Bringing the Science of Sport to the Battle

Project lead / Paddy Little

Optimising Close Combat Soldier Mental and Physical Resilience

Cervus Defence were recently contracted to package a discrete experimentation managed service, acquiring and integrating state of the art; wearables, simulation and stimulation capabilities, inside an Urban Operations training area.

01. problem

An operationally focused customer established a requirement to look at the best means to address a specific need for higher levels of resilience and robustness in the context of close combat stress experienced by its combat units in ongoing operations, and how to apply the learning derived from this across a force comprised of both regular and national service soldiers. A particular area of interest, one common to a number of leading armed forces, was the potential benefit of “screening in” soldiers for close combat duties.

A notable background feature of the project was the need to build trust and confidence with a client cautious about managed service, consultancy and decision support services delivered by outside parties, and to manage carefully culturally nuanced issues around stress, mental toughness and resilience.

02. Approach

Cervus Defence were therefore contracted through our experimentation partners, Saab Technologies UK, to design and implement a discrete experimentation managed service, acquiring and integrating state of the art simulation and stimulation capabilities, inside a complex Urban Operations training area.


Along with our partner we recruited, and deployed a multi-disciplinary team of tactical instructors, simulation experts, observer-controllers, specialist physiologists and psychologists, along with an integrated OPFOR. The team were expected to operate for a sustained period with a large-scale experimental throughput of subject soldiers and squad-sized elements – and to able to do so in a compressed time-frame from contract award. An experimental design was generated to compare the performance of troops provided a conventional training progression and troops provided an augmented, stress inoculation-style approach, alongside a limited stress management training intervention. The Cervus team designed and implemented demanding experimental battle-runs under hyper-realistic conditions intended to stress the experimental subjects, all whilst capturing and analysing high fidelity data using our HIVE system to create comprehensive close combat performance assessments. Key to the approach offered by Saab & Cervus was success in building trust and confidence with the customer, and trust and confidence with soldiers unfamiliar with the presence of civilian managed service providers.

03. relevance

The results of this project were both directly relevant to the customers need, and were delivered on time, to budget, and in many respects exceeding initial expectations.
The results have and will continue to inform customer decision-making on issues across the extent of its force generation pipeline: at selection/induction; during basic individual training; and at unit continuation level. The results, particularly in terms of the methodology and approach used, are also relevant to the need expressed by many armies for leveraging human performance, and relevant to the notion of increased close combat specialisation.

04. Conclusion

The project concluded that the experimental approach was valid, and able to produce invaluable insights into close combat performance, stress, stress inoculation, mental toughness, and the need for a wider resilience framework to provide support around service members.
A number of technological elements of the project stood out, in particular observed improvements to soldier behaviour. This was judged to have been brought about by a substantially increased fidelity to the live training environment, most notably by the addition of an enhanced close combat behavioural penalty system. The benefits of this project will have an impact across the customer’s force generation pipeline, and potentially into a wider national human resources strategy.