Thursday, August 18, 2022

Expanding Defence Training via Mobile Devices

I will be speaking on "Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train, and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel", at the Mobile Learning Special Interest Group meeting of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE), 10 am Canberra time, Friday, August 26, 2022. All are welcome, via Zoom (no need to register). In this post, I am collecting my thoughts for the presentation. Comments, corrections, and additions are welcome. Presentation slides are also available, along with a video preview (made with a synthetic voice*), and the video recording of the live event (Worthington, 2022).


Worthington, Tom (2022): Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel. University of Melbourne. Media. 

Why Expand the Australian Defence Force?

On 10 March 2022, the then Prime Minister announced that the Australian Defence Force personnel will increase 30% by 2040, at for $38B. As the PM noted, “You can’t flick a switch to increase your army, navy and air force overnight, growing the type of people and skills we need to face the threats of the future takes time, so we must start now so critical skills can be taught and experience gained". While the government has changed since then, there is bipartisan support for a stronger military to meet increased challenges.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking to ANU, 3 August 2022, 
(still image from ANU TV)

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, made an impassioned speech to staff and students of the Australian National University, on 3 August, via video. He acknowledged Australia's contribution as the largest non-NATO provider of military assistance to his country. That assistance included not only Australian-made armored vehicles, but training in cyber defence.   

On 4 August 2022 China commenced air and naval exercises involving live fire, around Taiwan, including ballistic missiles fired over the islandTaiwan responded with its live-fire exercises on 7 August. Fortunately, the situation has not escalated, but tension remains. 

On 3 August, the new Australian Prime Minister announced a review of Australia's Defence posture and structure, to report by March 2023, for mobilization needs in 2032-33. An interim report is to be provided, but no deadline for this has been made public. While the review documentation mentions infrastructure, estate, disposition, logistics, and nuclear-powered submarines, the skills required of the members of the ADF, and the people who support them, are not mentioned. 

What New Skills Will Defence Personnel Need?

Conduct Cyberwarfare

Eesmaa Public Lecture, ANU, 30 July 2021
In July 2021, Ms. Kersti Eesmaa, Estonian Ambassador to Australia, talked at the ANU about how her nation was developing a sophisticated digital economy. Part of this was protecting government and civil infrastructure from cyber attacks. In April 2007 cyber-attacks were launched against Estonia, suspected to be from Russia. In response, NATO created a Cooperative Cyber Defence Center of Excellence (CCDCOE) in Tallinn, Estonia. CCDCOE now offers a comprehensive set of courses related to defensive and offensive cyberwarfare.

Coordinate Information Warfare

Mr. Myroshnychenko,
speaking in the ANU Moot Court.
Photo by Tom Worthington, CC-BY 30 March 2022

In March 2022 Ukraine's new Ambassador to Australia made an unscheduled speech at ANU on 
"Russia's Invasion of Ukraine". He said Ukraine destroyed the myth of Russian invincibility. Mr. Myroshnychenko pointed out he doesn't have a background in diplomacy, but in strategic communications, and co-founded Ukraine Crisis MediaBefore coming to Australia he ran Information warfare for Ukraine. He pointed out US Starlink satellite communications system had been useful for both civilian and military communications in Ukraine. He also pointed out how Russia sought to manipulate public opinion using messages different for internal and external audiences. The Ambassador also suggested Australia could play a useful role in countering Russian propaganda in the Pacific. 

Information Warfare Division
Australian Department of Defence
Mr. Myroshnychenko referred to the use of talk shows by Russia, which manipulates emotions, modeled on those popularized in the USA. He then looked ahead to how difficult it will be to reeducate the people influenced by Russian messages. He pointed out how difficult this was, with people in Germany after WWII. But perhaps a better analogy today would be with those convinced by QAnon conspiracy theories.

The day after the Minister's speech, the  Australian Government announced a doubling of the staff of the Australian Signals Directorate, and an expansion of offensive cyber operations. However, there was no mention of increasing the staff of the ADF  Information Warfare Division.

The ADF will need personnel with very deep technical skills in how to protect our computer systems, and attack those of our enemies. They will also need a deep understanding of how to provide convincing information, directly online, and through the media.

Operate Large Armed Air, Sea & Land Drones

In the 2022 Australian election campaign, the Australian Liberal Party has proposed an "Autonomous undersea warfare capability for Australia's navy" as part of its electoral platform (5 May 2022). The new Labor government is reported to have accelerated this program, with the first drone submarine to be built in Sydney in 2023 (Robotic submarines fast-tracked for build at a site on Sydney harbor to plug capability gap, Tory Shepard, SMH, 18 August 2022). These drones, at 30 m long, are larger than the midget submarines which attacked Sydney harbor in WWII. ADF personnel will need to know how to operate and maintain the drones. 

Loyal Wingman supersonic fighter UAV

Work is also progressing on a high-performance pilot-less aircraft for the air force, the Loyal Wingman, to be built in Queensland. As well as operators, the ADF will need personnel to understand the complexities of the AI software used,  and how the aircraft will operate alongside crewed aircraft. The operators may use VR headsets to fly the aircraft, while on the ground personnel would use wrist-mounted controllers.  

Work with Industry

Event canvas from NWIW 2020
by Paul Telling
In December 2020 I coached a team in the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop 2020 (NWIW), at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Mixed teams of defence personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force, worked with civilian government personnel, and staff from defence companies, on ways to combat threats with new technology. My team came up with TIDE: Treat Identification Detection and Effects for dealing with swarms of RAS (Robotic Autonomous Systems). An important part of this exercise was having ADF personnel get used to working in diverse teams to come up with quick solutions.

How Can Mobile Devices Help With Skills?

VT to Learn to Drive the Drones

ANU  Defence Industry Workshop on XR,
5 November. 2019
VR headsets, AR glasses, and handheld devices are increasingly used as the interface for modern weapons and equipment. This allows for integrated training, using the same equipment and interface as for operation. Increasingly this is using ruggedized consumer-derived equipment, rather than bespoke hardware. This also allows for lower-cost consumer devices to be used in training, even by the personnel at home.

The ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science hosted a Defence Industry Workshop on XR, 5 November. 2019 as part of a national Extended Reality Cooperative Research Center (XR-CRC) bid.

Learn to Work Together Using a Smartphone

Robert Lester sending a report from K95

An important military skill is working with others. This is where mobile devices can be as important as operating drones. Personnel will need to be able to distribute
Tom Worthington at TT97
information and make decisions, with military personnel from other services, and civilians. It will not be possible to bring everyone to a central location, instead decisions have to be made on the fly (literally). Working at the Department of Defence in the 1990s, I observed military conferences in offices, in the field, and at sea. These initially required a satellite dish several meters wide, & a room full of equipment. Later this was reduced to umbrella, and briefcase size. The same capability is available in a hand held-unit. 

Promote Reserve Defence Careers via Mobile Devices

Detail from"Here to guide you there" (video), 
Open Universities Australia, 11 April 2022

Australia can't afford to pay for all of the personnel needed with advanced technical skills to be employed full-time in the ADF. This requires expansion of reserve part-time personnel. This provides the opportunity to use mobile devices to train, and coordinate part-time recruits. Traditional war planning assumes that reserve personnel will be mobilized when required. However, the fast tempo of modern warfare may not permit reserves to be called up in time to be of use. Also, there are likely to be months, or years, of "grey-zone" operations, which do not meet the criteria for all out-war. In these situations, it would be useful to be able to call on reserves, for a few minutes or hours of work, much like the gig economy. These people need not leave their usual workplace but instead, work via a secure mobile device.

The ADF tends to use advertising promoting an outdoors active dynamic lifestyle to attract recruits. However, something more like Open Universities Australia's  marketing of online university courses may be more appropriate for STEM reserve recruits. In the TV ad, the student is shown leaping from place to place but then ends with them sitting studying on a smartphone. The message is that this is something that can fit into everyday life.

Hackathons for Recruitment and Training

In addition to 
the Navy Warfare Innovation Workshop  (NWIW), there were two defence sponsored hackerthons run by the Australian Computer Society ran in 2020. These used Slack, Zoom, and the usual collaboration tools. These had hundreds of participants and about 80 mentors. The Shockproof hackerthon on Secure Supply Chains for the Australian and NZ Defence Forces was unusual as it was aimed at defence force personnel, but open to anyone. 

A Role for Universities in Research & Teaching ADF via Mobile Devices

The need to recruit and train an expanded Australian Defence Force in new technical areas will challenge the capacity of current trainers and techniques. This provides an opportunity for Australian university academics to assist, particularly using the skills and knowledge gained over the last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Australian universities have been forced to rapidly evolve from places that offered classroom teaching, to ones where most learning is now done online. In particular, the use of VR for training rescue (Pedram, 2018), and emergency medical personnel (Aiello, Sevigny, & Cochrane, 2021), can be directly applied to the ADF. 

Some Ways to Scale

Mobile Recruiting

Recruiting, training, and managing more than ten thousand extra defence personnel is a daunting task. The technology can be used to help manage this. One way is to use mobile devices to provide potential recruits with information and guide them through the application process. Ideally, an applicant should be able to do this online with their phone in a couple of sessions, without needing to speak to anyone, unless they need to clarify something.

The first time I was a graduate university student, I had to fill in a paper form and hand it in at an office. The next time I filled in an online form, the university called me a few seconds later, to check something. The third time it was all done online: I never spoke to anyone from admin, before, or during, three years of study.

Mobile Trainers

The military traditionally provides quality training for personnel. However, this can be at a high cost to the organisation, and also in terms of time for reservists. Mobile and online learning can allow personnel to train and be trained with the minimum of standing around waiting.

Industry Standard Training

A major incentive for personnel to join and remain in the military is free training. For this to be an effective inducement, the training needs to be well delivered,  relevant, and recognized outside the Australian Defence Force. The military should adopt Australian civilian standards for qualifications of their trainers, and courses. Personnel should be formally trained in how to teach, particularly online, as part of leadership training. The students can also be trained in how to provide feedback online and assess fellow students, to reduce the need for specialist instructors. Students can be shown how to prepare an e-portfolio to showcase their skills. All of this will need to be done mindful of security requirements, as individual skills are a valuable source of information for potential enemies. 

Uber War 

Preparing reports from K95, 1995 
Members of a militia traditionally keep their rifles at hand to be ready to fight at any time. Members of Australia's reserve should treat their government security-approved smartphones the same way. Rather than having to muster at a military base, they should be able to train and fight, from wherever they are. This may be for only a few minutes at a time, in between a regular civilian job, over days, months, or years, of a conflict.

Earlier I showed a photo of someone from the Australian Defence media unit, sending reports from Exercise Kangaroo 95. There is a companion photo, of me receiving the reports. But I was not at my desk in Headquarters Australian Defence Force. I happened to be on holiday, so I was receiving the reports via a pocket modem (this was last century), and adding them to the Department of Defence website, using a laptop computer. That could now all be done on a pocket-size smart device. Some personnel would require devices with higher levels of security, and which do not depend on public data networks.


Aiello, S., Sevigny, C., & Cochrane, T. (2021). The Affordances of Immersive Virtual Reality Clinical Simulation Within Healthcare Education: A Scoping Review Protocol.

Pedram, Shiva, Evaluating Virtual Reality-based Training Programs for Mine Rescue Brigades in New South Wales (Australia), Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Computing and Information Technology, University of Wollongong, 2018.

Worthington, Tom (2022): Designing for scale: How to use mobile devices to recruit, train and equip the extra 18,500 defence personnel. University of Melbourne. Media. 

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