AAR: Land Warfare Conference November 2010

Held in the Convention Centre, Southbank in Brisbane.

I have already published this After Action Review of the major defence related trade show here Down Under on a few discussion forums and thought the readership may find this interesting.

Well, opportunity arose for me to attend one of the only Defence Industry trade shows here in Australia. It was certainly an eye opening experience. I was attending the conference wearing a few “hats” for the week.

My first hat was helping out a mate with his exhibitory stand trying to drum up some more business for him. I was there to provide some relief for the poor bloke too, so he could actually do simple human things like go to the toilet, eat, and speak with people who appeared to be real clients, vital to his business, so I could deal with the tire kickers, layabouts and other individuals like myself there for their own business and other “hats”.

This was probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of the week, exposing me to a wide variety of people, from all sorts of weird and wonderful job descriptions. For a social animal like myself, who has been locked away from large groups of people due to work for long periods, it was great to have a good chinwag with like-minded people. I can only hope I didn’t come across as too much of a blabbering goose.

My second hat was doing some business for Fire Support Base, an Australian military discussion forum that I moderate for. In particular, I was keen to meet with and view the exhibition stands for certain Australian defence industry bodies responsible for the ADF procurement systems. The simple reason being, that I’ve heard second and third hand evidence of just how the procurement organs of the DMO (Defence Materials Organisation) which is responsible for answering any operational requirements for equipment by the ADF and the DSTO (Defence Science and Technology Organisation) behave. I’ve seen their press releases, and had opportunity to see their end-products before, but I have never had opportunity to meet the personnel before. This week gave ample opportunity.

My third hat was doing some ground work for my own business. In the interest of full disclosure, the short version of this is to setup my own consulting company. Part of it will be to put all my online reviews in one easy location for ease of viewing.

My fourth hat was doing some research for my real job, doing some benchmarking to examine anything may have been useful for our specific circumstances. As is the way of such events, the socialisation and networking is an important part of the festivities.

Opportunity was made to finally meet people I had been interacting with on various online fora for many years, putting faces to names. Also had opportunity to meet up again with Trevor from Military Gear, and have a wander through his exhibit. Despite being placed in one of the farthest, remotest corners, he managed to have a steady stream of people to get eyes on his latest business triumph of being the only Australian agent for Mystery Ranch and having played a major part in the business alliance between Crossfire and Mystery Ranch.

As various discussions were had with such a multitude of people, I had some spidey-sense tingles (call it my finely honed recon senses) that I was speaking with FSB members. Hope you had a good show, and that I didn’t come across as too much of a blabbering goose.

The first day of the conference was for exhibitors to set up their stands. Everyone was then escorted from the premises as the CDF was allowed to wander through the place without being harassed. It was obvious that he’d been taking notes about anything that caught his eye as he wandering around about the stands – they would later be visited by his assistants for samples or information packs. I can see the point of him not being dragged into the politics of such things, since the CDF is supposed to be apolitical and not be seen favouring anyone, but part of me was still a bit puzzled. He is after all, a normal human being like the rest of us.

Just the amount and variety of people wandering around was funny.

There was some US Army General and his entourage. He stood over 6 ft tall, big bloke, and both his female assistants (a young, yummy LT, and a slightly older Sgt) were lucky to be hitting 5ft. The whisper around the exhibitors and delegates about the Yank general and his little elves was quite humorous.

Being the big gear queer and science geek, I was wandering around the place looking at all the big boys toys and keeping an eye out for any cool toys. There was a huge array of gear and services for the industry. Such things as computer aided design and manufacturing, eco-rubbish disposal, model making services, electro-optics, communications systems, surveillance systems, CBRN decontamination, load bearing equipment, armoured vehicles, UAV’s, knives, small arms, ammunition, computer simulation for a quick summary.

Suffice to say, there was a lot things I was quite willing to take home for my personal enjoyment, especially some of the computer based simulation stuff, like a VR working model for helicopter gunnery. Very cool fun.

Some industry news, gossip, and graft as I saw it:

SORD is currently playing with the new ATACS camouflage pattern, doing some of their line in this new pattern. They are also branching out to civilian patterns to hit that part of the market.

They also had just completed a huge tender for the Canadian military. As related to me, I was surprised at the simplicity of the Canuck’s selection trial: just let a Battalion walk through a warehouse and choose the gear that suited them. So simple, elegant, and downright cheap…

A company called Force Protection was displaying their armoured patrol vehicle. In terms of general design, it wasn’t too bad – not that good either. The Pommie Rep didn’t appreciate myself or my colleagues sitting in the car picking the crap out of certain features we thought didn’t aid in the fightability of the platform. One thing I did like on it was the situational awareness package for troops in the back. A simple touch screen display with a few major menu buttons on the side of the screen allowed dismounts to view the rear camera and RWS camera. The same display could be changed to show basic nav data (like vehicle orientation just prior to dismount, which was always something I wanted).

Carl Zeiss optics were present.

They had a very nice weapon mounted thermal imager that was the size of an average handycam. Only weighed about a kilo or so. Lightweight, quality optics and a good, small size. They also had a 4x32mm magnified optic that had crystal clear glass, well up to their usual standards. It was quite a nice, compact little unit that I’d like to play with later. Their offering in the red dot CQB sight was a small unit with combined power source (battery and solar panel) that I liked the idea of. I just wasn’t sure about the field utility. Apparently, these are offered as a package with many Heckler & Koch MP-7’s, as used by many European militaries.

Gerber has really done their homework, by signing on Bear Grylls and offering a signature range endorsed by him. Love him or hate him, at least he gets the average punter thinking a little bit more about personal survival skills out in the wilds, instead of clogging up already strained rescue resources. The range is priced for the average punter, being quite reasonable, and of a decent quality for the price. I was pretty impressed with some of their pieces, opportunity will be provided for me to have a play and review some of these at a later date.

Their golok-type blade felt nice in the hand, and the balance was excellent. Who can’t go past a good big bush blade for the Zombie Apocalypse?

The Bear Grylls sheath knife seems to be a variant of the world standard LMF, with a nice multi function sheath that has a Swedish steel fire lighter, and sharpening stone built into the sheath.

The Bear Grylls folder would be an ideal companion for almost anyone needing a decent blade, and not wanting to spend heaps of coin.

The LHR was also nice. Designed in conjunction with famous knife designers Chris Reeve and Bill Harsey, it’s big blade with a really nice grip material. The actual shape of the grip didn’t grab me initially, but I do have mutant hands apparently.

Since I hardly get to fiddle with such items, I was extremely interested in examining some suppressors and other small arms at the Spearpoint Solutions stand. Lightfighter Tuukka showed me his range of small arms suppressors. They seem quite small and light compared to competitors products I’ve seen pictures and specs for. Seemed a very high quality range.

I was also shown the new Beretta assault rifle. Despite it being Italian designed and made (Strike 1 and 2 against in my mind), there were some nice features.

The cocking handle could be changed without tools at any time when the bolt was locked back. The side of spent case ejection could be selected at whim with the tip of a round. A feature I thougth was very nice for kacky-handed firers and being able to swap shoulders for those really hard to access corners. Like I said though, it was designed and made in Italy, so I was slightly leery of it.

Although it worried me slightly to have the lovely Italian gentleman in his nice Italian suit demonstrate the new range of Beretta handguns to me. Now, I watched him clear the pistol in front of me, I also cleared the weapon, but I still felt a little disconcerted to have a pistol muzzle pointing at my head. Kind of detracted from the whole sales pitch when my inner voice is screaming to me about muzzle awareness and the four rules of safe firearms handling.

Big defence giant Thales were selling a huge range of products. The most notable amongst them was the newly unveiled Hawkei armoured vehicle. Wheeled, this thing is an F250 looking thing on steroids. The SF patrol vehicle on display certainly looked the part. Was also interesting to see that one of my old OC’s is now working for Thales, and was looking the most haggard in years from a busy schedule of marketing talks. Was great to catch up with him and see that he’s enjoying his new life out of the service – gunrunning.

In terms of the computer simulation training packages, most of them seemed to be using the proven VBMS engine. There was a very large skeletonised Blackhawk airframe that was about to be shipped to 5Avn in Townsville that had a couple of miniguns and was great fun to play. I was whistling “Ride of the Valkryes” as I was shooting up trucks. Although it was funny watching people who don’t understand lag/lead when shooting at moving targets from moving platforms.

One setup with a nice Steyr Elite bolt action rifle was particularly fun, since I’ve never done really long range shooting at 600m with a rifle before. The setup was such that I was wanting one in my spare room.

My friend from Military Gear had his exhibit, with a great selection of high end clothing and load bearing solutions on display.

He also had some freeze-dried hiking food from Back Country on display, and was cooking up some samples for punters to try out. I’m such a cheapskate, I kept returning to the stand for more. It certainly kept my normally prodigious feeding bill at a lower level for the week. Perhaps the most life-saving product Trevor had for attending and surviving trade shows and conferences was an electrolyte rehydration product called “Shotz” that was a product equivalent to Gatorade, but in effervescent tablet form, and not having any sugar. After sitting in air conditioninf all day, then venturing outside to the normal Queensland heat, it was a God send. Some of the SORD blokes really needed it after a big night on the turps. But I’ll let them tell that story…

Since Helion has just been able to become an agent for Mystery Ranch in this country, it was great news to hear that Australian Special Operations types have followed the lead of American Special Operations and selected a hip loading pack system for their load carriage needs. Yes, it is confirmed, that the blokes who wear those special berets, with built in imperviousness to the suns harmful rays have made a selection of the Mystery Ranch Tactiplane, 3 Day Assault and SATL packs. Reviews of these items by myself have been posted in other areas. I had opportunity to discuss this with several blokes from that community, and it was refreshing to hear that they tire so much of the shenanigans from DMO, that they have gone out and sourced their own equipment.

Alongside this effort, is the efforts from the School of Infantry to piggyback onto Special Operations Command for bringing load bearing equipment and cold/wet weather clothing standards into modern times.

This mention of DMO brings me onto my next topic. Perhaps bringing this AAR into rant mode.

I was wandering around the DMO exhibit space, and had opportunity to interact and speak with many of those people. Now, like many, I’ve heard second and third hand anecdotes about the organisation and the people in it. I’ve had opportunity to read their press releases over the years, and make some professional observations about their systems and procedures. I’ve even had opportunity to see a small selection of their much vaunted trial reports from over the years. So for this conference, I wished to enter with a clear, untainted, open mind and see for myself just what they were all about. I held very little expectation for what I was about to see, since I didn’t want it to taint my investigation process. I met some really smart, dedicated people. I also met people who just did not tick any boxes with me about being on top of “world’s best practice” and “world leaders”. The DMO and DSTO people that did impress me were in the minority. The rest were assessed by myself as “meh”. I could regale you with tales of the amazing comments I overheard or had reported to me from this group of people. But, since I’m a nice bloke, I’ll refrain from telling them via this means to protect the innocent. If you’re buying the beer, the stories will shock, amaze and entertain. You really wouldn’t believe the truth.

The lack of basic background knowledge of what they purported to be researching and developing seemed lacking. For me, basic scientific principle of a thorough background investigative process seemed to be completely lacking. By this, I mean that simple knowledge of what else was occurring in the world by competitors, allies and comparative industries just wasn’t there. Honestly, most of my theoretical knowledge on most things in this world is garnered from a simple Google search. As an industrial scientist, I’m no bloody expert, I’m actually quite lazy, I just like to at least bluff my way to look and act professional occasionally. So it was really astounding to see the extent of lazy science being perpetrated.

A couple of times, my inner grunt was close to belting some of them and telling them they were letting all of us lab coat wearers down in the eyes of our most important customer: the end-user. That brings me onto my next point. It was obvious that many of them were “pure” disciplines, as opposed to “applied” ones. A lovely individual quite close to them also gave me this following comment, which I steal quite readily from him: they lack a customer focus.

There was actually some DSTO scientist that trotted out to me that the “the boys just want Gucci kit”. I’m getting better in my old age, I didn’t chest poke or scream at him with my angry corporal head. It was obvious he had no idea of what different troops, in different environs, needing different weapons and equipment loads, doing different missions, would need different equipment.

More evidence of lazy science was apparent when I had a chance to examine the sample of new, all-singing, all dancing wonder rig that DMO has just released called TBAS. This is supposed to be a replacement for the previous armour rig MCBAS that was touted as a complete success in Australian service, if you listen to the official channels. Unofficially, the MCBAS is an unmitigated disaster from everyone I spoke to who had spent any time overseas on deployment.

In fact, looking at the new TBAS releasable armour carrier, I had a weird sense of déjà vu. It’s a cheap knock-off of the Eagle MAR-CIRAS I recently had opportunity to play with and review. Lazy science strikes again. Obviously, the wannabe design bureau that is DMO had just knocked off what apparently has been working for end-users, without first checking on one small issue. Can anyone in the class spell “intellectual property”? How about you little Johnny, up the back? Funny thing is, there were some small features from the original MAR-CIRAS that I noticed, that weren’t copied across to the TBAS. It was apparent that whoever had done the copy didn’t really understand what was going on. More lazy science. I anticipate some major “design” features to be incorporated from Mystery Ranch’s stable in the next generation of load bearing equipment as well. So, all up, with someone like myself walking into this encounter with DMO for the first time, it was an eye opening, astounding experience. To be quite honest, it left me utterly speechless.

All up though, the Land Warfare Conference was an enjoyable and eye-opening experience for me.

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