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Former Swindon department store turns urban training area for Army

New radio-based battlefield management information systems, drones and digital “throwbots” that will revolutionise situational awareness have been tested in the unusual environment of a former department store and public buildings in Swindon.

The new technology that could give an extra edge on future missions has been tested and evaluated by 2nd Battalion The Royal Yorkshire Regiment, (2RYORKS), the Army’s experimental infantry unit.

The training saw the former store in Swindon town centre turned into an urban training area over four nights and the surrounding rural area used to train navigation and battlefield awareness. The aim was to see how the latest equipment could benefit the soldiers’ ability to move quickly and decisively through confined spaces.

2RYORKS is part of the Experimentation and Trials Group (ETG) that exists to accelerate the modernisation of the British Army through new capability and tactics in line with the Army’s new Land Operating Concept that was launched at DSEI.

Arriving in Swindon in civilian vehicles in the early hours of the morning they were tasked to clear the store floor by floor before exiting the building.

During their mission they were aided by the latest generation of the Dismounted Situational Awareness (DSA) to understand the battlespace, while Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS) and ‘reconnaissance throwbots’ that can be thrown over walls or into buildings, provided real-time video to aide commanders in a congested environment.

The throwbots are designed to automatically self-right after landing. With their movement directed by remote control, the throwbots give soldiers a real-time video view of what lies around the corner or inside a building. 

Providing an overview of the battlefield, the DSA is effectively a smartphone, loaded with programmes including mission, intelligence, and mapping apps which improves the soldier’s situational awareness. It uses a new developmental radio system to link them together.

“Our young soldiers know their voice counts and their experiences with this kit will help shape how we fight in the future." Colonel Toby Till, Commander of the Experimentation and Trials Group (ETG)

It provides the location of soldiers to commanders with pinpoint accuracy, allowing them to visualise the terrain and picture and message data immediately to each other. It can also be used to call in artillery and air strikes on enemy targets. 

The Commander of ETG, Colonel Toby Till, said: “How to hide, survive and use the urban environment as a sanctuary was a challenge but the soldiers adapted to the real-life challenges. Using the DSA tool, they could operate effectively and make tactical actions swiftly and effectively.”

“For example, one Sergeant who was operating an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) from a nearby industrial estate used the DSA to figure out that the Wi-Fi routers in the buildings he was operating next to were on a similar band to the UAS he was trying to operate. 

“The Sergeant worked how to hide in the noise within the electronic-magnetic spectrum whilst adapting the new technologies and ensured they maintained effective.”

The soldiers were also equipped with the latest night vision googles (NVG). The evaluation of the NVGs offer a drastic difference in night fighting capability making soldiers more aware of their surroundings, able to be more lethal and effective against future enemies. 

Following the tests, the soldiers give feedback about the pros and cons for each of the technologies and equipment. The ability to give feedback to industry and senior officers gives soldiers a sense of value to shape the Army of tomorrow.

“Our young soldiers know their voice counts and their experiences with this kit will help shape how we fight in the future,” said Colonel Till. “It is constant learning, nonstop experimenting and trying new concepts and formations and new ways of training.”

One real success was the employment of Recce Strike Groups utilising support weapons platoons operating to disrupt urban ground lines of communication using stand-off strike capabilities such as loitering munitions. These were integrated with some traditional tactics such as off route mines, mixing the old and the new to enhance the lethality of a modern Battle Group.