Private Lewis Barnaby used to repair watches in a shop in Hartlepool during his day job.
For the last month, however, the 20-year-old soldier with 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment has been at the forefront of a multi-million-pound innovative testing phase of the British Army’s latest kit and equipment programme.
Lewis is a Robotic Platoon Vehicle (RPV) operator currently based in Cyprus with 2 YORKS as they get used to their new role as an Enhanced Light Force Battalion.
The unit recently received a new fleet of RPVs and have been putting the MUTTs (Multiple-Utility Tactical Transport) through their paces, testing their capabilities amid various battlefield scenarios.
“It gives us much more capability and frees up the platoon by being able to dump the kit on the back, being able to carry more ammunition, allowing us to move around and operate much better." Private Lewis Barnaby, 2 YORKS
“It feels futuristic and is something I’ve never seen before,” said Lewis, from Leeds.
“For new private soldiers coming into the battalion it’s a brilliant opportunity to have access and be able to work with the very latest kit.”
The MUTT is described as a modular, rugged and reliable force multiplier, providing increased persistence, protection and projection for small unit and light infantry operations.
As a controllerless robotic follower, it lightens the team's load throughout the full range of combat operations and provides persistent intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance.
Lewis said: “It gives us much more capability and frees up the platoon by being able to dump the kit on the back, being able to carry more ammunition, allowing us to move around and operate much better.
“We can get further, quicker. You can set a speed and location and it’s all programmed. I’ve spent a few weeks training on a familiarisation period with these vehicles and they are very easy to use. You can even scan your body profile and the vehicles just follow on.
“We’ve also been testing casualty evacuation scenarios with the RPVs, so it’s not just able to increase combat power, it aids extraction from the field.”
The MUTT is engineered to easily evolve to accommodate new payloads, new controllers and increased levels of autonomy.
“Before joining the Army I worked at the Watch Hospital in Hartlepool, replacing batteries and straps,” said Lewis.
“This is on a completely different level and an RPV operator is a totally new role with the Army, so it feels I’m doing something very current. I feel quite proud to do this and it’s quite exciting.”
From September 14 to 17 the British Army will showcase its Future Soldier vision at the Defence and Security Equipment International exhibition in London.
Lieutenant Colonel James Ashworth, Commanding Officer 2 YORKS, said: “The soldiers are thrilled to have the opportunity to use this new kit. It gives them a real sense of purpose here in Cyprus, above and beyond what they’re normally asked to do. Young soldiers are being told that their voice is going to count and that their experiences with this kit will help shape how the British Army fights in the future. It’s a tremendous privilege to have.”
2 YORKS have also recently been involved in Operation Pitting, the evacuation effort from Kabul in Afghanistan. This involved working alongside 16 Air Assault Brigade, which is the British Army's Global Response Force.
Deploying a lead company group from Cyprus, 2 YORKS helped support the moving, processing and transitioning of evacuees from handling centres to the airport and then onto RAF aircraft, using vehicles that the soldiers affectionately called 'White Rose Taxis'.
Lt Col Ashworth said it was a "busy time for the battalion" and a "remarkable achievement" to be delivering on several operational commitments in different countries at the same time.
"It has been a privilege to contribute to Operation Pitting and the troops are rightly proud of their achievements and glad to have deployed alongside 16 Brigade and many others to support this effort," he said.