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Beyond the battlefield: five lessons from Land Forces Training

© Cpl Tim Hammond

Any trip across the pond poses jet lag but, luckily, I couldn’t feel more refreshed when I woke up in Orlando for day one of Land Forces Training (LFT). It’s a three-day event filled with talks, tools, technology demonstrators and no small amount of frighteningly smart, accomplished people. I had the good pleasure of calling my colleague and travel companion James York one of them and we’re in total agreement: events like LFT should be in everyone’s diary. They’re not just informative gatherings for military professionals but essential waypoints in understanding the state of our collective security and the strategies employed to safeguard it.

If you’ll forgive the name dropping, they serve as a crucible where diverse backgrounds, skill sets and perspectives converge, resulting in hugely valuable insights on the other side. James and I have compared notes since returning to the UK on which key themes marked the event, what they tell us about the current state of training, and where it needs to go.

  1. Training in the digital age

Sensors, sensors everywhere. Ubiquitous sensing and media translates to persistent, pervasive surveillance. How, then, do we square the traditional mandate of she who senses first will win with the fact that modern warfighters can always be seen, all the time? How can they operate in a line of sight that’s clear as day and always on?

In her keynote speech, LTG Maria Gervais extended the motion and argued for a “sense, process and decide” loop. She who senses, processes, decides and executes first will win – and training must exist to accelerate this loop. It needs to be tough, realistic, interactive and dynamic. It needs to reflect the complexity of the operating environment through M&S technologies such as digital twins that can accurately play out the effects of battle. Done right, we can turn training into an asymmetric advantage that drives an operational cadence and capability that’s more agile, more adaptable, and much less predictable by peer enemies.

  1. More productive collective training, more of the time

On average, it takes 180 days to construct an LVC exercise. But even before they step foot on the training grounds, soldiers often queue up in droves outside armouries, waiting to draw weapons. Then there’s the analysis that shows, in some instances, that it takes female soldiers twice as long to start training events because of where their block is situated. It was a stark portrait of training inefficiencies painted by Maj Gen Chris Barry during his keynote speech; one that stuck with me after it wrapped because, if we’re to make sure warfighters sweat more in training so they bleed less in battle – and if we’re to make sure that they’re fighting as veterans rather than novices – then the current state of play clearly won’t cut it.

It’s hardly surprising that the answer to more productive training lies in technology, data analysis and – specifically – AI. The latter can be used to mine lessons, to automatically generate scenarios, upload them into a synthetic environment and make the entire process bespoke to the unit and its mission. When 80% of time is spent moving, storing, cleaning, preparing and interpreting data, AI shoulders much of this manual drudge work so humans can do what they’re uniquely placed to do: applying their understanding, ingenuity and imagination to analysing the resulting data and using it to best effect.

Once we learn to trust AI – something that can only really be achieved through stringent verification and validation processes, model governance, and by emphasising the need for transparency so AI capabilities aren’t just a black box – then the possibilities are near limitless. But there’s a catch, of course – namely the risk of autonomous capabilities falling into the hands of bad actors who aren’t bound by the same moral and ethical constraints of Western Allied Nations. The question then becomes one of how you counter an inappropriate but powerful use of AI vs what you’re democratically constrained to do, and it’s a question that’s bound for discussion time and again as this technology advances.

  1. Constructive capabilities, constructed worlds

Compare the latest Call of Duty and software like Unreal Engine 5 with any simulator used in any training scenario and the difference in fidelity, quality and realism is all too clear to see. Defence has always been slow to adopt technologies that make waves in other sectors and the time to implement such tech once adopted moves at a similarly sluggish pace. So it was a relief to see the collective, increased appetite for next-generation constructive capabilities that promise increased realism and fidelity in LVC blends to offset the drawbacks of live training (the lack of assets; the safety risks; the high costs).

Take the US. Army’s One World Terrain programme. It’s a 3D global terrain capability that supports a high-fidelity representation of Earth, accessible for collective training, mission rehearsal and mission execution at the point of need. Development in this area continues at pace and paves the way for similar capabilities across the US’ allies, underpinned by modern software approaches that pivot away from legacy training platforms using Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) and High Level Architecture (HLA) which, according to LTG Maria Gervais, risk holding the US Army back.

  1. Learning at the heart of training…

It’s a long-standing sentiment that’s oft-repeated but especially at LFT: we’ve an opportunity – and an obligation – to make soldiers better tomorrow than they are today, and better today than they were yesterday. Doing so rests on an assured lessons process that hoovers up the stats, figures and requisite learnings from training exercises and directs it back into the training engine for continuous improvement. It’s about putting into effect a new training philosophy – one that’s truly learning-centred; one that prioritises competence and critical thinking over rote tasks and tick boxes; 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.

  1. …to bridge the generation gap

Recruitment remains an issue for militaries the world over. But if we can make training productive, fulfilling and – most importantly – fun, we can start to better attract soldiers from whole new generations; soldiers that are already digitally-enabled and rightfully aware of their worth. So we need to make training worthwhile.

We need to show soldiers data around how their training went so they can judge for themselves how they’re performing – where they’re excelling, what’s holding them back, and how they can be better next time. Better still if we can show soldiers wide-ranging and varied data sets beyond what’s traditionally offered, such as Disease and Non-Battle Injury, Mean Time Between Failure and the impact of weather patterns on training efficacy, to produce differentiated insights. We need to create a night time economy in which soldiers, armed with the tools they need, can access such training data, review the stats, adjust and excel the next day from the comfort of their own rooms. By combining the right tech with the right people, we can start a cycle of continuous self learning and self improvement that breeds motivation, a little healthy competition, and enduring battlefield readiness.

A call to arms, an opportunity to deliver

Capitalising on these insights and putting them to work couldn’t come soon enough for an army that is, in Maj Gen Chris Barry’s words, “small and busy”. Its needs are as clear as they are urgent: more time. More resource. High-quality data and better value extraction from that data, each coalescing to help deliver the relevant, repetitive and challenging collective training that its personnel need to survive and thrive in a rapidly evolving, highly volatile operating environment.

As technologists, as suppliers, and as an industry, we’d do well to listen to such needs, repeated unwaveringly as events like LFT and beyond. They fortify the stratospheric aims of ACTS and reinforce what the Army’s looking for: a data-driven collective training system that can keep pace with emerging and evolving threats, delivered in partnership with a Strategic Training Partner it can rely on. One that’s prepared for volatility rather than stability. One that’s willing to assume a role within the UK’s warfighting system rather than simply to support it from the outside. One that can help British soldiers be better prepared – more quickly, en masse, and anywhere in the world – to fight that much harder and for that much longer than their adversaries, #WhateverItTakes.

Author bio
Matt Chuter, Campaign Director, joined Babcock in August 2023 to lead Team Crucible, having spent more than twenty years in the defence sector managing teams within big primes, SMEs, start-ups and government departments.
Having not long got back from the States, I can safely say that this year’s LFT was no different. #LandForcesTraining #LFT2024 #TeamCrucible #WhateverItTakes