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Human Performance for the Warfighter

28 November 2017

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Major General Kathryn Toohey AM, CSC

Head Land Capability


Human Performance for the Warfighter


Address to the 4th International Congress on Soldier Physical Performance


Melbourne Convention Centre

0830-0930, Wednesday 29 November 2017

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Good Morning distinguished guests, fellow speakers, ladies and gentlemen.

I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are meeting this morning, the Wur-un-dje-ri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.

Thank you to the convenors of the 4th International Congress on Soldier Physical Performance for the invitation to address this congress. It is a credit to the Congress that, in a relatively short period of time, it has gained a reputation for contributing to the physical and cognitive preparation of soldiers.

As Head Land Capability I am responsible for Army modernisation to support Army achieve its mission of preparing Land Forces for war in order to defend Australia and its national interests. That is, from ‘concepts’ for the acquisition of new capabilities, through to the disposal of obsolescent capability at the end of its useful service life – and every stage of capability management and sustainment in between. Capabilities necessarily and effectively integrated with joint maritime, air, space and cyber effects; and interoperable with our allies.

Our people are central to all Army capability. Our human assets – our soldiers – are the platforms on which our capability is based. We want to be an army in which our soldiers use technology and equipment as tools to carry out their tasks, not one where weapons or equipment are the priority and are simply manned by soldiers. The best equipment in the world is useless without the right people to employ it.  Ultimately we seek soldiers that can outsmart, outperform and outlast adversaries. 

Recent evidence from operations in the Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq would suggest that the Australian Army is effective in training and developing highly capable soldiers. However, the competitive nature of conflict is that we can never be complacent and should always strive to adopt and improve on best practise. To that end, we must always challenge ourselves as to whether we are doing enough and whether we are using the latest evidence-based approaches and lessons from the sciences in the physical and psychological preparation of our people. And, I do note that the two are intrinsically linked.

When I reflect on my own experiences as a trainee and then years later as an instructor at the Australian Army’s officer academy, the Royal Military College in Canberra, I cannot recall a science-led, evidenced-based adjustment of the training regime. I joined Army 30 years ago as a cadet officer and was then issued Vietnam War-era soldier kit, black GP boots, jungle green uniform and a self-loading rifle with iron sights. Training comprised lots of long runs (in GP Boots or KT26s none the less), high intensity circuits and very irregular route marches where we were told outright to just suck it up.

The uniform and F88 rifle that were introduced in the nineties was a technological step change, however soldier training methods did not change at least not immediately. However over the past decade Army through collaborations with DST Group, academia and sporting institutions has evolved considerably.

So to start at the beginning - who is the Australian army?  Army comes from a recruiting base of some 23 million Australians, of which around 15 million fall within the age range for service.

We come from a multi-cultural society. The 2017 census tells us that 28% of Australians were born overseas, and an additional 21% of Australians have at least one parent born overseas.

The Australian Army’s current total force strength is around 56,000.  This comprises just over 30,000 regular personnel, around 14,000 active reserves and almost 12000 members of the standby reserve.

Currently 13.5% of the regular force and 14.5% of the reserve force are women. However amongst officers, some 22% of lieutenants and 18% of commanding officers are women.

In January 2016, following direction from the Commonwealth Government, Army removed the final restrictions on combat employment categories which previously excluded women. These changes allow women to pursue any career choice in the Army based on their intellectual and physical capability and aptitude, not their gender.

Despite the messaging by some areas of the Australian media, this has not resulted in a tidal wave of women in our combat arms corps – infantry, engineers, artillery, armour - or any reduction in the combat effectiveness of the Australian Army. As of mid-November, of some 6,200 infantry soldiers, only 29 are women. 

The small numbers of women who have elected to join the combat arms corps meet the same physical employment standards as the men, and are valued members of their teams.

The Australian Army has high entry medical, psychological and character standards for its people. We know that less than one in ten people within the age range for service meet the criteria to join the Army.

In terms of obesity, 15.2% of 18-21 years are obese, compared to 8% 20 years ago. Participation in sports? For women the average age they stop playing sport is 14.

Several years ago in recognition of the low level of recruit joining Army, Kapooka adopted a Olympic weight lifting program called PTP2 - focussed on stronger soldiers with better bone density which has reduced injury rates very significantly.

For women who cannot meet the physical entry standards (run, push ups, sit ups) but who are otherwise promising candidates, they can be provisionally enlisted to undertake a 7 week physical pre-conditioning program. On successful conclusion, they are fully enlisted and join a recruit course. This course has been extremely successful, with around 80% of women meeting the physical standards and going on to join the trained force. A number of them have even been awarded ‘best at PT awards’ at the conclusion of Recruit training.

As Head Land Capability, I have a team focussed on providing Army with equipment to empower the individual solder. Our soldiers must be lethal, mobile, protected, sustainable, and situationally aware.

Army has been the primary champion for the recognition of Human Performance as a critical component of Defence capability. There is a tendency for Defence capability to be viewed as simply the introduction of new and improved platforms and equipment, but the reality is that despite an increasing push towards autonomy, people remain at the core of Defence capability.

Army put Human Performance “up-in-lights” back in 2014 when it established Human Performance as one of its 7 Army Modernisation Lines of Effort (or AMLEs). Although Army’s approach to mapping and prioritising science and technology continues to evolve, Human Performance remains an explicit theme in Army’s strategy and its remains the primary champion for the wide range of Human Sciences that can push the boundaries of Army capability.

The primary human performance objective is to enable forces to win the Land battle.

The outcome we are seeking to achieve is technical and human performance overmatch against the most likely and most dangerous threats.

The end state is that the Australian Soldier Combat System delivers a decisive combat advantage.   

Effective Human Systems Integration is a key driver for improving a Soldier’s performance and requires a 'whole-of-system' approach.  This approach:

  • Protects the health, safety and well-being of personnel who deliver the capability.
  • Minimises the risks of human error, violation and undesirable human behaviour that could impact systems safety, lead to equipment losses, capability down-time and/or loss of capability performance.
  • Supports efficient and effective human performance initiatives that contribute to combat effectiveness and increase the likelihood of mission success.
  • Minimises capability design and development costs by focusing on user requirements and user feedback at the right time in the CLC.
  • The Australian Army’s 2014 Future Land Warfare Report identified five trends that will likely shape future war: crowded, connected, lethal, collective, and constrained. These are big trends and evidence for their early presence is before us. Today we see intra-state conflict, great power positioning, state instability, massed migration and humanitarian crises and, of course, terrorism.


In all these settings we see the presence of increased lethality, complex demographics as the battle space converges on population centres, the exploitation of connectivity through the internet and specialist information infrastructure available to all belligerents, and the ability, with such connectivity, for forces to act coherently and collectively.

Australia has worked hard to establish a capability edge in the Asia Pacific. This comparative advantage has been derived in part from our twofold strengths:

  • Firstly, our decades of investment in our people – expertise, education and mission command culture.
  • Secondly our use of technology to put the best weapons, sensors and platforms into the Battlespace.


Although war will remain a fundamentally human endeavour, we do believe that the character of war will continue to change; future conflicts may be more will be about soldiers teaming with smart machines to defeat other machines.

Soldiers and smart machines will come together to create new types of teams. But the technology will not replicate human judgment, intuition, morality or understanding.

In the words of a colleague of mine: Brigadier Mick Ryan: “More than ever - the wisdom, imagination and creativity of human beings is required on the battlefield, and for those who design, procure and support the deployed force at home”.

Human performance research needs to address the complexity of the human dimension upon future Army operations such as human-autonomous and robotic system teaming. The challenge will be designing the right soldier- system balance to maximise the relative advantages of both in a future fighting system.

By getting the correct balance between the soldier and machine, the right blend of the ‘art’ with the ‘science’; we will be able to set the conditions for fully realising the benefits of robotics and autonomous systems.

The US Army stated recently of future warfare: “Military operations will increasingly be aimed at utilising the cognitive and moral dimensions to target an enemy’s will[1]”. It is an accepted truism that the character of warfare constantly changes as technological developments and tactical innovation are applied in the eternal quest for a war-winning advantage. Yet an enduring aspect of the character of warfare has been the perennial quest to attack, disrupt, degrade or deny the adversary’s warfighting capabilities; while protecting and securing those of the friendly force.

Our imperative, as a small Army defending a large country with interests spanning the globe, is to combine superior warfighting concepts, with optimal force structure and the best technology we can afford.

The 2016 Defence White Paper places Australia’s security firmly within the maritime environment of the Indo-Pacific region. This region contains the world’s busiest international sea lanes, as well as nine of the world’s ten busiest ports. Australia as an island nation is economically reliant on our freedom of navigation at sea. As such, the importance of a maritime strategy to the security of our nation remains clear and uncontested. 

Army needs to prepare land forces for remote, austere and hostile operational environments. Arguably, more so than the air or sea domains, the land environment consists of ‘complex terrain’; cities, jungles, littorals, swamps, deserts, mountains and populations. The land force is in them, around them and moving through them. The terrain effects of where we operate are often incompatible with the idea of ‘ease’ of connectivity and integration.

Human performance modernisation will be challenged by philosophical, moral and ethical acceptance, such that human performance initiatives must remain strongly connected to preparing Land Forces for war. I am interested to see where physical and cognitive optimisation practices can improve warfighting capability. 

Our approach should critically consider and apply advances in human sciences into our policies and practices. This needs to come with a governance framework and pathway to realisation to test our research and investment proposals. 

Human performance enhancement needs a plan which provides a coherent pathway for investments in research, human performance centres, collaboration and technology. It needs to get our Army practitioners,  our defence scientists, academia, industry, sports science, the Australian Institute of Sport, our allies and partners - to get the best out of own people, to turn them into great soldiers.

In the past we have treated soldiers like “Christmas trees” where we have progressively just hung more kit off them.

We didn’t treat the Soldier as a platform subject to design constraints and a controlled configuration management process.

Stove piped Defence programs where focused on delivering “kit” not integrated soldier systems

We have learnt from these lessons of the past by improved soldier integration governance and applying a top-down approach to Human System Integration and whole-of-system design

Army as the Capability Manager has taken the lead in being the system designer and prime system integrator for the soldier combat system.

Soldier Combat System Program team works closely with other Army and broader Defence stakeholders to confirm the top-down design goals, user requirements and modernisation plans.

Diggerworks has been a major success story for Army.  They provide and coordinated bottom-up human systems engineers: Ensuring equipment components are effectively integrated into the human platform.

Land T&E Agency and Forces Command Units are involved in operational test and evaluation activities solutions, assess capability outcomes, and define new requirements.

Defence Science and Technology Group provides specialist advice and research across all aspects of human systems integration.

Industry deliver innovative equipment solutions and sub-system integration.

There remain many more opportunities to enhance warfighter capability. We can improve the ability and capacity of individuals and teams to physically, cognitively and socially achieve missions in an ever evolving threat environment with a range of traditional and emerging technologies to both harness and counter. We can only achieve this by working together.

We now treat the soldier as a system and make trade-offs across the various sub-systems. For example the body armour today is smaller and 8 kg lighter than the body armour in the early 2000s. In part this is because of advances in ballistic materials but it is also reflective that we appreciate that mobility enhances protection in its own right.

We are delivering the Soldier Combat System using a ‘spiral development’ pathway. This offers several advantages, including: regular technical refresh, incorporating lessons learnt from operations and ensuring an up-to-date threat profile.

Some of our recent successes include doubling the effective range of the Australian built EF88 enhanced assault rifle through increased reliability and improved thermal and image intensifications sights. The range has effectively doubled from 300 to 600 metres. Alas, the unintended consequence is the requirement to now upgrade our ranges.

We are currently delivering highly capable night vision goggles and the tiny Black Hornet unmanned aerial system down to platoon level and the Wasp to combat teams.

Not surprisingly - given its increased capability, the cost of the soldier combat ensemble has also increased – from around $3,700 in the early 2000s to around $37,000 today. This level of investment provides the soldier with a combat advantage that we seek to sustain.

In the future the soldier combat system will see a place for the improvements in individual weapons, munitions, power management, command & control and situational awareness tools. These may include loiter munitions, the next generation of micro UAS, language translators, flexible exoskeletons and physiological state monitoring systems.  

As part of the integration the physical and cognitive needs of the soldier must remain central in order to deliver the most effective soldier platform we can achieve

Modernisation is often characterised as concept-led and capability enabled.

The Australian Army must retain a capability advantage for joint land combat. Indeed, it is on the ground, where people, societies and cultures live, where states rise and fall, and decisions about victory or defeat are made that the Army delivers its unique contribution to Australia’s defence. An inherent and vital part of the Army’s capability advantage must be the capabilities of its people which is why Army has been the primary champion for the recognition of Human Performance as a critical component of Defence capability.

The Chief of Army has directed that we should unashamedly aspire to be the best Army in the world (albeit not the biggest). We believe this aspiration can only be met through the combination of superior warfighting concepts, optimal force structures, the best technology we can afford and the best soldiers we can prepare. This is what we are intent on delivering.

Again, many thanks for the opportunity to present to you today.

Thank you.

[1] US Army TRADOC The Operational Environment and the Changing Character of Future Warfare of Jul 17.

Last updated
5 July 2018
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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