As a former Army Infantry Soldier, Key Account Manager with Thales Australia Daniel Keighran understands the needs of the warfighter. Serving in Afghanistan in 2010, Keighran was awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions. During the battle, Keighran "with complete disregard for his own safety" repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to draw fire away from a team treating a battle casualty, his actions were key in allowing the Coalition forces to withdraw without further casualties.
Looking back on his time in the military, Keighran believes that much about the in-theatre experience is the same now as it was then.
“The fundamentals of war haven’t necessarily changed over the years,” said Keighran. “There’s still a need to seek out and close with the enemy. Close combat is still very much a necessity to achieving outcomes. Mission fatigue, anxiety, situational awareness and the constant fight for information continue to affect the warfighter on the ground.”
What could be changing in the future? The amount of information available to the warfighters when making decisions at the tactical edge. Improving mission decisiveness in military technology is key because it has real, life or death, implications for soldiers on the ground.
Creating a tactical advantage
For many of the duties of a soldier, such as active patrolling, staying out of harm’s way and completing the job comes down to having information at your fingertips that gives you a tactical advantage. To prove this point, Keighran cites a mission during his time in Afghanistan during which the Australian Defence Force (ADF) had captured some enemy combatants, but needed to figure out who was the highest priority.
“We had only two seats on a helicopter and we had ten people under confinement,” said Keighran “We had to decide out of those ten people who was going to go on a helicopter to get out of there. That was the only time in the mission we had available to us to pick two of the ten. We found weeks later that one of the individuals on the ground was linked to a high-value target and we didn’t have that information at that point in time,” said Keighran.
According to Keighran, situations like this were not uncommon. Technology that could have sped up the flow of information would have changed the decisions made and ultimately the outcome of the mission. Tools like facial recognition or an identity application can only work if connected to the right data.
“That was a mission failure purely because we didn’t have the information at the time,” Keighran shared.
Moving forward, militaries can do better by utilising platforms that are built for the limitations of the battlefield and using a more open platform for information saving. Taking the step forward in these categories will have real implications.
For a tool to provide a strategic advantage, of course, it must first be functional in-theatre. Practical considerations like weight and fatigue are huge factors. Keighran remembers times where his mission effectiveness was severely limited due to his burden of equipment required for force protection. The body armor designed to protect become a liability, he wasn’t even able to take a clear sight picture with his weapon system because his gear was too bulky.
“Every kilo of equipment can hinder your movement and certainly while in a combat situation getting shot at further hinders your ability to manoeuvre,” Keighran said. “To be agile is extremely important and anything that can reduce the weight of a piece of equipment is hands down a winner.”
In addition to designing equipment that enhances the soldier’s ability, rather than holding them back, Keighran and the team at Thales believe that new solutions should be designed for relatively quick, on-the-ground repairs. Ideally, in-theatre IT staff can also handle making updates, to ensure full capability.
“There needs to be the ability to fix something quickly if it’s mission-critical. There needs to be that ability for a quick swap out or that ability to rectify that at the user level so it doesn’t need to be sent away for six months,” said Keighran.
Same battlefield, new capabilities
Ultimately, Keighran sees improved IT capabilities as simply a means to an end. New technology matters only if it works in theatre, helps supports operatives on the ground, sea or, air, and delivers the information they need to complete missions and stay safe.
“The reality is that it’s about action, it’s about outcomes,” said Keighran. “When you’re in a life or death situation, which you often are in these scenarios, you don’t want to be in-theatre any longer than you need to be. Any tactical advantage you can gain... is what’s important to the warfighter.”
To that end, the warfighter needs to clearly understand the practical application of a new technology — otherwise, there’s less likely to be buy-in on the ground and any tactical advantage is negated. Keighran sees bridging the gap between the IT department and soldiers as coming down to showing troops actionable ways new technology can aid the work they already do, rather than changing it.
“Changing the way we operate with new technology means constantly reviewing the tactics, techniques and procedures that are employed. Technology will bring change,” said Keighran.
By thinking this way, from the perspective of the warfighter, technology companies can create something that will allow soldiers to think independently and make decisions that are in the best interest of soldier safety, and the nation’s defence.
For more information about how Thales is meeting the mission decisiveness challenge with technology made for the battlefield, go to Nexium Defence Cloud Edge.
Connect with Dan Keighran on LinkedIn.