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Podcast with Royal Marine Colt Callaghan – Innovation and Defence’s Language of Change Ep 3

Podcast with Royal Marine Colt Callaghan - Innovation and Defence's Language of Change Ep 3

The series is sponsored by The Army Innovation Team. The Army Innovation team is leading on the Army BattleLab project which sits within the wider Defence BattleLab infrastructure. On the run up to the opening of this facility later this year, there will be a series of events which seek to engage with industry, academia and wider stake holders.  To sign up to these events, and to receive the project newsletter, please email the team at ArmyCap-FFD-Innovation@mod.gov.uk.

[00:00:00] This podcast series is sponsored by the British Army Innovation Team. This team is set up to encourage and facilitate innovation across the Army and supports wider Defence initiatives too.  One of their, projects, The Army BattleLab, is due to open this year in the South West of England. If you would like further information about this project why not get in touch directly with the team via the show notes?

[00:00:24] Welcome to this Wavell Room podcast series, which focuses on Defence’s language of change. This series seeks to explore some of the key ideas about change. What does it actually mean to innovate? Are we less adaptive and agile than in the past? What does it mean to empower? And most importantly, why is any of this different from what has gone before?

[00:00:44]This series aims to understand what we mean by some of those Defence buzzwords we keep hearing over and over again. Over the next few weeks, look forward to hearing from a whole host of different people from the military, the academic world, industry, and also the sporting world to [00:01:00] understand their views on this language of change, which has dominated military conversations for decades.

[00:01:05] On this week’s podcast, we’re delighted to chat to Colt Callahan. Colt is a Royal Marine and currently works in the Royal Navy’s Digital Service team, which is exploring how data will support the Future Commando Force. Colt, a Mortarman by trade was awarded the top student in the inaugural Percy Hobart fellowship course last summer   and currently focuses on understanding how a variety of digital skills and other methods can improve his work in the Royal Navy.

[00:01:33] Frosty: [00:01:33] Good morning. We’re going to start with the same question that we ask all of our guests. Defence is full of buzzwords. If you had to advocate for one of those buzzwords, what would it be and why?

[00:01:43]Colt Callaghan: [00:01:43] Probably as much as it is the, the go-to and overused word it would probably be agile.

[00:01:48]I think that if we were fully embrace the iterative loop of design develop, deploy and review from everything to our procurement to information exchange requirements, right down to training [00:02:00] and exercise plans, I think there’s a, a really large scope for change and improvement and about all of our processes.

[00:02:07]Frosty: [00:02:07]   Colt, you recently completed the Percy Hobart fellowship. Most of our listeners won’t have heard what that initiative is about or what it involves. Could you explain it?

[00:02:17] Colt Callaghan: [00:02:17] Okay. So last year during the summer a new set of our initiative started up within the Royal Navy.

[00:02:23] It was a, the Percy Hobart fellowship it took 20 people from across the Naval service and including Marines Royal Navy and RFA, and injected them straight into startup companies for three days a week for 12 weeks. And the other two days a week, we were learning all different things from design thinking, agile, how to take part in stand ups and lead scrums.

[00:02:45] Went on to this year. It’s been expanded further to, I think it was 40 people in the new cohort, which includes people from the RAF and from the US Navy as well. This took people into a range of different startups across mostly London. But [00:03:00] the entire UK obviously it was over the lockdown period.

[00:03:03] So we didn’t get to go and, and meet although some people did towards the end of it. People took part in everything from pricing to web design and development all the way to pitching for their companies next runway. So people were in the, in the cohort I was in were, were the lead on the funding for the future of the companies that they were in.

[00:03:25] So there’s a lot of interesting work and very different across everyone’s experience.

[00:03:30] Frosty: [00:03:30] That’s very different to your day job of being a Royal Marine? How did you, how did you get involved in that? What, what drew you to that fellowship?

[00:03:37]Colt Callaghan: [00:03:37] So at the start of last year, I, I actually had my notice to leave in. Because I was unhappy with what I’d been doing with  work. I didn’t feel that any of my skills are being valued and that they were getting the most out of what I I could do.

[00:03:53] But I started to do the J hub coding scheme and realised that there was an appetite within military for [00:04:00] upskilling people and using these new digital skills all be that it would probably come in slowly, but there was an appetite for it.

[00:04:07]Since completing the fellowship, I’m in a completely different role. So I’m working within Navy Digital Services on the littoral strike data team. So we’re trying to look at the information exchange requirement for the Future Commander Force.

[00:04:18] So what data needs to be sent across the battlefield to where and how so be that maybe somewhere back on in the UK the CO of 40 wants to see live camera footage from an exercise or an operation going on at the other side of the world, how that that data we’ll get back. Be it from over satellite or could it go back to one of the littoral strike ships LSDAs and then be sent back to the UK, or would there possibly be a, an ops room on one of the ships where all of the data will be fused into there like a common operating picture.

[00:04:58] So that’s a completely different [00:05:00] role than I’d ever been within. Yeah,

[00:05:04] Frosty: [00:05:04] it’s very different. But I mean  do you, do you think there’s there’s value in, in the role you had as a, as a Royal Marine first, and the insight  that gives you when you’re, when you’re trying to bring those two things together.

[00:05:16] Colt Callaghan: [00:05:16] I think that’s mostly where my, my value came to the team. So on the team, there’s myself a Warrant Officer Royal Marines, who is the, the product, the service owner for the whole LSDT and then there’s four other civilian contractors a technical architect, a service designer, a business analyst on a user researcher.

[00:05:38] And. I feel like they are, they’ve made quite good use of me to fully understand what the FCF is and what it all entails coming from six months ago, they were complete civilians and never really had any military experience or understanding. Now they’re pretty clued up on everything that’s going on.

[00:05:57] Frosty: [00:05:57] So what if we go back and [00:06:00] step to your, to while you were in your placement, what, what sort of, sort of skills did you learn while you were there? And, and how did you see things done differently to how they’re done in service?

[00:06:09]Colt Callaghan: [00:06:09] Probably one of the simplest and easiest things that I think that could be brought across to the service would be something like the, the daily stand ups.

[00:06:17]So it kind of happens in the morning where you go down in a three line whip and have a nominal and you get talked you get told what’s going on roughly throughout the day. And what’s been on the MEL for the week. But I feel like this is something that could happen in one troop offices to say in a, in a fighting company and the troop office the, the Sergeant troop boss and the juniors could go into the room prior to the morning nominal call for the rest of the troop.

[00:06:43]Figure out what they need to do for the day. What did that yesterday? Any blockers from the day before And how to take it forward and like a sprint plan. So say two weeks of an MEL as a sprint plan and you know what you need to get done in that two weeks, but you don’t actually have a, an MEL of what is exactly happening in [00:07:00] each day.

[00:07:00]So it’s more, there’s a buzzword agile.

[00:07:05] Frosty: [00:07:05] Well, yeah, more evidence why it’s  a good pick right at the start. But how long, you know, this daily  stand you call it. How long would that take.

[00:07:11]Colt Callaghan: [00:07:11] Daily stand up in the team I’m I’m within is 30 minutes, just because we’ve got quite a lot of technical detail to go into.

[00:07:18]But if I I’m imagine it within a toop office taken 10, no more than 10, 15 minutes prior to turn to for the rest of the troop.

[00:07:29] Frosty: [00:07:29] Yeah. It sounds like, it sounds like a valuable thing to bring back across. And what did you, what did industry get from you?

[00:07:37] Colt Callaghan: [00:07:37] I think the industry was surprised what they got from me.

[00:07:40]Obviously if you’re imagining someone coming from just the Royal Navy, you’ve probably don’t know what their role is. And most of us go into it we’re getting an impostor syndrome syndrome because we didn’t know what we could offer industry really at all. We were thinking. Yeah. Are these people going to expect us to be able to just start writing [00:08:00] programmes for them and stuff like that?

[00:08:01] And I know a lot of people had that worry. I think industry might’ve been surprised from me because I actually did quite a lot of that. All of the JHub coding scheme, I was trying to self-teach myself, a lot of coding for like the six months beforehand. So I was able to get straight into Web design for them.

[00:08:18] I was doing pricing, which was quite weird for me. I didn’t know that that would actually be a thing, but I was helping them understand the doing market research and competitor analysis to then write a programme that would like  compare the other industry competitors and create pricing based on their pricing models to give us the best value for the product.

[00:08:42] Frosty: [00:08:42] Startups have a unique approach to business and to wider activity. I think, you know, they’re often till you, you mentioned agile at the start. I think people often speak about the, the speed at which startups work. Do you, do you think Defence is likely, is ever likely to be able to exploit you know, this [00:09:00] sort of approach?

[00:09:00] Is, are we too big? Are we able to take some of the lessons on from what you’ve learned?

[00:09:05] Colt Callaghan: [00:09:05] I think in, in certain parts of Defence. These things definitely will come forward. Obviously, whenever you’re doing something like building an aircraft carrier and getting the policy and funding for that, it has to be waterfall and some cases in most cases, but on the lower level teams within troops, sections companies this is from a, obviously a fighting soldier background.

[00:09:32] I’m not sure about Logs and other sides, but I’ve definitely feel like you could implement a lot of the, the thought processes behind the agile methodology within fighting soldier landscape be that the, the stuff I talked about like stand-ups, I think that’s, that’s definitely something that should, and really has to come in to keep I’m thinking of FCF, but potential future Army moving forward as well.

[00:09:59]Frosty: [00:09:59] Are there any [00:10:00] other examples you can think of?

[00:10:01] Colt Callaghan: [00:10:01] I do think there is space and roles that need to come in the future of the Defence wide each, each service that needs to be development rules. So that effort on the front line applications start to go, go down and go wrong or need small tweaks. So say the ATAK p latform that the Royal Marines are trialling at the minute the Android Tactical Awareness Kit, if that needed small tweaks to the user interface, or if it needed a new report card or crypt card plugin belt. I feel like there should definitely be roles within the Armed Forces that that’s that would do that instead of it being sent out to a civvy company for hundreds of thousands to build a tiny iteration.

[00:10:48] Frosty: [00:10:48] Oh, you mean, as in having the ability within house to do it, essentially be able to innovate ourselves.

[00:10:54] So we we’ve got something that we can then quickly change rather than having to go outside and get them to [00:11:00] change it for us.

[00:11:00]Colt Callaghan: [00:11:00] Yes. 100%. Yeah.

[00:11:03]Frosty: [00:11:03] Yeah. I think I’d be interested to see if you, you agree with this, but We feel comfortable. I think so. You know, the first company or troop you work for probably had its own standard operating procedures.

[00:11:16] It’s own SOPs that a soldier carried this here and that there stacked up in this way. Before it went into a building, that sort of thing, we feel really comfortable generally with making little changes like that. But I feel like say we got something like the ATAK the tactical awareness system you’re talking about making a change to a report that you’d send on that because it involves the computer.

[00:11:40] We would feel like we couldn’t change that. Do you think that’s, is that something that you recognise?

[00:11:47] Colt Callaghan: [00:11:47] Yeah, I think that as soon as, as soon as something is digital people think that they can’t change it, even though it really, honestly, is easier to change [00:12:00] something digital than something physical and to change a mindset of how people work. so yeah I completely agreed with that.

[00:12:06]Frosty: [00:12:06] We hear a lot in Defence about going digital, whether that’s the Army’s digital backbone or the wider approach to exploiting digital narratives, what does this actually mean? Will Defence get better from exploiting all things digital in your opinion?

[00:12:21]Colt Callaghan: [00:12:21] I think it will get better and I think it already is getting better by embracing and exploiting digital be it from even really small things. Like whenever I’ve stopped, at Plai d the other week there was a tannoy system and right beside it  there was the book of all the templates of what you’d read, out on the tannoy albeit with different times and different, small details.

[00:12:44] But it’s, it’s, it looks like it’s been there since the sixties and even small things that they were talking about was coming in and was just so having an iPad beside it that you click one of the templates and it will read out the tannoy [00:13:00] it, the template tannoy that had been sitting there in an old booklet for years apart from that, yeah, whenever it gets to bigger and better things, digital Royal Marines going to ATAK, the amount of situational awareness that that will provide not every man I’ll say it has to see that because that might take a man looking down at his, I at the screen, instead of looking up at his arcs, there’s certain people within every team within the FCS concept. So section commander, sorry. E My Cs are going to be called now.

[00:13:31] They’ll have the situational awareness to look at to make the best decisions of where to move. If it’s in a contact there’ll be able to see the enemy locations, their friendly forces locations. If it’s a troop commander, he might be able to see where it needs to put the FSG. Better so that they can cover the ground.

[00:13:49]So that’s, that’s how I’m seeing digital in the future, but there is a lot, a lot more high up stuff that’s going on around digital and AI within the Royal Navy and the Naval strike [00:14:00] network have been able to sound out autonomous vehicles or sorry, autonomous shipping to carry a striker landing and come back to the, the LSD.


[00:14:09] Frosty: [00:14:09] that was quite exciting stuff. I am. So I think it’s really interesting that people, well, like you say, there’s already, there’s already a lot of small gains that have, that have been made. And there was some things I think we don’t even think about like most, if you get a military green fleet or a hire car, you’ll, you’ll MT your motor transport office is probably also given you a sat nav before you get in that vehicle, which is part of the, of the military going digital or using new technologies that we didn’t use to use.

[00:14:40] Certainly if you’re in the UK anyway, but it isn’t, you know, it’s not sexy, but being able to move people from one part of the UK to the other easily is has a cumulative gain on the Armed Forces slowly. Well,

[00:14:52] Colt Callaghan: [00:14:52] one of the things that I’m not a since working down in Portsmouth at MDS is that whenever we’re booking out cars it is [00:15:00] through NC HQ and their request forms no online. So you can request online instead of a filling out the paper format, copy everything’s then sent to your civvy email address of time that you need to pick it up and stuff like that, which it definitely doesn’t happen at the previous units I’ve been

[00:15:19] Frosty: [00:15:19] yeah. To just make things easier. I think A bunch of the, the vehicles army headquarters, you hear lots of staff officers do short visits on their vehicles, and they’re now using electric cars because that’s saving the army a fair amount of money.

[00:15:32] And the range of most journeys they do is, is, you know, 30 to 50 miles round trips. So you don’t need to, you don’t need a petrol or diesel powered vehicle to do that. You can do an electric one.

[00:15:44] Colt Callaghan: [00:15:44] Yeah. Didn’t even, didn’t even know that it started even contemplating that sort of stuff.

[00:15:49] Frosty: [00:15:49] Yeah. It’s interesting.

[00:15:50] So there are, you know, there are some small places we always think about the big things. Like the stuff you described there with  remotely piloted or remotely on ships, moving stuff from one place to [00:16:00] another. All really exciting stuff, but actually in the short term, I imagine that a lot of the big gains we’re going to make are just little things that make, make us work a little bit easier save us a little bit of money here and there.

[00:16:10] Colt Callaghan: [00:16:10] And I think that the work is a little bit easier as, as part of how you get people on board with, with all of this change. If, if you tell about next, some, some big changes coming and it doesn’t affect him and it doesn’t make his daily life better, he won’t care for it.

[00:16:26] But if something’s even just a tiny bit easier whenever he’s booking of a white fleet vehicle to go down on exercise in Sennybridge that’s that makes his life easier in he understands it and embraces it better.

[00:16:37]Frosty: [00:16:37] Couldn’t agree. More so on this podcast, we’ve already heard from some seniors within Defence who are responsible for delivering some of these change initiatives, but from your perspective, how do you think they’re going and what do you think we could do as an organisation to change quicker?

[00:16:51]Colt Callaghan: [00:16:51] So the unique perspective from within theRoyal Marines, I think we’re, we’re getting change and transformation completely right. And I think that’s [00:17:00] because of the commando uniform 20 and the change to the orbat and how everything’s laid out. So every morning, whenever Royal Marineswake up, they put on the new uniform, they feel different.

[00:17:11]They feel like change is happening. So, and a lot of Defence changes happening but people aren’t feeling it. And that’s because I’m not saying you need a, a new uniform, but the people on the ground at the, OR levels, if they’re not feeling it, the the culture and the understanding won’t push upwards and the people that are there reporting to won’t feel the change because they see their lads in the same with the more morale and not, not moving forward.

[00:17:41] Frosty: [00:17:41] I’m going to move back to talking about you Colt. So you’ve had some amazing, some amazing opportunities with the whole Percy Hobart fellowship. I mean, the first thing is, would you recommend that to other people, do you think that’s for everyone or do you think it’s only  for a specific sort of person.

[00:17:56]Colt Callaghan: [00:17:56] I don’t think it’s for a specific sort of person, the, the range of [00:18:00] people that were on it were from all different backgrounds and different roles within the entire Naval service. So I don’t think it’s for a specific type of person that it needs to be, except for someone that’s, that’s driven because that’s what startups requireof you, which I think is pretty. It goes across, basically anyone in the military, most people in the military are, are quite driven. The Percy Hobart. Yes, I would. I would advise people to apply for and try to get on it as well as at the J Hub coding scheme is an incentive so that you get, you can get paid up to 300 pounds for doing different modules and learning coding from web dev op development Python, natural language processing, as well as there’s two essays on what is that user experience and agile development.

[00:18:50]So that’s another thing that I highly recommend to people as well. If they’re interested in that sort of thing.

[00:18:56]Have, have youFrosty: [00:18:56] completed all of those different modules?

[00:18:59] Colt Callaghan: [00:18:59] Yes, I’ve [00:19:00] completed all of them over the course of about four to six months at the start of last year I was injured. The rest of 45 were  deploying to Norway.

[00:19:10]So I used made the most of my time that I was back back in the UK, sitting in the grots doing my rehab. It was quite boring. So I tried to make the most of my time.

[00:19:21] So the majority of the people that were on the fellowship with me went into roles bespoke roles for, for us coming out that weren’t planned at the time. But with the help of Brigadier Cheesman kind of pushed us into these, these different places.

[00:19:36]And that’s, that’s been really useful. So two of the service owners at Navy Digital Services are from the Percy Hobart Fellowship. I’m also in Navy Digital Services there as well. One of the Ables went into the, the My Navy team. To help help out with that. So a lot of people went into like bespoke digital roles across theRoyal Navy and that’s kind of [00:20:00] worked well.

[00:20:00] I didn’t go back to the mortar troop that I was in before, but I think it would have been interesting to see if anything would have came across. To, to the normal day to day life of me within that troop cause I never really got to see it and I guess I’ll have to wait until after my draft to see.

[00:20:17] Rank wasn’t used at all in the 12 weeks. So it was completely rank agnostic throughout. So there was people, myself and another guy I was a Marine and he was an Able rating and it went all the way up to commander  there was a major on it as well, and yeah, we were just calling each other first names and I didn’t, I didn’t really grasp until towards the end that how high up some people were.

[00:20:42] Frosty: [00:20:42] But of course that’s the point, isn’t it? I think that’s way what a startup. One of the strengths that you have in a startup sometimes described as  flat and fast. This has been really interesting. Colt what do you think, what do you think Defence needs to do to. better harness the thinking that we get in our [00:21:00] junior ranks?

[00:21:00]Colt Callaghan: [00:21:00] I think mostly listen be that everyone likes to drip and complain. And a lot of time it is just, just mugged off.

[00:21:08] But. in all them drips there’s reasons for the drips. Sometimes it’s just I had a shit  exercise and  it was raining on Sennybridge, that’s, that’s not a relevant drip but people do voice their concerns about how things could be done differently around camps  and stuff like that..

[00:21:25] So I think that’s the first thing is if people are listened to a bit more and their  feedback’s taken on board that would sit well with the junior ranks . Opening up opportunities for them to upskill and learn. I know a lot of people within the Royal Marines want to g et better at, at personal, they have their own personal objectives of, of learning as well as their objectives within Royal Marines life.

[00:21:51]People want to, in this day and age, know how to use stuff like excel and stuff, stuff like that and I feel like [00:22:00] in the junior ranks. So I was thinking of this before Say troop stripey is running his troop Bible and in the office on, on excel a hundred percent, there’s at least one per person in his troop at the Private and Marine rank that knows how to work and use excel better.

[00:22:18] And if he’s given a  bit of responsibility to run, run the troop’s Bible that Marine or Private that gives that gives him responsibility. And that gives them a sense of achievement and, and worth. So I think giving people small amounts of responsibility more often is the way to, to get the junior ranks on board and harness their, their knowledge.

[00:22:41]And finally Colt, so you Frosty: [00:22:43] have one silver bullet. There’s one rule you can change in, in the huge system that is Defence, something that you think would make the organisation better. What would you do? What would you change?

[00:22:55]Colt Callaghan: [00:22:55] To be done at unit level? [00:23:00] So instead of the entire Royal Marines Future Commando Force putting in their requirement of how many drones and what sort of drones or umanned air vehicles that they want to use be that left down to the units, themselves having a budget of what they need and what they want to use.

[00:23:17] Frosty: [00:23:17] I think a lot of people would agree with you on that. Definitely have a lot more control and freedom of your own of your own budgets. Well, Colt thank you very much for your time this morning.

[00:23:27]Colt Callaghan: [00:23:27] Thank you very much it was lovely.

[00:23:29]This podcast series is sponsored by the British Army Innovation Team. This team is set up to encourage and facilitate innovation across the Army and supports wider Defence initiatives too.  One of their, projects, The Army BattleLab, is due to open this year in the South West of England. If you would like further information about this project, why not get in touch directly with the team via the show notes?

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