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Towards a fully enabled future soldier

22 January 2021
Pictured outside the augmented reality dome (L-R): Melanie Ralph (Discipline Lead Soldier Autonomy), Tim Bussell (Group Leader Integrated Personnel Protection), Colonel Gerald Berson (Director Diggerworks), WO1 Barry Fawcett (RSM Diggerworks), Major Kevin Davis (Program Manager SA Development).

DSTG has a dedicated team of defence scientists focused on integrating technology solutions into the soldier combat system. These scientists are experts in what they do, and look at everything from signature management and soldier protection to human machine teaming capabilities with a single-minded determination to improve the comfort, safety and effectiveness of our “boots on the ground”.

Leader of the research effort, Mr Tim Bussell explains that their aim is to provide an integrated solution to the challenges faced by dismounted combatants.

“Our Australian dismounted soldiers are totally reliant on what they wear or carry into battle and, from a technology perspective, their kit is incredibly complex,” he explains.

“Technology on its own does not mean military capability because it has to work seamlessly with everything else, so integration is the key.

“We work closely with Army counterparts in Diggerworks, Army’s Dismounted Combat Program and the Combat Training Centre in Townsville to get that integration right.”

Deploying soldiers to a virtual world

To fully assess the performance of new technologies and how well they integrate into the soldier combat system, researchers are turning to augmented reality.

A new facility in Melbourne will allow researchers to immerse a fully equipped soldier in a 360-degree virtual world. They will be able to link that soldier to a robotic test arena where they can command robots to undertake battlefield tasks in real time and real space – but in a controlled research environment. This innovative new facility offers a flexible alternative to traditional more expensive, time-consuming techniques involving observing soldiers in the field.

The research is part of the Enabled Soldier program, a research collaboration with industry and academia aimed at progressing research and building capabilities for the dismounted soldier. A Future Soldier Capability Network is being established to take relatively immature technologies and translate them into Australian-made military capabilities.

Learn fast, decide early

“Our motto is ‘learn fast, decide early’,” notes Bussell.

“That’s a 21st century take on the classic ‘fail fast, fail early’ idiom, but we don’t class learning what doesn’t work as a failure, nor is it a failure to decide to move on to something else. In our line of work, failure is not an option.”

“And that’s what we try to do within the Enabled Soldier Program – to take risks, try out new ideas and concepts, learn what works quickly, accelerate the promising concepts if they work, but decide to move on early if an idea doesn’t pan out as we had hoped.”