Dick Livesey deployed to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan as Scientific Adviser for six months from September 2013. This was his second tour. When not on tour, Dick works in the Blast & IED Protection Team at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).
I don’t know whether you’ve ever been on holiday as a guest of somebody else’s family? If so, you’ll remember that the last day consists of everybody frantically packing up, cleaning things and stuffing it all in the car. You’d love to be able to help but, as you don’t really know how anything works or where anything goes, there’s limited help you can provide.
That’s what I thought being the Dstl Scientific Adviser (SCIAD) in Afghanistan this time around would be like.
Dstl has provided deployed SCIADs to Afghanistan for some time now and as a result we’ve got very good at it. Advice on how to combat changes in enemy threats and tactics has led to immediate short term fixes and longer term solutions. So now that the situation has changed to one in which getting us home safely, quickly and efficiently is just as important as success on the ground, the advice that Dstl provides has had to change as well.
The first challenge is to continue to support current operations whilst steadily removing capabilities. Finding ways of doing more with less is prime SCIAD territory and Dstl has played a part in helping to ensure that, even as we leave Afghanistan, we are as well equipped, protected and informed as we have ever been. This has included everything from increasing vehicle protection by reusing armour taken from redeployed vehicles, to simple pieces of software which can hugely speed up patrol tracking and tracing.
The next challenge is to carry on living safely in a shrinking Main Operating Base. Getting ill, tired or too hot in Afghanistan aren’t just annoyances – they can be game-changing for our troops. While this is one of the busiest times at Camp Bastion, it is also the one in which many of the comforts and conveniences are being reduced. So that everybody can continue to do their jobs safely, Dstl has provided advice on healthcare, energy use and fatigue management.
The final challenge is ensuring that what we leave behind is fit for purpose. This includes for both the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and our own presence at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy in Kabul. SCIADs have helped develop the ANSF counter IED capability and worked on the human sciences aspects of deployments to support Afghan-led and partnered operations.
In addition to the huge efforts to get our people and equipment home in good order, UK forces are still really keen to support ongoing research. For example, improvements in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), detection and protection, currently being tested in the heat of Afghanistan, will benefit operations for years to come.
So while this deployment was very different to my previous tour, it certainly wasn’t the frantic pack up I had envisaged before I left!