers, increase the situational awareness of ongoing projects and ensure the effective tasking of Land Engineers in accordance with the Commander's Intent.
Recommendation two. A Land Engineer is required to develop specialist knowledge on the key fleets of vehicles utilised by the Army. Currently they are required to do this by themselves, whilst concurrently leading a Platoon, performing the role of 2IC or in the operations cell of a Unit. The primacy of command and managing soldiers means that inadequate time remains to develop the depth of technical knowledge required to make safe and informed recommendations to the Executive Authority. To improve this, Army should establish three specialist land engineering courses targeting A-vehicles, B-vehicles and C/D-vehicles. This would provide tailored, targeted and in-depth technical development. Engineers posting into specific Units would then be required to complete a specialist course base on the held fleets of vehicles to be able to conduct their full duties. This would align to what is currently used by the EME Aviation Officer stream who conduct platform specific training.
These three courses would be complemented by the existing TRF Staff Officers course which should be extended to have a rank specific technical component post each major logistic training block (LOBC, LOIC and LOAC). The intent of these training periods would be to introduce Engineers to the increasing complexity of technical tasks associated with each rank level. The LOBC component would focus on conducting low risk technical determinations, engineering changes and material certifications. The LOIC component would focus on medium risk technical determinations focusing on endorsing fleet level engineering changes, battle damage assessment, working in a project cell at CASG and working in a SPO. The LOAC component would focus on providing guidance to higher headquarters, in executive level engineering functions and performing the role of a project head at CASG.
This should also be aligned with Engineers Australia (EA), to provide chartered accreditation at the rank of Major, similar to the agreements that both the RAAF and RAN currently have. Chartered accredited Engineers provide significantly more capability to Defence as it is generally a required qualification to lead a major project, to endorse higher levels of risk and to be registered on the National Engineering Register. It is also a required qualification for some senior technical positions such as the SO1 Technical Management position in HQ Forces Command.
Recommendation three. The pay grades of Land Engineers should be restructured to be qualifications based, which is similar to that of RAEME tradespeople who increase in paygrade once certain specialist courses have been completed. Currently technically qualified RAEME Officers get paid the same as a non-technical RAEME Officer, which doesn’t incentivise participation in technical activities. It also reduces retention as Defence industry and civilian companies become more likely to poach technically qualified personnel once their ROSO is complete. By reducing the loss of key technical personnel who have developed a wealth of technical experience over their career, Army will also grow its institutional knowledge base, making its projects and contracts more effective. This will also save money and provide better project outcomes for Defence (Pyne and Clobo, 2020).
Recommendation four. The newly developed Cove + application on ADELE should be utilised in a similar fashion to the Engineers Australia CPD Online learning hub. There should be a separate subsection for Land Engineers where key stakeholders can upload webinars, short courses, case studies and various other learning activities. This will enable Engineers to fulfil their CPD requirements as specified by EA, develop a culture of continuous learning and give Army the opportunity to influence what topics they want new Engineers to focus on. PMKeys micro-qualifications and completion certificates could also contribute to the evidence required to qualify for Chartered Engineer accreditation.
The role of Land Engineers in the Army is poorly defined and misunderstood, leaving this critical capability underutilised. As a result, Army and the Joint force is missing out on the opportunity to better employ Land Materiel, develop technical expertise in the workforce and better retain current Land Engineers. If the foundation that the Army’s technical workforce is built on is not firm, and high levels of technical expertise and experience required for the future are not maintained, Army risks losing the ability to rapidly adapt to future threats.
By adapting relatively minor changes to how Land Engineers are managed, the Army can improve the effectiveness of its current land engineering framework and grow its institutional knowledge base. By increasing the investment in the lifelong learning of Land Engineers, with a focus on CPD, a significant return on investment can be achieved for the Army and Joint Force as a whole.