The building was once a police station – a government sponsored initiative that was supposed to protect the people and buy votes, but instead proved the opposite due to the heavy handedness and lack of morals of the people who were sent to occupy it. After the riots, the building was then occupied by a thriving import/export business to those who had dealings with the company. But for those who lived there, it was a front for the local strongman and his associates to run drugs and intimidate the local populous. But that was before he took a piece of supersonic fragmentation to the side of the face, a direct result of a kinetic orbital strike. A precision barrage of tungsten rods dropped from orbit by a satellite now in geosynchronous orbit above the battle space, permanently scarring the earth. Reaching a speed of up to 10 times the speed of sound the effect on the targeted area was devastating, clearing the way for a detachment of Australian Special Forces to inherit the damaged but very vacant building and surrounding structures. The next phase requires the force element to use available indigenous ground transport, in an attempt to remain below the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) threshold.
Garaged inside the building is a range of 4×4 vehicles dating back to the early-2000s in varying states of disrepair. Inside the garage a three person Forward Repair Team (FRT) is getting to work. A Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RAEME) Corporal Materiel Technician (CPL MT) sits inside the cab of one of the vehicles, the dash apart with wires strewn about the cab. His tool bag, consisting of a small array of conventional hand tools both manual and battery powered sits beside him. He takes a small anodized cylinder, similar in size and shape to what is still referred to as a ‘brew mug’ from inside the bag and rotates the body splitting it in half. He removes a pair of glasses from the container and puts them on followed by a pair of ruggedized gloves. Depressing a toggle switch in the units’ base activates the device, with a four-way encrypted handshake to use the established network, before establishing it pairs itself with both the glasses and gloves. Haptic sensors fire off inside the gloves fingertips letting him know a self-test diagnostic has been conducted, followed by an audible ping from the speaker embedded in the arm of the glasses. It indicates both are ready to be used with no fault codes recorded.
“Toyota Land cruiser Troop Carrier, 70 series” he casually states to no one but himself. Drawing on what is a network-enabled storage drive of Virtual Reality (VR) technical data augmented through both his glasses and gloves, ghosted images of cabin designs begin to cycle through, projected onto the inner face of the lens showing the interior layout of the differing models of Toyotas from that time until a matching image appears. “Stop. Match confirmed. Wiring diagram – start circuit”. The display is an exploded view identifying the key circuit, including its colour, routing within the vehicle, amperage/voltage limits and indicates where best to test for possible faults. He strips the end of one wire and takes hold of it. The haptic sensors implanted in the glove activate, suggesting that the circuit is still good. Trailing that wire back out from under the dash he strips another and performs the test again. This time the sensor fails to fire, indicating a fault lies somewhere within. Three solutions appear in his VR field of vision, along with an estimated time to complete. He chooses the fastest option and goes to work on the rest of the loom, guided by the VR imagery. Reaching into his trouser pocket he takes out a cube wrapped in blanched coloured paper, removes the contents and sticks into his mouth. The cube, chocolate-hazelnut in flavour, is made primarily out of slow release proteins, designed to sustain a person for up to 6hrs, 3hrs if heavy physical work is involved. “Can you turn down your voice protocols, the sound of your chewing is making me nauseous” a female voice advises.
On the other side of the garage another CPL MT has got three of the cars running but now has to work on the underside of one of the vehicles. She too wears the VR enabled glasses and haptic gloves, and is diagnosing a fault with the drivetrain. Needing to improvise, she slides her composite two-part powered exoskeleton in underneath the rear right jacking point before activating the torso lift mechanism. It easily raises the four door sedan to a height where she can climb underneath. Once underneath the problem is clear – the propshaft is still attached to the differential but lays on the ground, as the universal joint at the gearbox side of the propshaft has failed and damaged beyond repair. Using hand gestures she is able to remove the virtual component from the assembly and view it separately.
“Replicate component actual – print time”. A digital read out for the item to be 3D printed is generated along with a coloured durability scale in green, giving the technician an estimated time before failure. The print time is too long. “Replicate component composite – print time”. Another set of numbers is displayed with a build time more appropriate, however the durability scale flashes red. “D Key 9856218 – composite print of designate component”. Her level of technical authority pre-loaded into the system prior to the mission allows her to sign off on such a risk. That action is then recorded in an occurrence log to be reviewed during debrief for command awareness and in the unlikely event something goes awry that can be attributed to the component’s construction. A blinking standby light flashes, goes solid on a hardened case located at the rear of the vehicle as the 10th generation 3D printer (based on earlier desk-top models) comes to life. Capable of printing both metal and a range of composite materials it begins to cycle through a self-test before commencement. A coaxial cable runs along the ground a short distance to the twin silent hydrogen fuel cells powering the system. A light haze of water vapour emitted from the back of the machines hangs in air momentarily before dissipating.
Her inter-team comm-link ear piece crackles to life. “Is that print time accurate for the …”. His question is cut short as the boom of a hypersonic UAV mapping the earth at Mach 8 rattles the entire building. Sprinting across the open skies its AI enhanced sensor suite gathers any and all electromagnetic signatures within range of its designate flight path. The FRT commander, a sergeant (SGT), pauses before he attempts to ask the question again but is beaten to the punch. “Yes Steve, it’s correct. Don’t argue with the cube. The cube is always right.”
“OK fine, the cube is right. Keep me posted if the print fails like last time”. The SGT MT goes back to focusing on his task at hand – repairing the support Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) and reconnaissance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for their next mission. Damaged during insertion, sensor modules removed from the outside of the UGVs along with wheel stations sit aside the damaged vehicles, to be either repaired or replaced one-for-one. Once completed he’ll move onto the 100+ drones to conduct pre-flight set up, diagnostic and payload function checks. Due to the amount of dust now in the air, a direct result of the previous orbital bombardment, it also requires a change to a carbon fibre reinforced composite props of all the UAVs, a recommendation by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) embed who is now a common place in any deployed combined joint special operations task force (CJSOTF). This will be the first time the UAV will carry its counter electronic warfare (EW) payload with previous swarm missions sustaining up to a 85% loss of units to various man-packed EW jammers. The replacement cost was negligible as the units were cheap, throw aways and sustainment wasn’t an issue. With the supply chain compromised, a specialist payload and a limited window for the mission to take place, this time that’s not an option.
With tasks at hand, and time against them, the FRT members go about their business conducting a role that in principle has not changed since the formation of the Corps in 1942 – to repair as far forward as possible to ensure maximum operational availability of equipment to enable the commander to win the battle.
About the author: Warrant Officer Class One M is currently an Artificer Sergeant Major (ASM) at Special Operations Command