Utility of Biometric Assessment Tools in the Army Training System

Reading Time: 8 minutes

While in some ways the context in which the land force functions has evolved, the demands have not[1]. The persistent features of war are the arrangement of enemy, climate, weather and terrain, which in turn generate danger, friction, chaos and uncertainty[2]. The aim of military training is not just to endure, but to survive and then thrive in these conditions. History and the contemporary operating environment demand a requirement for tough, realistic training and soldiers are still the most expensive single item in an armed force[3]. What remains elusive is the ability to quantify, assess and then implement training which targets the physical, intellectual and moral facets of an individual within a team; there exists no genuine tools in the Army training system that provide actionable data. 

The current training system is adequate, however it fails to look beyond simple outputs and binary outcomes. Assessment is typically subjective, based on experience and opinion, and conducted against a prescribed standard. The problem then is twofold; how best to objectively identify the human factors that lead to emotional and cognitive fatigue, culmination and burnout, and physical actions that lead to acute or cumulative musculoskeletal fatigue, temporary/permanent injury, impairment or disability. Access to and understanding of this information can improve individual development and subsequently the forming, development and training of teams for high stress environments. It may also lead to the identification of suitable roles for individuals based upon their skills, ability and potential.

The incoming Human Performance Management System (HPMS) is intended to track physical and cognitive performance data, provide individual feedback to soldiers, reports to commanders on readiness and provide data for analysis[4]. This is anticipated to inform changes to training in order to meet the directed preparedness requirements of an Accelerated Warfare environment however this may also fall short in delivering objective tracking of the human factors that lead to emotional and cognitive fatigue, culmination and burnout, and physical actions that lead to acute or cumulative musculoskeletal fatigue, temporary/permanent injury, impairment or disability.

A proposed solution is an integrated system of biometric tools which can be used to track and assess individuals and teams in the conduct of realistic and immersive tactical, technical and ethical problem-sets that could be varied in complexity, intensity, duration, and context. Biometric data collected on physiological responses (such as levels of arousal, heartrate, sweat, pupil dilation and breathing) could be analysed to determine how effectively an individual or team has performed. Importantly, for the full utility of this approach to be realised, Army requires a paradigm shift in its approach to training.

Modern Training 

Classroom education, simulation and online learning is not sufficient to prepare an individual to be an effective soldier[5]. As much as there have been earnest efforts towards a modernised training system, adjusting to the future environment is complex[6] and the need for progressive exposure to a succession of ordeals that compel adaptation and growth remains. In combat, soldiers and officers require unique skills[7]; they must be resilient in situations of friction, self-aware, and be able to develop workable contingencies. When what once seemed complex becomes simple, individuals and teams begin to thrive; being conscious of and understanding what stimulated this adaptation is the challenge. The correct tools and assessment mechanisms could allow for the evaluation of physical, intellectual and moral performance. In this context, modern scientific tools could be used to assess performance in a given scenario, with the ability to evolve that scenario in complexity to specifically target areas where further awareness, development, review or inoculation is required. 

Investment in the human element of training is important where the intent is to equip individuals with the ability to navigate uncertainty, be comfortable in friction, and continually adapt to fluid circumstance[8]. Using tools to understand performance will facilitate a better understanding of individual and team needs for growth, development and investment. 

Contextually rich environments enable team behaviours to be understood more broadly and applied effectively. Additionally, authentic and robust task scenarios allows teams to focus on learning to work effectively together while performing realistic tasks. One such example are multi-echeloned combined arms scenarios which incorporate progression of complexity suited to the training audience which can be layered with EW and cyber threats linked to radio, digital and mobile means. Broadly, this involves training scenarios, which are designed to focus on any combination of the following: development of a combat mindset, increasing physical, emotional and mental resilience, exposure to conditions of austerity, enhancing individual soldier skills and field craft, and navigating ethical dilemmas of various complexity. 

Training events should often be immersive and at least contextualised and conducted within a credible tactical scenario informed by orders and battle preparation. The possible outcomes of training are endless but largely constrained by the ingenuity of the training designer and the requirements of the organisation. Optimally, training should achieve a level of self-awareness, stress inoculation to improve cognitive and physical resilience through combat immersion. This would facilitate opportunities for assessment, tactical, technical and decision making in progressive scenarios with ever increasing complexity, tempo and stress though some combination of the following:

  • Tactical complexity 
  • Technical intricacy 
  • Moral ambiguity 
  • Atmospherics 

Biometric Assessment Tools

Biometrics could be used to collect information, assess and examine performance through live, constructive and immersive simulation, and in individual and collective training. Evaluating responses and assessing performance via biometric tools would allow an instructor or assessor to not only determine whether an individual or team was successful in completion of the tactical scenario (success or failure – a binary outcome), but also gain insight into physical and cognitive states. For example, the mission may have failed but the additional and actionable context is that the commander was cognitively overloaded and close to culmination while their team was physically/emotionally exhausted. Biometric assessment has broad utility to achieve the following:

  • Assessment of baseline performance that can be tracked, reassessed and calibrated through training continuum across a career; enabling the identification of strengths and weaknesses, professional development requirements, career management and role suitability considerations, and the monitoring of mental resilience/health.  
  • Identification and retraining for incorrect physical technique that may lead to acute or cumulative musculoskeletal fatigue or injury if untreated.
  • Self-awareness that build an individual’s control over their choices and responses
  • Battle inoculation that improves cognitive/physical resilience.
  • Combat based immersion that allows for assessment of tactical and technical decision making.
  • Development of reproducible scenarios that allow for assessment by tailoring complexity, tempo and stress.

A system of integrated biometric assessment tools would allow an experienced instructor or assessor to make a judgement based on observed outcomes and performance, and scientifically quantify physical, mental, emotional and cognitive performance as well within a safe and managed training environment.

Value Proposition for Army

Individual. Assessments could be made to determine whether individuals ‘thrive’, ‘survive’ or simply ‘endure’ in a training scenario. This has the potential to inform a tailored approach to progression at the individual and team levels, in particular by understanding triggers and points of stress, fatigue and culmination. The Army is also a profession that requires physical robustness as an indicator of performance and effectiveness. Whilst there is a premium placed on physical robustness, there is a cost to achieving and maintaining a physical capability. Biometric assessment tools could be used to determine safe application of correct technique and efficient practice. The ability to review flawed bio-mechanical movement that leads to bad drills and unsafe procedures could be identified and trained out to reduce injury rates. The long-term reduction in acute and cumulative injuries will thus have a significant impact on overall health and well-being, retention and operational capability. 

The Team. Teaming is the foundation of Army capability, and biometrics make it possible to examine small team dynamics as opposed to simple team effectiveness. Biometric tools and assessments could be used to determine how the cognitive load is shared between team members; who carriers the highest burden, who is overloaded, and who contributes nothing. Command teams could be assessed to determine if their planning, decision making and emotion styles are complimentary or unbalanced. Teams could be pushed to the limit to determine culmination points and how to move past this point with tailored self-awareness and coping strategies. Using biometric assessment tools has the potential to build very specific training events, to track performance and build more effective teams.   


An integrated system of biometric assessment tools could be utilised to examine how an individual or team has performed. Evaluating responses and assessing performance via these tools would allow an instructor or assessor to develop enhanced training scenarios and evaluate performance across a spectrum to understand the potential of individuals and teams. Professional soldiers must possess the faculties to process and adjust to new circumstances by reflecting on previous experience and recollecting the lessons absorbed in training. The challenge is to produce activities and events that will create apt conditions for learning and adaptation. Assessing the human factors across the physical intellectual and moral could be used to transition individuals and teams to a higher level of performance. This is not possible without the necessary tools to take captured data and make the required assessments. An integrated system of biometric assessment tools is unlikely to solve all the problems of training, education and assessment of individuals and teams, but it has significant potential to fill a large capability gap that currently exists in assessing performance. 

About the author

Lieutenant Colonel Benny Gray is the Commanding Officer and Chief Instructor of the School of Artillery, Combined Arms Training Centre, and Australian Army. He is a graduate of the Australia Defence Force Academy, the Royal Military College – Duntroon, and the Australia Command and Staff College. He has served in a range of operational and training appointments within the Australian Army, including overseas service in the Solomon Islands, Afghanistan and South Sudan. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Strategy and Security from the University of New South Wales, and a Master of Military and Defence Studies from the Australian National University. In his spare time, he is undertaking a Master of Military Ethics at the University of New South Wales. 


Australian Institute of Sport – Strategic Partnership

Web: https://www.army.gov.au/our-work/strategic-partnerships/australian-institute-sport-ais

Baden-Powell, R, Quick Training for War, The Anchor Press, 1914.

Bevin, A, Korea: The First War We Lost, New York, Hipppocrene Books, 1986, 55.

Bonadonna, R, Soldiers and Civilisation, Naval Institute Press, 2017.

Boulet, G, ‘The Difference Between Knowledge and Skills: Knowing Does Not Make You Skilled’, Corporate eLearning, 2015. 

Clausewitz, C, On War. 1st arg. London: Penguin Book, 1982.

Chen, D, Stress Management and Prevention, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Cokely,T, Ericsson, K and Prietula,M, ’The Making of an Expert’ Harvard Business Review , Jul-Aug 2007.

David, S, Military Blunders: The how and why of military failure, Robinson (London), 1997

Davis, D, ‘Seduced by success’, Armed Forces Journal, 10 Feb 2014.

Delahaij, R, Gaillard, A, and Soeters, J, ‘Stress Training and the New Military Environment’, NATO Scient and Technology Organisation, 2006.

Driskell, J, and Johnston, J, ‘Stress Exposure Training’,  Making decisions under stress: Implications for individual and team training, American Psychological Association 1998, 191–217. 

Dunnigan, J, How to make war: A comprehensive guide to modern warfare in the 21st Century, 4th Edition, Quill, 2003.

Evans, M and Ryan, A (Ed), The Human Face of Battle, National Library of Australia, Allen & Unwin, 2000.

Evans, G, ‘When is it Right to Fight?’ Survival, 46:3, 2004.

Friedland, N, and Keinan, G, ‘Stressors and tasks: How and when should stressors be introduced during training for task performance in stressful situations?’, Journal of Hu-man Stress, 1986, 71-76.

Fuller, J. F. C, The Conduct of War, 1789-1961. 1st arg, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1961.

Fletcher, J and Chateller, P, An Overview of Military Training, Institute for Defense Analyses, Aug 2000.

Greer, J, ‘Training: The Foundation for Success in Combat’, 2019 Index of U.S. Military Strength , The Heritage Foundation, 2019.

Grey, Jeffrey. A Military History Of Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Judd, D, Someone has Blundered: Calamities of the British Army in the Victorian Age, Phoenix (London), 1973.

Kem, J and Bassett, M, ‘The Right Education and Training at the Right Time – Deciding What to Teach and Ensuring It Happens’, Journal of Military Learning, April 2018.

Kitson, F, Low Intensity Operations. London: Faber and Faber, 2010.

Lane Fox, R, The Classical World. Camberwell, Vic.: Penguin, 2008.

Land Warfare Doctrine 1 The Fundamentals of Land Power, Australian Army,2017

Land Warfare Doctrine 7-0 Training and Education, Australian Army 2018 

Mattis, J & West, B, Call Sign Chaos, New York: Random House, 2019.

Malešević, S, Emotions and Warfare: The Social Dynamics of Close-Range Fighting, Department of Sociology, University College Dublin, published online: 25 March 2021.

Parker, G. The Cambridge History Of Warfare. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Phillips, Thomas R et al. Roots Of Strategy. Harrisburg, Pa.: The Military Service Publishing Company, 1940.

Regian, J, Shebilske, L, and Monk, J, ‘Virtual reality: An instructional medium for visual-spatial tasks’, Journal of Communication, 1992, 136- 149

Reigeluth, C, and Schwartz, E, ‘An instructional theory for the design of computer- based simulations’ Journal of Computer-Based Instruction, 1998.

Sookermany, A, On Developing [Post] Modern Soldiers, PhD Dissertation, Faculty of Educational Science, University of Olso, 2013.

Staeheli, J, Risk Mitigation And Leadership In Tactical U.S. Army Infantry Training, Thesis, Naval Postgraduate School, 2017.

Stroup, T “Leadership and Organizational Culture: Actions Speak Louder than Words,” Military Review 171, no. 1, 1996.

[1] Delahaij, R, Gaillard, A, and Soeters, J, ‘Stress Training and the New Military Environment’, NATO Science and Technology Organisation, 2006, 3.

[2] Evans, M (Ed) and Ryan, A (Ed), The Human Face of Battle, National Library of Australia, Allen & Unwin, 2000, 187; Clausewitz, C, On War. 1st arg. London: Penguin Book, 1982.

[3] Grey, Jeffrey. A Military History Of Australia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, 261.

[4] Human Performance Management System: The HPMS will be built via a strategic partnership between the Department of Defence, led by Army, and the Australian Institute of Sport.

[5] Jomini, Antoine Henri, George Mendell, and Wm. P Craighill. The Art Of War. Memphis, TN: Bottom of the Hill, 2011.

[6] Defence White Paper 2016, Department of Defence, 2016.

[7] Fautua, D, Reitz, E, Schatz, and S, Stood, J, ‘The Changing Face of Military Learning’, Journal Of Military Brain“. The Atlantic. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 June 2017.

[8] Milevski, Lukas, ‘Fortissimus Inter Pares: The Utility of Landpower in Grand Strategy’, Parameters, Strategic Studies Institute, Summer, 2012, 12.