Talking to the chiefs: Angus Campbell (part 1)

Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.

There’s a simple and vital, but easily overlooked, requirement for the advanced equipment being developed for soldiers on the modern battlefield, says Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell.

No matter how marvellous is a piece of new gear, front line soldiers must be able to use it with ‘heads up, eyes on target, hands on weapons’.

A moment’s distraction to look down at a screen can mean opportunities lost, or worse, Campbell tells The Strategist. ‘The point is that as we equip our soldiers we must enable them to do their job through technology, not disable them from doing their job,’ says the first Special Forces officer to command the Army. That must be the driver of the basic technological augmentation of the soldier.

‘When a soldier has to look down, and away from their target, there’s immediately the possibility that soldier is no longer aware of the situation that is changing,’ Campbell says.

Some of a soldier’s new equipment, such as ballistic armour and helmets, is intended to increase his or her survivability. Radios and weapons are all about their capacity to influence the environment in which they’re operating.

‘It’s a reminder that technology should enable, and should never be designed to detract from the basic job of being aware and active on the battlefield.’

Campbell says a prime example of such new technology is the latest version of the Steyr rifle and new sighting systems, with which soldiers very consistently hit targets at 600 metres. ‘That’s at least double what you might normally expect. It’s a better rifle and a better sighting system and an average shot in the Army can consistently put 20 rounds into the centre of a half-metre target at 600 metres.’ This development has just doubled the effective range of influence on the battlefield of an infantry soldier.

Equipment such as tiny drones make soldiers much more aware of the wider environment around them without exposing them to danger, and allows them to develop better plans and to more quickly seize the initiative. ‘They’re incredibly valuable,’ says Campbell. ‘From the smallest unmanned aerial systems to larger vehicles used tactically, we now have our people routinely aware of what’s going on, both to the distance that they can see and then well beyond line of sight.

‘That awareness is in the control of infantry companies or battalions and it’s augmented by the wider awareness that a battalion group or a task force might be feeding into the system. You get complementary layers of awareness starting to emerge.’

Of course, says Campbell, the ADF is not the only force using such technology. ‘It’s quite routinely used by organisations in the Middle-East. Irregular terrorist or insurgent groups, as much as large conventional military forces, are now using a wide range of unmanned aerial systems. War is very actively a competitive environment and if you’re not paying attention to what other people are doing you’re likely to be tactically surprised.’

Armoured technology is another example. ‘Not only are you seeing more effective weapon systems—cannons that are more effective—but you also see different armours, some with active explosive device systems that can knock down incoming rocket propelled grenades. While a vehicle might still be defeated by a tank’s main armament, with the right active protective systems it can be very confident in a battlespace which has historically been dominated by small arms, RPGs and some forms of indirect fire.’

Advanced modern protective systems rely much less on the sheer thickness and weight of solid armour, says Campbell. The more effective those systems become, the more options you have for reducing the weight of your vehicle. At the same time, different forms of lightweight armour are being experimented with. That’s all about how to be protected but far more mobile, and hence more likely to survive on the battlefield.

The ADF’s integrated investment program is designed to progressively upgrade or replace obselete systems.

‘That’s a serious and expensive effort to create an integrated ADF and it needs to be very carefully managed over years to maintain the effectiveness of the total force.’

Campbell says the Army is pursuing three priority projects: ‘One is about networking our equipment and its connectivity to the broader ADF and, when appropriate, coalition networks. That is to enhance the digital awareness of the entire force and the capacity for elements of that force to sense and to transmit and for others to shoot as might be required. Basically to generate a whole greater than the sum of its parts.’

‘That’s nothing new, but we are technologically on the cusp of actually realising it as a total force and we need to ensure that, as we do it, we’re alert to both the security challenge of maintaining the integrity of that network and the signature challenge of the emissions that kind of network can generate that can be detectable. Networking the force makes it more aware and capable.’

A second goal is to provide armoured protection to allow troops to manoeuvre safely on a battlefield. Campbell says the Army lives in a world in which there’s a great deal of military equipment modernisation and it needs to be competitive. ‘At the moment we’re not competitive in ground armoured vehicle capability. ‘It’s well and truly time to phase out of service the M113 armoured personnel carrier and the ASLAV reconnaissance vehicle,’ says Campbell.

Two competing tenders for combat reconnaissance vehicle are being trialled. ‘Those vehicles and infantry fighting vehicles, in combination with tanks and armed reconnaissance helicopters, provide the Army’s punch.’

The third focus is on the ‘combat ensemble’, which not just enhances soldiers’ individual survivability but makes them a more effective and more aware influence on the battlefield.

That’s where, says Campbell, the phrase ‘heads up, eyes on target, hands on weapons’ tries to focus the way in which the Army wants technology to help its soldiers.