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The crucible effect: fuelling the fusion of world-class fighters into world-class fighting teams

Martin Boswell, Business Development Director, Jacobs

Today’s innovations are a mixed bag. Take driverless cars. Hail a Waymo and you’ll find your cabbie replaced by an Advanced Driver Assistant System (ADAS), built from a combination of state-of-the-art cameras, sensors, radar and AI.

These robotaxis are currently only available in Phoenix, Arizona and San Francisco. But give it ten or so years and there’s every chance that self-driving cars become the norm rather than the exception. It’s all thanks to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), which characterises innovation not by a single technology but instead by the convergence and recombination of many.

Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, said it best in 2016: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution creates a world in which virtual and physical systems of manufacturing cooperate with each other in a flexible way at the global level.”

Gene sequencing, nanotechnology, the Internet of Things, quantum computing – behind each breakthrough you’ll find a network of connected technologies in which every element shares equal weight, and all in pursuit of a shared goal. Systems and technologies coalesce and interact across the physical, digital and biological domains in a way that cements the 4IR as fundamentally different from previous revolutions.

The word ‘crucible’ springs to mind (and not simply because it’s the name of the Jacobs-aligned team bidding for the Army Collective Training System [ACTS]). Just as you’d tip a load of elements into a container, crank up the heat, and use expert knowledge to create stronger, rarer and more valuable alloys, today’s most powerful, transformative innovations are a fusion of technologies into something far greater than the sum of their parts. We call it the crucible effect – and it’s designing today’s most powerful, transformative innovations just as they define how we live, work and connect.

The crucible effect and collective training

What if we could give collective training design, development and deployment the same treatment? The fusion of world-class soldiers into world-class fighting teams is an aim of the Army that’s as clear as it is ambitious. Its scale and scope are unmatched. Technical, commercial, logistical and cultural challenges will arise and persist, and ACTS will demand change from every organisation, team and individual involved.

Copyright: Sergeant Ben Beagle

The British Army’s success isn’t – nor ever has been – assured. It’s not some magic, immutable quality. It’s the result of constant, not stop work: hard, assiduous training that ultimately allows the British soldier to fight that much harder and smarter than the adversary. If the British Army – the metallurgists in this story – is to create an army that can continue on this well-worn and hard-won path even as our adversaries grow in confidence, competence and capability, we first need to consider the sorts of qualities that will create the perfect conditions for the crucible effect to manifest.

  1. Courage to confront the status quo

Industry can take its cue from the British Army by challenging existing norms, beliefs and assumptions. Only then can we start to reevaluate what’s working, what’s not, and what needs to change. Doing so may, of course, create discomfort – but this is no bad thing when the comfort zone is often one of the most dangerous places to be.

It’s all about informed constructive challenge. It’s about askingthose penetrating questions to cut to the crux of the issue: what if doing more of the same and doing it better isn’t getting us to where we need to be? This extends beyond single-loop learning (which limits training audiences to a decide-act-evaluate-decide-act cycle) and adds another loop alongside – one which emphasises the need to pinpoint weak signals, to challenge existing mental models, to test underlying assumptions, to take stock of the situation and adjust accordingly.

The British soldier who can survive close-quarters combat in an urban environment is one who’s had to relearn how to shoot when the standard assault rifle they’ve used in training – with a Point of Aim and Point of Impact of 300m – is no longer optimised for the operating environment. ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy’, after all, and being able to improvise is crucial for warfighters who face a front line that’s only ever getting more complex.

Training needs to account for this complexity. Scenarios must accurately replicate the ever-changing subtleties and nuances of the modern battlefield. As new and unique challenges emerge and proliferate, we must present viable, timely solutions backed by data. The right Strategic Training Partner (STP) will continually deliver insights from data at all collective training levels to help define the problem, design the solution, and so enable faster decision making whether that’s in the back office or on the front line.

  1. Ambition over comfort

Crucible’s Campaign Director Matt Chuter said it best in his recent article: ambition is a feature, not a bug. Make no mistake: ACTS is the British Army’s most ambitious programme in decades. And that’s a great thing. Because only by setting stratospheric goals can significant change and innovation be achieved.

The Army’s been clear about what it requires of its STP given the scope and scale of ACTS. It needs a partner that can move when it moves; one that shares its values, ethos and drive to suceed. It needs new techniques, technologies and systems, working as one; new commercial frameworks; and new partnerships all in pursuit of one singular aim: to successfully develop, deploy and operate a Future Collective Training System that’s fit for purpose. Team Crucible will be responsible for providing the necessary energy and environment for transformation – hence the name – and for fusing each of these individual elements into the ‘world’s best training engine’.

  1. Action over indecision

The ever-evolving operating environment demands ever-faster decision-making. The right decision – or simply the best decision – is better than no decision, but today’s soldiers have less and less time to observe and orient before they decide and act.

Training needs to help individuals perfect the art of making high-stakes decisions under immense time pressure. It needs to guard against analysis paralysis on the one hand and jumping to false conclusions on the other. Experimentation, red teaming and scenario planning are all a means by which we can elevate existing training, though new techniques and technologies will be needed in order to truly transform decision support and analysis.

We can encapsulate such technologies and techniques in an entirely new training philosophy – one that’s truly learning-centred; one that prioritises competence and critical thinking over rote tasks and tick boxes; one that boosts morale, trust and esprit de corps; one that allows the Army and its personnel to draw from past learnings – and from each other’s strengths – to assess new situations with confidence and adapt on the fly in the face of challenge, distractions and chaos.

Armed with a better understanding of what decisions to make, when to make them and what the resulting courses of action look like, we can start to ensure training is a ‘surrogate for warfare’ that hones high-performing, adaptable teams irrespective of operational deployment.

  1. Confidence in being candid

The British Army has, by global standards, a culture of open communication. Independent thought is – within the limits of fast, effective decision-making – encouraged. This means that, unlike their authoritarian adversaries, they’re able to adapt and act fast without waiting for orders from the top. This culture is hard-won and difficult to maintain – and it’s one that industry and academia must learn from: rather than simply following a set of pre-defined tech specs, we need to be willing to question both the customer and one another to keep stakeholders accountable, processes tight, technologies suitable, and ACTS on track. The right STP will ensure everyone involved has access to trustworthy, coherent, assured data in order to do so with confidence.

  1. Eager to explore uncharted territory

The 4IR innovations in our opening example had years and years of experimentation poured into them. Extrapolate this to ACTS and it’s plain as day: more of the same won’t cut it if we’re to give UK soldiers the means to survive and thrive on the future battlefield. Transforming the training enterprise and experience rests upon our ability – as a team, as partners, as individuals – to take risks; to test new ideas; to mix and match different technologies; to fail fast; to learn by doing.

For the British Army, this starts with data: getting more of it, getting more from it, and breaking down the silos that might stop data from spanning the entire training landscape – from the end-user to the supplier ecosystem and back again.

Get this right and the future of collective training looks wholly different. We’ll have replaced spreadsheets with models to create a digital twin of the entire collective training enterprise. Just like it wargames operations and training exercises, the Army will be able to wargame training business – budgets, schedules, logistics, and so on – to surface the best options at every single turn. It’ll be in a position where it can hone in on precisely what’s required and – quickly and cost-effectively – adjust training around evolving and future threats from any adversary, and from across any domain.

  1. Embrace opportunities to grow

This starts with reframing challenges entirely as part of a learning-centric approach to training. Individuals and teams should see challenges not as threats but as chances to learn and develop . Adversity is that little bit less daunting if training audiences they’ll come out stronger on the other side. The alternative – to stand still, to stagnate, to stall – is too frightening when our adversaries grow more technically proficient, tactically confident and battlefield-ready by the day.

It’s important to temper this growth mindset with regular feedback and opportunities for self-reflection so individuals can review assess their own performance, track their progress, and course-correct accordingly. The otherwise outstanding individual who has an off day during a mid-term or annual appraisal in front of a Third Reporting Officer would take a bigger hit to their morale than if feedback were given more regularly and directly, for instance.

When the pressure’s on, we must stand together

These are, of course, all qualities that we’ll want to instil in training audiences if they’re to keep up with the complex, multifaceted threats permeating the modern battlespace. They’re qualities that will turn individual soldiers into stronger, smarter, more resilient fighting teams. But they’re also qualities that the right STP will need to exhibit if it’s to support the British Army in achieving its aims: the development of a Future Collective Training System that’s as flexible as it is secure; that’s as frictionless as it is foolproof; an Future Collective Training System that is, like the teams it trains, greater than the sum of its parts.

Copyright: Sergeant Donald Todd

The path to transformation won’t be an easy one to tread. But that’s the beauty of a crucible: intense pressure and immense challenge are what’s needed to bring about change. We’ll feel the heat before we see the payoff, where ‘we’ in this context doesn’t just apply to team Crucible. It applies to the SMEs whose innovations could and should be changing the world; to the industry suppliers who want to help deliver a high-value, long-term programme of record; to the institutions whose research drives entirely new ways of thinking, designing, developing.

At Jacobs, we’re as proud of our involvement in Crucible as we are of our expertise. I know this is true, individually and collectively, across Accenture, Babcock, CAE and McKinsey. But we also know the limits of our expertise, just as we know that collaboration is key to achieving ACTS. It’s in the combination and recombination of our skills, technologies and expertise that’ll help us give the Army what it wants so it can do what it needs.

ACTS is going to require an alliance across industry and academia to develop a system on the simulation platform, data infrastructure and commercial frameworks we’re building. So here’s my challenge – and my invitation: come join us. We want your expertise and experience, your know-how and vision. Perhaps most of all, we need your willingness to help the British Army create excellence – whatever it takes.

Author bio
Martin Boswell joined Jacobs in August 2014 having spent more than thirty years in the Ministry of Defence leading engineering and logistics teams, training and working with other nation’s forces, and managing projects and programs with Original Equipment Manufacturers and Service Providers.