The ADF’s Land 121 program, much like the vehicles it is acquiring, is a large project that has been rumbling on for well over a decade.
Phases 3B and 5B have seen the ADF acquire 3,580 medium and heavy trucks from Rheinmetall, with the former contract signature in 2013 and the latter in mid-2018. It is a huge number of vehicles, with deliveries running until 2024.
A little-discussed side effect of the program is that the ADF now owns over 9,000 trucks, making it the largest operator of heavy vehicles in Australia. As fighting vehicles are becoming more numerous and more capable, so too are the vehicles that transport them and associated supplies.
To effectively manage this growing fleet, the ADF is pioneering new technologies and approaches to heavy vehicle safety. According to Brigadier Todd Ashurst, Director General Logistics for Army, the approach is driven by Chief of Army Lieutenant General Rick Burr’s concept of Accelerated Warfare.
“Accelerated Warfare not only describes the operating environment, but it also describes how we respond,” BRIG Ashurst said to ADM. “That response is providing the concept for how Army thinks, trains, prepares and organises for war.
“Army’s equipment is becoming better protected, more flexible and longer ranging, and that includes our new heavy vehicle fleets. These fleets are the safest and most advanced heavy vehicles we’ve ever had.”
The law defines a heavy vehicle as a gross weight over 4.5 tonnes, which covers plenty of vehicles in Army’s stable. The Hawkei, which is on the lighter end of the military spectrum, weighs in at seven tonnes unloaded. Even a 6x6 G-Wagon with trailer could weigh in at over 4.5 tonnes, whilst Army’s heaviest vehicles, such as HX-81L tractors, weigh up to 21 tonnes and are designed to tow up to 140 tonnes – almost the weight of an unloaded C-17A Globemaster.
“Some of these trucks are designed to be in a warfighting environment where there is a risk of fire or indirect munitions blasts,” BRIG Ashurst said. “The ability to load a container onto a truck using the truck itself to lift that container, for example – this is the sort of capability we now have that we never had before.
“We decided we needed to get on the front foot of management.”
Like any commercial business, Defence has to maintain compliance with national laws governing heavy vehicles. These include regulations on driver fatigue management, mass and loading, registration and vehicle standards.
Although compliance was traditionally managed within individual chains of command, Defence has now established the Land Vehicle Safety Cell to support military personnel involved in the sustainment and operation of heavy vehicles.
“The Cell is making sure they’re abreast of all the latest policies and trends; they’re coming up with education packages; and we have a direct relationship with council, state and territory responsible transport bodies,” BRIG Ashurst said. “It’s a one-stop shop. We’ve never had that before, but we needed a different approach.”
One of the major initiatives the Land Vehicle Safety Cell has undertaken is to embed a full-time liaison officer with the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator in Brisbane. The officer is responsible for communicating Army’s operating procedures and for easing the regulatory burden introduced by the sheer number of vehicles arriving under Land 121.
“We currently have an NCO there,” BRIG Ashurst said. “He’s done a brilliant job. He has actually helped foster that relationship and helped increase that level of understanding.
“Of course, Army has all these massive vehicles and generated significant workload for the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator. So not only is he interpreting Army to the Regulator to help them understand how we operate, he’s also assisting with the workload.”
One of the major aspects of that workload is mapping routes that Army’s largest vehicles can actually take.
“If a bridge is not designed to take a certain weight, we’re not driving over that bridge,” BRIG Ashurst said. “We have to map all of that.”
Chain of responsibility
Another change brought in has been an expansion of what BRIG Ashurst calls the ‘chain of responsibility’, referring to individuals other than a driver who are involved in the tasking or use of a heavy vehicle.
“The National Heavy Vehicle Law and embedded chain of responsibility has been in place since 1 October 2018,” BRIG Ashurst said. “What that means is everyone in the chain of command with influence over a driver task – whether they’re in uniform or a third party contractor – is actually responsible and liable for road safety.
“It’s from the person who gave the driver the task all the way to the driver themselves. The days of truck drivers being pushed to their limits, or loads coming off on a highway – too often the driver has been a scapegoat. This is a systemic approach. The chain of responsibility is a system, and everyone in that system is responsible and accountable.”
Whilst Army has always had regulations and chains of command governing heavy vehicle operations, the main difference between now and five years ago is the dissemination of information all the way through the ranks. It’s a deep cultural shift happening in parallel to the number of new vehicles hitting the road.
“How do we empower and inform every individual operator?” BRIG Ashurst asked. “We’ve got to make sure the culture is right for all these new vehicles we’re operating.
“That’s not to say the culture was wrong before, but we didn’t have this number of heavy vehicles before. It’s a maturing of the system.”
Training and technology
Part of this cultural shift is happening in Army’s approach to training, which is moving beyond course delivery to a ‘continuous learning loop’ involving new technologies.
“The Chief of Army has tasked Army’s Forces Command to lead how and when training is conducted and associated assurance activities,” BRIG Ashurst said. “They’re leading the way with a program called Army’s Training Transformation, which is enabling us to move from simply delivering a course to achieving a continual learning loop.”
One of the technologies Army is trialling to achieve this loop is telematics: a variety of in-vehicle devices that record work and rest hours, speed, location, and on-board mass. It’s an example of commercial industry best-practice that is now supporting Army’s compliance with heavy vehicle law.
“Think of it as an really sophisticated two-way GPS, that makes driving safer,” BRIG Ashurst said. “I’m sponsoring a trial in Forces Command, RAN and RAAF that is running until February 2021. The aim is to test, evaluate and inform telematic user requirements so we can incorporate it into our safety framework and procure the most appropriate systems.”
Where once an officer or NCO would assign a driver a task with no following information on how well the task was performed, commanders can now download the telematics, analyse performance and help that driver improve.
“That trial is going really well,” BRIG Ashurst said. “The initial feedback informs us that the telematics will do what we’re hoping it will do.”
The system is also creating a more continuous definition of driver competence. In the civilian world, for example, you take a driver’s test and are deemed competent from that moment on, with no further testing. Telematics are enabling Army to assess how current its drivers actually are; when they last drove a truck, what kind of truck it was, what the task involved. An approach to industry is likely after the trial is completed next year.
The second technology Army is rolling out is known as ChatBot, or what BRIG Ashurst calls ‘Army Siri’. It’s an AI conversational assistant tool that helps people access information that was previously only available in manuals.
“I’m a realist,” BRIG Ashurst said. “Soldiers won’t read every bit of paper. How do we best ensure they are aware of the latest policies and information? We developed ChatBot to be a single source of truth.”
ChatBot, however, will also help the organisation learn. The tool will aggregate data to help Army understand what the most frequent questions are so that it can better meet heavy vehicle user needs.
“If we can see that everyone is asking the same question, we can better inform and educate,” BRIG Ashurst said. “It’s not going to be our only methodology, but it will help. It answers policy questions quickly and is in line with other digital transformations happening across Army.”
For the Brigadier, the ideal end-state is a usable data set that can make Army smarter and safer.
“I want a system that can manage our fleets, enable our people, and protect all road users,” BRIG Ashurst said. “Essentially, I want a system that will help us be a good citizen on Australian roads. It’s the Army in Motion.”
This article first appeared in the March 2020 edition of ADM.