Simulations much more than games

Appearing in Financial Review, Defence feature, 22 June 2017

 

Game-based computer simulations have become a key element in the training of ADF personnel, underpinning the high performance of troops in the field. There are Battle Simulation Centres in the military bases in Darwin, Townsville, Brisbane, Adelaide and Puckapunyal, and across the branches of the ADF. There is also the Australian Defence College Simulation Centre which provides simulation services and advice on soldier and officer training, and the government recently committed $500 million to fund a major simulation facility in Adelaide to ensure that the ADF’s electronic warfare systems are capable of standing up to modern threats.

“The ADF is in the top tier of military services around the world in the use of computer simulations,” says Pete Morrison, co-CEO of Bohemia Interactive Simulations, a global supplier of software training packages. “The Australian Army was one of the first to grasp the value of this technology and is seen as one of the most innovative in its use and development.”

Training simulations can represent the actual terrain of a combat theatre, such as a plain in Afghanistan or a town in Iraq, and can provide a remarkably realistic combat experience. They can operate at the individual level or commander level, with a range of conditions and limitations.

But Morrison emphasises that the point of theatre simulations is not to re-create reality in every detail.

“It’s a model, an approximation,” he says. “The aim is to give as much information as is necessary to make the training effective. Yes, you can keep adding more and more detail, but that requires more computer power, and we want packages that are not only simple to use but can be loaded onto laptop computers and even phones.”

Morrison points out that Bohemia grew out of the gaming sector, starting with a successful game called Operation Flashpoint. One part of the company still makes games but it was the development of a package called the Virtual Battle Space simulator that moved it into the military training field. ADF personnel have used the VBS simulator since 2005, when VBS1 was used to train soldiers deploying to Iraq.

The package is now in its third generation, and in the ADF it runs on over a thousand desktop computers as well as many other devices. The VBS package, however, is a long way from a shoot-‘em-up video game.

“What it is really about is teaching cognitive thinking,” Morrison says. “It is a way to test tactics and techniques in a risk-free environment. With so much terrain data available – effectively, the whole planet – it allows for detailed scenario training and mission rehearsal.”

Screenshot 1 - ADF vehicle simulationAlthough VBS3 is meant as a model of reality, much greater realism is required in areas such as flight simulators. These need a high level of detail in the immediate environment of the cockpit as well as what the pilot sees when he or she looks ‘outside’. This requires more computing power, although new developments in the technology are allowing a move away from room-like simulators towards desktop options.

Morrison sees a generational difference in attitudes toward training simulations. Younger people, who have grown up with screen-based technology, grasp it very quickly. Older people sometimes find it difficult, often expecting it to be more realistic. But practice with the packages usually helps to bring people up to the required level.

The simulation package starts in a generic form and is then tailored to the needs of each client or situation. Aside from packages like VBS3, there are packages designed for specific task training. One of the packages considered to be most successful for the ADF is an immersive trainer for helicopter loadmasters, called Aircrewman Virtual Reality Simulators.

Integrating virtual reality into simulations is seen as a crucial path forward. It is already happening in flight training and vehicle training, to the degree that tank simulators can create images of ‘enemies’ through the gunsight.Screenshot 2 - ADF copter simulation

But Morrison is aware of the current limitations of simulations.

“You can build any sort of training environment, from a foot patrol to a tank battle,” he says. “But those operations are only one part of the modern combat theatre. They won’t help you much with personal relations, such as winning the hearts and minds of a group of villagers. So we see that aspect of interactivity as a new frontier for us.

“To date, the anecdotal feedback we have received from people who have trained with simulations and then gone into the field has been positive. We see this technology as a highly valuable tool for people who are, in the end, putting their lives on the line. It’s the difference between going in prepared and going in not really knowing what to expect.”  

 

 

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Step up on cyberwarfare

Appearing in Financial Review, Defence feature, 22 June 2017

 

Cyberspace is the emerging battlefield but there are many questions as to how to conflicts there will be fought – and are already being fought – and how cyber-warfare intersects with boots-on-the-ground soldiering.

“It is here whether we like it or not,” says Professor Greg Austin of the Australian Centre for Cyber Security at the University of New South Wales in Canberra. “The bad news is that Australia is lagging behind many other countries. If the US, widely recognised as the global leader in this, was rated as a five then Australia would be between one and two. A lot of other countries are at the same level, but there are others, including some we might see as potential adversaries, who are more advanced.

“The good news is that we are moving ahead, with funding being allocated and cyber-warfare being increasingly incorporated into strategic planning, such as in the 2016 Defence White Paper. The current Prime Minister and some of his Cabinet colleagues see the importance of this, although I cannot say that that understanding is shared across the political spectrum.”cyber warfare

One aspect of change is the establishment of new unit dedicated to cyber-warfare, which will begin operations next month. It will be headed by a Major-General, giving it a voice at the senior levels of the ADF and the government. The aim is to consolidate and improve cyber-warfare capabilities while working across the ADF to bolster recognition of the importance of the area.

Cyber-warfare could take place at a number of levels. As part of actual combat it could be used to attack command-and-control systems, surveillance systems and logistics. Communications systems could either be shut down or fake information could be planted.

Another aspect could be to attack frontline weapons systems, everything from aircraft flight systems to missile batteries. Even communications equipment used by troops in the field could be disrupted.

“If it’s got a chip in it, it’s a target,” Professor Austin says. “Which means practically everything.”

At another level, a country’s infrastructure facilities could also be attacked as part of a conflict, to hamper the organising of military forces, to create economic damage, and to cause panic. Professor Austin identifies electricity infrastructure as especially vulnerable, because of its distributed nature and its technological architecture.

Protecting systems is itself a huge task but the other side of the cyber-battlefield is offensive capacity. While the extent of the ADF’s offensive capacity is classified it certainly exists, ranging from the development of malware that could be inserted into an enemy’s systems to finding pathways that would allow covert monitoring of communications.

A critical problem with cyber-attacks is that the identity of the enemy might not be clear. But Professor Austin believes that the idea that cyber-warfare could be conducted by a collection of malcontents in a basement is not really credible.

“There is certainly the possibility of attacks from small groups or even individuals but to do it on a large scale, and to get past the defences, requires the resources of a state,” he says. “It is likely that a cyber-conflict would happen, if it does, in the context of a larger conflict over territory or another issue. So the enemy would be known, more or less. But the nature of the technology means that a weaker party can generate a disproportionate effect against a stronger adversary.”

Within the senior levels of the ADF, the formation of the new cyber-warfare unit is seen as a critical step forward. One of its longstanding advocates, Brigadier Marcus Thompson (who holds a PhD in cyber security issues) emphasised the need to find the best people in a recent article for the Australian Defence Force Journal.

“Given the specialist nature of cyber operations, personnel employed in such roles should be selected based on their attributes and aptitude, rather than their technical skills,” he says. “Technically-qualified personnel will certainly have a critical role to play but intelligence and targeting functions are equally important to successful cyber operations.

“While the required workforce is likely to be drawn from the Royal Australian Corps of Signals in the first instance, any member of the Australian Army with the attributes required to successfully execute cyber operations can be trained to be a cyber warrior, regardless of their rank, trade, Corps or gender.”

He believes that the ADF might also need to reconsider its recruiting model, physical entry standards, pay rates, and structures to attract people with the appropriate attributes to cyber-related positions.

Professor Austin agrees. “Ultimately, we will probably see fewer people on the ground and more warriors who fight in front of a computer screen,” he says. “The soldier with a gun, and their naval and air force counterparts, will never be redundant but we are already seeing some countries move personnel resources into cyber-warfare. It’s a new age, and we’re just seeing the start of it.”

Batteries to aid renewables transition

Appearing in Australian Financial Review (Energy Future feature), 15 May 2017

 

Grid batteries can offer a smoother path

Power generation from wind and solar systems has been steadily increasing as a part of the national grid but for a long time the issue of variability has been a stumbling block. The problem is obvious: when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining, there is no power to feed into the grid. But a new solution, large-scale batteries, has emerged as a viable technology.

Large-scale battery systems are often located with renewable energy plants, either to smooth the power supplied by intermittent output or to alleviate pressures on the grid at times of high demand.

“Batteries have unique strengths that complement different attributes of pumped hydro storage and demand management, including the capacity to respond to fluctuations in price or frequency very quickly,” says Ross Garnaut, Research Professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne and the chairman of Zen Energy, a company specialising in renewable energy and storage solutions. “And grid-scale battery storage is ready for immediate deployment. Decisions made now could have large impacts in six to nine months.”

In fact, techno-entrepreneur Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, tweeted in March that his company could build a 100 megawatt battery storage farm in South Australia within 100 days. This was not an idle promise: Tesla completed built a farm of comparable size in California last year in just 90 days, and others have been constructed even faster.

“There are scores of battery farm systems in operation in North America as well as in other countries as a means to balance increasing volumes of wind and solar energy,” says Garnaut. “What is holding development back in Australia is the regulatory framework, which actually gives generators opportunities to profit from actions that destabilise prices. Much of this is connected to the peculiar Australian practice of averaging settlement prices over half-hour periods. We need to move towards a national wholesale market that operates with a competitive spot or contract market, to take account of the stability provided by a grid battery system. This would be a market where providers respond to consumer price signals.”

Garnaut believes that reform has been hindered by the established players of the energy sector even though there is a broad recognition of the need for change in principle. In hindsight, the power problems experienced in South Australia last year might be a hidden blessing, insofar as they focused attention on the shortcomings of the existing grid system.

There are already some small-scale battery systems operating and several large-scale battery projects are in development. The first large-scale system to be rolled out is likely to be a farm planned for South Australia, on private land in the Riverland district. It is to be built by Lyon Group and Downer EDI, with backing from Mitsubishi and hedge fund Magnetar Capital. The $700 million project will involve a 330 megawatt solar farm and a 100MW battery capable of providing four hours of storage. Operation is planned to commence in December. It is touted as the largest solar-battery hybrid project in the world to date.

But the cost of grid battery systems remains an obstacle.

“At the moment, most of the battery systems operating or planned in Australia require some form of government subsidy or assistance,” says Professor Tapan Saha, an energy systems specialist from the University of Queensland. “But the prediction is that development and operating costs will come down as economies of scale emerge and the knowledge base increases. That is the pattern we have seen overseas. Costs will decline, and efficiency and operating safety will improve as well.

“But when we look at the long term we should also bear in mind power storage systems such as pumped hydro. Hydro has the advantage of a much longer operating life.”

While grid-scale battery storage is an obvious direction another option is also being explored. With domestic installation of solar systems growing, it is theoretically possible to link them together, with battery support, to create a ‘virtual power plant’ to supplement the grid. Power company AGL says it has so far signed up 175 households for a trial in Adelaide, with battery storage installed in 31. It hopes to complete a thousand installations by mid-2018, although there market design issues and technical issue to be overcome. If the problems can be overcome, the project could provide five megawatts to handle periods of peak demand.

Garnaut agrees that there is strong potential in de-aggregated systems for both generation and storage. He notes that Zen Energy is engaged in a pilot program in Adelaide, in partnership with the SA State Government and Adelaide city council.

“The energy future is about going outside the traditional parameters,” he says. “It is more likely to be a portfolio of options than a single centralised solution. It is about new thinking, to utilise new technology.”

Energy ideas

Appearing in Australian Financial Review (Energy Future feature), 15 May 2017

 

New wave of innovators for energy sector

There is a sense that the pace of innovation is rising in the energy sector but structural obstacles are preventing the full benefits from flowing to the economy.

“We are seeing a great appetite for innovations in the renewable energy and clean energy fields, supporting global commitments for a low carbon economy,” says Miranda Taylor, CEO of the National Energy Resources Australia industry group. “The area has moved into the social mainstream, with broad acceptance that it is the way of the future. The question is how to best get there.”

“Something we are seeing at the moment is a shift away from a pipeline innovation model, where large companies develop incremental innovations in-house or with one or two of their large vendors, and then send them through a series of bureaucratic gateways and evaluation processes. We are moving towards a platform model where multiple external knowledge experts, including small and medium-size companies, are coming up with new ideas.”

“The escalation in digital and automation technology is playing a large role in this. Open source automation means small companies and innovators can ‘plug and play’, and industry is no longer locked into closed, proprietal technology where no-one else could participate or innovate. At the same time, innovators can increasingly access simulations and living labs to make the process of demonstrating and verifying the value from innovation easier and less risky.

“As large companies move out of the expansion phase of the resources boom, where the emphasis was on refining and improving existing technologies, they are more willing to look at innovations from external sources, provided that the innovation is an answer to a real problem and will generate significant value.”

Taylor notes that while most of the large resource and energy companies have embraced new technology, including automation of discrete functions and tasks, they have not yet moved to full-systems inter-operability. She believes that they have not yet leveraged the efficiencies that would result from that optimisation. Few companies have created multi-disciplinary teams that help to promote whole-of-organisation improvement.

Taylor explains that NERA has begun to develop an innovation supply chain strategy, including mechanisms to assist SMEs. It recently established a new annual grants program offering $20,000 in assistance to ten SMEs to successfully commercialise their research and innovation in partnership with larger companies. The recipients were involved in areas ranging from a new drilling module that can handle gas pressures more effectively than existing options, a wireless device that uses gyroscopic and inertial forces to rotate and orient loads such as windmill blades and pipe sections, and a system that allows specialist workers to upload their personal and compliance information for potential employers.

NERA is also running a program to help SMEs ensure that their innovations are market-ready, as well as encouraging to SMEs to form ‘supply chain innovation clusters’. The aim is to help them achieve greater visibility, and build the scale required to compete in global markets.

Most universities now have research centres and innovation hubs dedicated to renewable energy and clean energy, and many innovations start there. But the longstanding issue of linking entrepreneurial SMEs with providers of venture capital remains.

“There is certainly more willingness for the venture capital sector to look at the energy sector than there was in the 2012-2014 period, where there was a definite pullback,” says Dr Mark Bonnar, Managing Director of Southern Cross Venture Partners. “In particular, there is an interest in companies with software that can be used to integrate renewable energy with the traditional grid, and improve energy management in line with the changes happening in the market. But VC companies are actively engaged in seeking opportunities, of whatever type they might be. We don’t sit in our office waiting for the phone to ring.”

Bonnar points out that many SMEs in the energy sector, even if they have a good product, fall down when raising funds.

“It’s surprising how little they know about attracting investment, in many cases,” he says. “In the US, financing skills are seen as a necessary part of the innovation process. But a lot of Australian entrepreneurs do not even grasp the idea of approaching a potential VC partner through a referral or recommendation, something which these days is quite easy to do with the availability of on-line social and business networks.”

Nevertheless, Bonnar sees the situation as steadily improving, with several energy-specific business incubators and early stage equity funds being established, as well as conferences and conventions designed to bring innovators and VC providers together.

“There are certainly positive signs about innovation in the energy sector,” he says. “Uptake is shifting from policy-push to consumer-pull, especially in areas such as energy storage, electric vehicles and new energy retail models where consumers can benefit from shifting their usage patterns during periods of high energy pricing”.

Military uniforms get next-gen innovation

Appearing in Australian Financial Review, Defence feature, 8 March 2017

 

“I like to think that we have played a role in the distinctive look of Australian service-men and -women,” says Matt Graham, CEO of Australian Defence Apparel, the largest manufacturer of uniforms and related equipment to the ADF. “It’s a look recognised and respected all over the world. We’ve been doing it for over a hundred years, and our focus has always been on integrating form and function. Whether soldiers or firefighters, any job is easier in the right uniform.”

ADA, based in Melbourne, manufactures more than 500,000 uniforms across a range of contracts every year. For the ADF, this includes the Standard Combat Uniform, Operational Combat Uniform, Soldier Combat Ensemble, Load Carriage Equipment and Flyers Ensembles. Including specialised items such as Tiered Body Armour System vests and pouches ADA produces between 750,000 and one million units per year.

“When most of the manufacturing sector in Australia is going backwards we are on a growth path,” Graham says. “We have put a lot of resources into R&D, and the next generation of products is really exciting. In particular, 3D printing adds a new dimension to prototyping and testing.”

One of the products that has come out of research is an innovative pack frame that can be easily adjusted to the wearer’s weight and height has been developed. Known as the One299 backpack frame, the product won the 2016 Land Defence Australia – National Industry Innovation Award last September. Over 30,000 frames have been supplied to the ADF, and there has been international interest as well.

ADA is working with the ADF to develop the next generation of uniforms using e­-textiles, in which communication data is passed through fibres embedding in the clothing. This would eliminate the need for cables and reduce the weight a soldier would have to carry.

Another hi-tech project designed to improve soldier performance is a titanium exoskeleton that would wrap around a soldier’s body, and would help take the weight of a backpack. The technology is being developed with the US Army’s elite special operations command, and could be rolled out to the general army in 2018. The project is being run with ADA’s parent company Logistik Unicorp, a global specialist uniform company headquartered in Canada. 

“The first version is not powered but we are working on a battery-powered one for the US,” says Graham. “The powered suit would sense muscle reflexes and activate to take the weight of the soldier’s movement. In the US, they are calling it the Iron Man project. It might sound sci-fi but the potential is enormous, especially given the number of injuries that soldiers incur by carrying heavy weight. There are other applications in the health and disability sector as well. You can see the potential.

“When we come up something new, we protect it. ADA is one of the few uniform companies that regularly patents the innovations we create.”

Graham notes that liaison with the ADF is ongoing, and cites the organisation Diggerworks within the ADF procurement system as a key partner. Diggerworks is designed to collect, analyse and utilise feedback from soldiers in the field, and Graham sees the link with field operations as crucial in ensuring that soldiers get what they need. The current emphasis is on giving soldiers flexibility in weapons, protection and communications without adding to the weight they have to carry.

Even though the defence sector is in a growth phase Graham sees diversification as a crucial strategy for the long term. He believes that the company’s good reputation as an ADF supplier can be parlayed into other fields.

“We have had good success with uniforms for firefighters and emergency services workers, for example. There is a lot of cross-over in the materials technology, and we can point to our work with the ADF as proof that we can handle both specialised product runs as well as large contracts.”

One of ADA’s largest non-defence projects was the contract to provide a new uniform range for New South Wales Health, with more than 80,000 uniformed staff. This entailed rollout across the state with full end-to-end inventory and supply chain management.

Another piece of the diversification strategy was the recent acquisition of LE Gear, a leading supplier of law enforcement, military, public safety and outdoor sports products.

“It complements our manufacturing and apparel business, and opens the door to new markets, new brands and new suppliers,” says Graham. “It also gives us a proven e-commerce platform for direct to consumer distribution across Australia and New Zealand. That’s a new direction for us, but that’s the point. You have to keep trying new things, keep going with innovation, keep applying technology. That’s how you stay ahead.”

North Korea missile program adds uncertainty

Appearing in Australian Financial Review, Defence feature, 8 March 2017

 

The past few months has seen a ratcheting-up of the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and there are no solutions on the horizon.

A key event was the successful launch of a Pukguksong-2 missile from North Korean territory into the Sea of Japan in mid-February. The missile was apparently launched from a mobile launcher and used solid fuel, much more reliable than the liquid fuel that has been used by North Korea in the past for land launches. Solid fuel has been used in successful submarine launches, and now the technology has been transferred to land launches.

That launch was followed up by a test a few days ago in which North Korea fired four ballistic missiles from the Tongchang-ri region near the border with China. Three of them landed in Japan’s maritime exclusive economic zone, meaning they covered a distance of about a thousand kilometres.

The latest round of launches suggests that North Korea is trying to develop a ‘second strike’ capacity, so it would be capable of launching missiles even if its central command facilities were destroyed.

The significance of the successful missile launch is underlined by a successful nuclear test conducted last September at the Punggy-ru test site. The device had a yield of at least ten kilotons – some Western intelligence agencies say up to 30 kilotons – making it larger than the Hiroshima bomb. The test constitutes a landmark in the country’s nuclear program.

So far, there is no hard evidence that the North Korean government has been able to miniaturise a nuclear weapon to fit into a missile – although the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has claimed that it can. The general view amongst Western analysts is that that step is probably not far away. Assuming that missile development continues along its current line Japan as well as South Korea will be soon be in range from land missiles, and Hawaii and Alaska, and even the US Pacific Coast would be in the danger zone from submarine-launched missiles. North Korea has tested inter-continental missiles, and if these can be developed the list of possible targets grows exponentially.

“I would describe the nuclear weapon capacity of North Korea as rudimentary but developing,” says Professor Ramesh Thakur, director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU. “Having said that, we should realise that they have shown the capacity to make advances very quickly. The next thing to look for is a successful test involving a nuclear weapon and a missile together. That would be a major breakthrough.”

The launch of the missile in February was apparently designed to coincide with a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump. It may have been an attempt to test Trump, who is largely an unknown quantity on foreign policy. Trump’s response to the launch was to re-affirm the support of the US for Japan (but not, interestingly, South Korea).

“There is a chance here for a two-track approach, with engagement and dialogue on one and threats and sanctions on the other,” says Professor Thakur. “One way to get North Korea to the bargaining table might be to include talks on converting the armistice held over from the Korean War into a peace treaty, which North Korea wants. So far North Korea does not show any willingness to give up its weapons. They define ‘denuclearisation’ of the Korean Peninsula to include the withdrawal of the American nuclear umbrella, while to the US and South Korea it means the irreversible dismantling of the North’s nuclear weapon program. Neither of those is going to happen. But North Korea might be amenable to a freeze on development and testing. And if there are to be talks of some kind, China needs to be involved.”

China has long been the critical supporter of North Korea but Beijing recently announced that it was imposing a strict limit on coal imports from North Korea, a move which would deal a crucial blow to the isolated North Korean economy. Whether the announcement will be followed by action is not yet known but the move opens a new front.

“I believe that China was sending a message to the North Koreans about pulling back and lowering the temperature,” Professor Thakur suggests. “Interestingly, the North Koreans said in a government publication that ‘China was dancing to the US tune’, which says a lot about the way Pyongyang sees the world. Of course, China would never respond to US pressure. Beijing’s move on coal comes because they see it as good for China to shorten North Korea’s leash every now and then.

“The level of instability might have increased in the past few months but there is also the opportunity for advances over the coming year. The key question will be whether the Americans are willing to move past the belligerent language and put forward some serious options.”

Diggerworks doing the job

Appearing in Australian Financial Review, 23 June 2016

http://www.afr.com/news/special-reports/defence-and-national-security/closing-the-armed-forces-supply-loop-20160622-gpoyqp

Closing the armed forces supply loop

Soldiers have been complaining about having to make do with inappropriate equipment since the time of the Romans but the Australian Defence Force has developed a means of effectively linking front-line troops with the procurement process. The Diggerworks unit, located in Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, has built a strong record of communication and liaison, as well as being an equipment innovator in its own right.

“The people on the ground are the ones best placed to know what they need,” says Colonel Richard Barrett, the director of Diggerworks. “Our role is to turn that information into practical equipment, bearing in mind that the past few years have seen the ADF operate in theatres as varied as East Timor and Iraq, and with a range of missions. Diggerworks is about solving problems. That’s our mission.”

Diggerworks was created after Senate estimates committee hearings in 2010 identified critical problems in the procurement and supply chain arrangements for the equipment and clothing used by Australian soldiers. Senior executives in the army, the Defence Materiel Organisation, and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation decided on a substantial overhaul, emphasising innovation and agility.

“Our focus has been on the individual combatant,” Barrett says. “You want to make sure that the soldier is as well protected as possible but also entirely capable of doing the job. There is no sense in simply weighing a digger down with more and more pieces of equipment – what I call the Christmas-tree effect. Especially for soldiers performing duties such as foot patrols, every extra kilo is a burden.”

Body armour has become essential, but the new approach is to have modular systems that can be adapted to environmental conditions and specific tasks, with Kevlar plates being added into pockets in the uniform. Soldiers manning checkpoints, for example, have less need of mobility and more need of heavier armour. Some armour is designed to protect against specific threats such as stabbing attacks.

The emphasis on effectiveness has seen a move away from single-purpose tools and towards flexible devices. One innovation being developed by Diggerworks is a multi-purpose tool for jungle use, to replace the heavy machete. The new, lighter tool can be configured for slashing, cutting, prying, and even breaking barbed wire. Prototypes have been made using a 3D printer, and the next step is to call in private sector companies to build further prototypes for testing, and eventually full-scale production.

“We try to get innovations into the hands of soldiers as quickly as possible but we are also aware of the need for testing,” says Barrett. “We often use training exercises for testing and conduct feedback interviews later. We also subject new items to the toughest treatment we can think of. Something we are doing at the moment is changing from the traditional webbing to a new material – it’s the same stuff used in Zodiac inflatable boats. We have subjected it to everything that it might encounter on a battlefield, as well as scientific and technical evaluation. We have to know that it will do its job.”

Speaking the language

Barrett notes that soldiers, when returning from a theatre, are interviewed for their views on equipment. Representatives of Diggerworks also visit ADF bases overseas and in Australia to connect with troops on the ground.

“My background is as an infantry commander,” he says. “My predecessors in this job had held similar positions. I think that hands-on experience is necessary in a job like this. You need to be able to speak the same language, be familiar with the issues.”

The equipment for soldiers is evolving towards more emphasis on communication, and the standard pack now includes a number of high-tech devices. A problem is that this requires power, and that means batteries.

“We are working on long-life batteries, and on ways to recharge equipment from a range of sources, even from portable solar panels,” Barrett says. “But traditional batteries are bulky and heavy. We are designing some which can fit easily into the uniform configuration.

“Another area we are examining is communication with allied forces, even if there is a language difference and the message itself needs to the encrypted. There are devices to do this but they are too big for our purposes. We want to take that technology and turn it into a portable packet. That is a part of looking at a soldier as an integrated system.”

Diggerworks is not the only organisation in the world’s militaries trying to improve equipment design and supply but it is one of the best regarded. Diggerworks representatives are in demand for conferences and co-operative projects, and the British army is soon to send a delegation to study the organisation.

“We are aware that Diggerworks has to keep adapting to stay healthy,” Barrett notes. “A long-term project for us is to look at our operational model. Something we want to develop is a system that can provide metrics on the effectiveness of particular changes. That requires a baseline, which is going to be hard to do, but it would be very valuable. It would help us determine what works best, how resources are best allocated, and how inputs are delivering outputs. That would be a big step.”