Staff Skills

A Novel Means of Improving Preparedness

By Matthew Crook May 18, 2021


One of the themes from the Army In Motion – 2020 Command Statement is Preparedness, as the Chief of Army states:

“Preparedness is a dynamic between being ready now and future ready. It is risk based… All leaders, at all levels, need to set the conditions for the future while managing the needs of the present.”

The purpose of this article is to float a novel means of enabling individuals and junior commanders to manage the needs of present, to be Ready Now. It’s intended to make being Ready Now easier, so that we can balance further towards being Future Ready with reduced risk. This proposal also has potential to support realisation of Army Business Plan Goals 1, 2 and 5.

To use contemporary Army Preparedness terminology; this means would form part of the broader Army Preparedness System and aid sustainment of the 'Force-in-Beings’, “Preparedness Posture”, or baseline readiness.

Preamble – Push Messaging of Decision Support Graphics

Logging on to the Defence Protected Network (DPN) involves entering your details, waiting, blindly acknowledging some information you’ve become overly complacent with, waiting, and then quickly acknowledging that one last thing before morning coffee probably looks a lot like this…

What if this method of 'push messaging', with its amazing reach, contained something personally actionable as well as being vitally important to you and Army en-masse? Would you comprehend and act on it if it related to your availability, preparedness and meant being Ready Now?

A Decision Support Tool (DST) is software developed to support decision makers in making better decisions, faster. Typically, development of DSTs within Defence has been aimed at improving senior commander’s decision-making through projects such as the Health of Capability Dashboard (HOCD), various Common Operating Picture (COP) interfaces, or for staff to use in the case of Vulcan or VIPA.

What if a DST was implemented to aid the individual soldier in daily management of the capability that is themselves? As Army preparedness policy states:

“The daily efforts and outcomes generated by Army’s entire workforce directly contribute to the preparation of credible land power as part of the joint force.”

Combining push messaging on DPN start-up, with a DST targeted at individual Army personnel might look something like the Decision Support Graphic (DSG) below:

At a glance:

  • Capability is broken down into three segments; Personnel, Training and Equipment.
  • Personnel simply interfaces with and displays PMKeyS/Defence One data
  • Equipment interfaces with MILIS, similar to Vulcan, to display the status of serialised equipment individually assigned to the member.
  • Training interfaces with PMKeyS/D1 for qualifications and course sessions, aligning progression against the Manual of Army Employment. It will also eventually interface with currency tracking programs such as PEX and Track24 for range qualifications and driving respectively.
  • The two options for acknowledgement are:
    • Ready Now to confirm availability (instead of confirming Availability via PSS print-out once).
    • Ready WEF <date> to indicate planned availability and a commitment to remediation.

The concept is intended to work by:

  • Keeping the honest informed and therefore prepared
  • Giving individuals no reason for not knowing remediation was required, making them easily held to account.

The Value Proposition

The DSG is intended to improve baseline preparedness across Army via the following three means:

  • Supporting management of personnel and their training. Notably by improving extant readiness metrics and by clearly outlining course deficiencies and progression
  • Finitely defining and reporting on currently non-assured aspects of individual preparedness that constitute ATL/T 1D under the 2019 Foundation Warfighting Training Management Framework (FWTMF).
  • Enabling FORGEN and OPGEN of the indivisible force element, the soldier.

Management. A unit’s personnel availability as measured by the Army Individual Readiness Notice (AIRN) typically stands at ~75% of Unit Establishment[1]. Of the 25% not AIRN compliant, around 5% of the unit may typically be considered quick wins, those who with a small amount of direction or prompting could quickly complete that BFA, WTSS shoot or dental appointment. This proposal aims to eliminate that ~5%, while rounding out and defining the full extent of preparedness which is much greater than the overly simplistic AIRN.

For junior leaders managing multiple corps and trades, it can be difficult to stay abreast of their ideal training progression, especially in large, diverse teams. It can be more frustrating for soldiers when they are consistently not nominated for career courses due to ignorance or oversight. The training section mitigates both problems, ensuring the individual's career progression and training needs are clearly articulated and able to be represented. 

People may remember the Access® database called the Business Reporting Tool, known by troop commanders at the time as BRT, or 'Bert' and fondly regarded for its simplicity and utility. Since its retirement circa 2018 there has been a gap, where junior commanders lacking in PMKeyS reporting literacy have been reliant on sub-unit or unit HQ clerks for reporting on their troop’s relatively simple AIRN status or qualifications. An automated reporting function aims to provide a command tool with neither the burden of the current system, nor that of maintaining BRT imposed on unit administration staff. 

For the sake of simplicity and keeping with this tool's ground level philosophy, it is proposed that the DSG has only this one automated and consolidated output. That being to the troop commander (or equivalent) staff via a consolidated report, refreshed weekly. Additionally, through the print and email functions, the product will greatly assist maintenance of Troop Commander’s Notebooks (TCN) or aid representation at Unit Welfare Boards or career interviews. Combined, the report and each persons’ DSG will provide commanders the clear visibility required to maximise their troop’s capability while reinforcing personal accountability.

The DSG aims to fill a gap in the Army Preparedness System, whereby no tools currently exist for preparedness management at the lowest level. Procedures do exist for preparedness management at the Operational/Strategic level, but no tool exists to support tactical or even individual preparedness.

As Robert Gibson argues in his article Managing People through the Capability Life Cycle, '[Management] prepares our people; supports them through difficult times; and remediates them for the next battle.' However, 'of the ADF capability investment going to the Land Domain over the next ten years, none has been earmarked for people programs or systems. If our people are so important, why don’t we invest in them as a capability?' Within the Capability Life Cycle this DSG would be a great management enabler in the utilisation or sustainment phase, so why not invest in this DSG as a means of investing in Army’s People?

Army Training Levels & Tiers (ATL/T). The DSG frees command and staff effort to tackle the other aspects of preparedness that are typically much more important and difficult than AIRN, like contingency planning, or confirmatory orders for contingency forces. The DSG is relevant to both FORGEN and OPGEN functions and will enable baseline force assurance at Army Training Level 1, Tier Delta (ATL/T 1D), underpinning all higher ATL/T. Currently no definitive means of assuring ATL/T 1D exists.

In addition to the DSG verifying an individual’s achievement of ATL/T 1D, why not also record if they have participated in higher collective training? If a career course requires personnel to participate in platoon level collective training, why isn’t that person then certified individually to ATL/T 3C as well? The person theoretically holds the required knowledge and skills to discharge their role in the platoon and SOPs and TTPs should be enough to let them regroup as required. To look at it another way, if a CSS sub-unit is certified to ATL/T 5B in June, 50% of personnel post in January and it then deploys in March, did it enter OPGEN still retaining its’ ATL/T 5B status? Or would it have been better for the ATL/T to be associated with the individuals who constitute it so that at least a majority could be concentrated?

FORGEN to OPGEN. Late last year The Cove ran a challenge titled Generating Force to meet the demands of Accelerated Warfare. This DSG addresses several future FORGEN considerations described in that challenge and if it was conceptualised in September 2020, I may have submitted the following 98-word response:

Ease of aggregation. Through high-fidelity, automated force assurance tools and reporting, commanders can be certain the indivisible force elements that constitute Army would present fully known, LOW residual risk if employed on operations. These force elements can then be directly task organised and force concentrated from across the country with high certainty of performance for the conduct of Operational Generation (OPGEN), followed by a streamlined individual and collective force assurance process. This is especially relevant to enablers and is what effectively already occurs for South-West Pacific activities, the MER’s formed-body sustainment elements and individual deployments on global operations.

In retrospect, it’s actually quite similar to response #73 and a number of others able to be seen here with the other submissions.

Applicability

This DSG will ideally appear for all SERCAT 5-7 Army personnel posted within Army Group. It could also be tailored to suit the different services; however, a common joint interface wouldn’t be viable as it would likely necessitate too much compromise for each of the services.

What about those who don’t have regular access to a computer? Army Reserve members and junior soldiers who don’t have easy or regular access to the DPN would benefit most as the DSG capitalises on their brief time logged on. No more navigating PMKeyS/D1 Self-Service (around outages) or trawling through emails or Objective for equipment management correspondence. Conversely, staff officers who are always logged on but work autonomously will also be more likely to keep it green.

Those that are downgraded or otherwise unavailable for long periods of time might, understandably, find it confronting to be presented with their status day-in, day-out. This will need further consideration, maybe it could be suspended for certain personnel. That said, the 'Ready WEF' function provides a SMART goal for people to strive towards and may actually maintain morale.

Implementation

Higher level DSTs such as the HOCD will display the same data from the same sources in a different format, albeit likely improved. As such, this would be an excellent precursor or complementary initiative to the HOCD as it would improve data quality and provide a firmer baseline for decision making.

Noting that this interim DSG to enable Ready Now will be superseded by an interface with the Future Ready SAP Enerprise Resource Program (ERP), some may ask 'why bother'? Well, if it doesn’t provide improved preparedness outcomes, easily measurable with simple KPI within a year of implementation, it wouldn’t need to be included in the ERP’s scope of work. Also, part of being Ready Now is Now, so let’s stop waiting for the next thing to fix it!

The skills required to technically prototype and implement this proposal are outside my scope of expertise. With an appropriate Directorates’ sponsorship; however, a rapid assessment conducted by the Defence Innovation Hub might be able to scope the cost and verify the proposals’ worth. Then maybe a prime contractor working above the line in-conjunction with CIOG under some Army Minors funding could implement a pilot release within a year or so…

END

That ends the main discussion. For those interested, the below sections provide a more detailed explanation of the conceptual design.

Conceptual Design In-Depth

Personnel. This section displays the following information from PMKeyS/D1 to enable an individual's decision making:

  • BFA, Shoot, Dental and Medical with a countdown of weekly increments. Red = Overdue, Amber = Due (10% duration remaining)
  • Annual Force Preservation Awareness completion based on the qualification
  • Security clearance level and expiry
  • eDP1 and ESS audit complete and passport status (this may require a new, expiring qualification to be created for the audit to allow ease of translation).

To build their ‘Troop’, SGT-CAPT would be able to select any member of lower rank from their posted unit and add them to their ORBAT, contingent on that member accepting the addition via an automated email invite. This mitigates most privacy concerns with regards to viewing of personal data. For staff branches and CHQ/RHQ, MAJ-LTCOL would be able to similarly add anyone of the rank SGT-CAPT to their cell.

Training. Typical Essential Qualifications (EQ) for deployment are displayed such as 9mm SLP, EF88, Soldier Combat Ensemble etc. The most useful aspects here are the reminder for expiring qualifications such as Care of the Battle Casualty and how easy it makes nominating for operations.

Cross checking will occur between a members’ recorded qualifications, course schedules and a table drawn from their respective employment specification to display the next relevant career or specialist course available. This aspect is less about Ready Now and more in keeping with Future Ready.

There is opportunity to eventually include annual currency and professional development requirements for clinicians, drivers, range staff, maintainers and engineers once those systems are fully implemented (MILIS, PEX and Track24).  This is essential to being Ready Now, but electronic records required for the interface are not yet mature.

Equipment. This section is split into a quad chart to represent 'Survive, Move, Shoot & Communicate', similar to a multi-trade maintenance inspection.

Most personnel will have an EF88 and a helmet assigned by serial number, crews may have a whole vehicle system and therefore a shared responsibility. This assignment of equipment is intended to foster a culture of equipment husbandry and improve operator maintenance outcomes.

It will require manual assignment (not issue) of serialised equipment by the Troop Commanders (E)[2], by a relatively simple management dashboard. This dashboard would display the units’ Full-time Entitlement (FTE) from MEMS, ARN from MILIS and allow Troop Commanders (E) to assign their elements’ equipment to their staff, potentially similar to Figure 2 below.

The act of assigning equipment will also greatly support Capability Establishment Reviews and assist command staff in determining where access over ownership is more suitable in the case of long-term unassigned equipment

Reporting. Figure 3 is a conceptual design of a simple, covering report. A similar chart could be included for Essential Qualifications. Clicking on each member would display their detailed two-page report.

To minimise drain on strategic computing resources, both collective reports and individual DSGs could be batch refreshed/updated as low as weekly so that only a “dumb”, image copy need be displayed daily.

 

[1] In the author’s limited experience. DSWPA can provide more accurate figures.

[2] Or equivalent, i.e. next level supervisor IAW the PMKeyS/D1 hierarchy.


Portrait

Biography

Matthew Crook

Captain

Matthew Crook is a Maintenance Engineer currently posted to the Headquarters 1st Division. He has progressively been employed in Regimental and Staff roles from Troop up to Functional Command HQ and has subsequently obtained experience in FORGEN and OPGEN at each level.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



Comments

A novel idea, however, a majority of this can already be achieved with Navy’s COMPASS program, accessible on the DPN. It stands as both an individual and division management tool in a graphical format. This will soon be replicated across MAPS. Perhaps the writer could review other service programs for its use in Army?

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