The welfare role in current combined arms operations is based in the 0D area of responsibility. Much of welfare engagement revolves around reactive care and administration that supports members that are either wounded, injured, or ill. While this role is certain to exist into the future, there also exists an opportunity to develop and implement wearable technology. This will support the training, development, and management of peak physical and mental performance in the future combined arms environment of 2045.
While weapon, vehicle, and tactical technology will continue to evolve over the coming years incorporating advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI) and manned and unmanned drone capabilities, advances in the improvement of human performance must also be developed. In order to meet and ultimately exceed expectations of performing in this advanced Battle Operating Space (BOS), human performance must be able to be analysed, maintained, and managed at each level of the Chain of Command (CoC).
Preparing our people for specific operations or contingencies and deploying high readiness forces remains fundamental to the future of training within the Defence Force. While Army Training Levels (ATL) 4+ rely on the principally enabled combined arms effects, the future of enabling peak performance and resilience at an individual level should also be reported through the introduction of a Combat Capability Readiness Score (CCRS).
The Army Individual Readiness Notice (AIRN) currently dictates whether a member meets the minimum requirements to be deployed on operations. This presently takes into consideration a soldier’s availability, weapons proficiency, medical, dental, and physical fitness as well as employment proficiency. By introducing a CCRS (enabled by metric data collected through training), commanders could have access to a physical and mental effectiveness score for each individual under their command. With an ability to be presented at a Commanders Update Brief (CUB), real time data for each call sign could be offered as a percentage in order to assess call sign combat effectiveness.
To establish a baseline data-informed framework to accurately assess and analyse each soldier’s CCRS, wearable data collection must be achieved through a combination of both physical and cognitive assessments. Physical conditioning courses like the Advanced Operational Conditioning Programs (AOCP) are able to accurately capture progressive physical performances that can be directly related back to mission capability. Aerobic fitness, muscular strength, flexibility, and endurance are all a measure of a soldier’s general resilience. This establishes a baseline data collection on their ability to maintain stamina and strength and to gauge their capacity to recover following strenuous activity.
Cognitive and mental fatigue assessments can be founded through a 3-stage process establishing a baseline dataset:
- Stage 1 – Well rested, no physical activity within the last 24 hours, conduct cognitive assessment.
- Stage 2 – Well rested, physical activity not exceeding 2 hours, conduct cognitive assessment.
- Stage 3 – No sleep in the past 24 hours, physical activity exceeding 3 hours, conduct cognitive assessment.
Having established a data performance baseline, soldiers are now able to be employed in their role and start recording real time Combined Arms Capability data.
Soldier A’s Combat Team (CT) has just completed a combined arms attack which included a 17km infiltration followed by a 4-hour heavy engagement and a 24-hour security task. They are currently waiting for re-tasking.
Soldier B’s CT has been tasked with static security protection of a vital asset with a supporting vehicle checkpoint on 8 hour rotations (which included 8 hours rest every 24 hours). They are currently waiting for re-tasking.
Soldier C’s CT has been tasked as a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) for the past 72 hours. This task followed a 6-day fighting patrol where the call sign experienced 2 of their soldiers Killed In Action (KIA). They are currently waiting for re-tasking.
All three soldiers as part of their CTs have been provided with wearable devices that have collected vital sign biometric data which uses an algorithm to gauge overall combat effectiveness. This takes into consideration a soldier’s heart rate, fatigue, the quality and duration of their sleep, and the intensity and duration of all activity completed over the last 72 hours.
Soldier A currently has a CCRS of 46% and is showing both physical and mental fatigue as a major risk factor. Soldier B currently has a CCRS of 74% and is showing minimal risk for both physical and mental capacity. Soldier C currently has a CCRS of 38% and is showing both physical and mental fatigue with high risk assessed through heartrate and sleep data collected over the past 72 hours.
Using all data gathered over the previous 72 hours, the Unit Welfare Officer (UWO) and S2 analyst has compiled a CCRS for each Call Sign under the Commanding Officer’s control. Although Soldier C’s call sign has been on minimal tasking’s for the past 72 hours, it has been assessed that Soldier B’s call sign has the larger CCRS to complete the next task.
Having access to data from every soldier within the unit specifically analysed and delivered as a CCRS by the UWO and S2, the Commanding Officer now has access to a further risk mitigating tool. This would allow for more informed decision making to combat emerging threats and directly contribute to enhanced capability in the combined arms environment. The Vignette example can be applied to all functions employed within the BOS.
As an example for an artillery gunner, duration and intensity experienced by each soldier during a fire mission would be recorded through the wearable technology. Shockwave data could also be recorded, enabling the assessment for higher risk of cognitive function in longer missions.
As an example for a driver or drone operator, wearable technology already discussed could be partnered to incorporate eye tracking technology. This would take into consideration a soldier’s blink frequency as well as their blink duration. This analysis could rate the severity of the fatigue symptoms providing more accurate feedback on physical, mental, and cognitive fatigue. In the case of drone operators, exposure to mental fatigue could see a decrease in vigilance and directly affect competence and their willingness to perform their tasks.
Being able to analyse and risk manage a soldier’s CCRS in a tactical combined arms environment will also assist in the recovery and rehabilitation of soldiers following the completion of their mission. Just as sports coaches monitor their athletes to gain an insight into their metres run, speed achieved, and the intensity of their workload – UWOs can examine a soldier’s historical data to evaluate the best recovery and rehabilitation strategy for their injury. Having access to real time data taken at the point of ‘bang’ will assist medical and specialist staff in improving the soldier’s resilience and robustness in order to have them return to work stronger.
Developing better preventative training that leads to each soldier having a CCRS enables better management of our greatest organisational asset: our people. Evolving weapon systems and the development of wearable data collection methods will improve resilience, recovery, and rehabilitation of our soldiers adding significant value to the combined arms environment and welfare space of 2045. Greater enhancement in the management of welfare will directly contribute to an increase in soldier recruitment and retention. Reinforced by the projected 30% manning increase to 80,000 members, the force posture capability of the Australian Army will be strengthened to ensure the future of Combined Arms changes the face of warfare in an ever-changing operational environment.