STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; looking in depth at careers for Somerset's cadet leavers in the Army

STEM - Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - is designed to offer both cadets and CFAVs the opportunity to view, experience and understand STEM in a military context and encourage cadets to continue with these subjects at GCSE, A Level and hopefully beyond.

As one officer pointed out, “You don’t have to wear a white lab coat to pursue a stimulating career in STEM, both within the military and the wider society, on completion of your studies.”

Every year, in mid to late October, around 200 places are offered to cadets and students from across the UK, inviting them to attend a week-long course run by the Army at Westdown Camp, near Tilshead on the southern edge of Salisbury Plain Training Area. This is a 'must do' course for those thinking of a career in the armed forces and early confirmation of your interest is essential.

The camp consists of a series of presentations and hands-on challenges, all delivered by the Army's leading STEM experts in six specialised areas, based around some of the most high-tech military equipment in the world.

Tuition is provided by Army experts and by ACF/CCF adults with STEM subject expertise. To ensure they can provide suitable activities for all ages cadets are divided into two main groupings: Junior Company (GCSE level - up to school year 10) and Senior Company (A level - for school years 11-13).

Generally, each day teams of cadets undertake two rotations around Salisbury Plain Training Area or further afield, swapping at lunch time, where they gain a deeper insight into the exciting technology available in the Army, with a chance to gain practical hands-on experience. Cadets also learn more about the diverse range of career opportunities in the Army and find out first-hand from those currently serving what life in the Army entails.

Although all STEM courses differ, the week generally starts with a brief from the Land Warfare Centre Science and Technology (S&T) Branch on their role providing scientific and analytical support to the British Army. Cadets then learn about the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), whose work covers a range of technical areas from biology and chemistry to engineering and analysis, using the very latest technology to protect the UK.

The Royal Corps of Signals (RSIGS) provide, maintain and operate Information and Communications Technology (ICT) in the British Army, ranging from covert radio systems used by Special Forces Communications (SFC) to large satellite platforms. Signallers are able to fault-find software or hardware problems as well as exploiting the electromagnetic spectrum (EM) to find and disrupt enemy transmissions whilst at the same time protecting our own from the enemy.

Cadets learn about antennae and propagation and build their own improvised Very High Frequency (VHF) antenna, later demonstrating its effectiveness by transmitting to a Fitted For Radio detachment (FFR). They are taught about the various uses of Electronic Warfare (EW) on the battlefield, including using and exploiting the EM in order to Direction Find (DF) and Position Find (PF) enemy positions, Intercept and Jam/Disrupt enemy radio transmissions and gather information before processing it into intelligence. By building their own Yagi Antennae - simple devices that function in the 433 MHz range, similar to car opening devices - they were able to search for and locate enemy electronic transmitters and use the resulting information to build an intelligence picture. Images from the 2018 STEM Course.

The Royal Artillery (RA) provide the Army with its eyes, ears and firepower. Gunners find the enemy with surveillance devices and unmanned aircraft before monitoring and restricting their movement, finally striking with the co-ordinated use of guns, rockets and missiles, attack helicopters, infantry support, the RAF’s fast jets and the Navy’s gunfire support.

Cadets learn how drones work and get to fly a Green Hornet drone, whilst covering drone components, the practical application of gyroscope and accelerometer enabled multi-rotor concepts, PID control loop feedback mechanism and radio wave propagation and antenna theory. They ‘fly’ Tactical UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) Missions in a Virtual Battle Space (VBS) and learn about the Desert Hawk 3, the current operational Mini-UAS battlefield surveillance tool. Images from the 2018 STEM Course.

The Royal Engineers (RE) provide the British Army with armoured and close support engineering, explosive ordnance disposal and support airborne and commando operations.

Cadets learn about and demonstrate how forces affect bridge design and how they can be harnessed for the successful crossing of a gap, using the Titan AVLB (Armoured Vehicle-Launched Bridge). They design and construct a mini-bridge after considering compression, tension, torsion and shear forces, testing the resulting 14 inch span bridge to failure. Cadets have to design and ‘purchase’ the materials required to build a water filtration device - within time and financial constraints - with the final design being tested with dirty water.

The Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) inspect, maintain, repair and manufacture equipment to keep aircraft, tanks, weapons and associated kit in top condition.

Cadets visit MOD Lyneham, the home of DSEME (Defence School of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering) and SAAE (School of Army Aeronautical Engineering), where they focus on the trades of Armourer, Vehicle Mechanic, Aircraft Technician and Recovery Mechanic.

Cadets have to solve a number of challenges, using a Dial Test Indicator to correctly adjust the Firing Pin Protrusion (FPP) on the L115A3 Sniper Rifle in preparation for safe firing; apply the theory of Ohms Law and electrical fault-finding techniques with a Land-Rover simulator in order to correctly diagnose an unserviceable vehicle component; counteract the effects of vibration on rotary aircraft by adjustment of track and balance using rotor tuner test equipment and finally to analyse the factors and forces behind resistance to movement and complete Estimated Pull (EP) calculations in order to recover a stricken vehicle. Images from the 2018 STEM Course.

The Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) maintains the Army’s operational capability by providing the required item, in the required quantity, in the required place and at the required time. It's their job to deploy, move, receive, cater for, resupply, sustain and recover military and humanitarian operations around the world, whatever the terrain and whatever the threat. Images from the 2018 STEM Course.

Visiting the Defence Academy at Shrivenham, cadets focus on three trades; Ammunition Technician, Driver (Air Despatcher) and Petroleum Operator. Images from the 2018 STEM Course.

As Ammunition Technicians cadets discover the different effects that density, pressure and containment can have on explosives, watch a series of explosive demonstrations in order to understand the science behind explosives and the mechanisms by which explosive forces can be manipulated.

As Drivers (Air Despatcher) cadets have to build air deliverable packages using issued military equipment, after learning about the physics affecting air-dropped supplies and then demonstrate a practical understanding of the measures needed to protect the loads involved.

Finally, as Petroleum Operators, cadets have to use various items of equipment to identify a fuel sample provided and analyse its quality.

The Army Air Corps (AAC) is the combat aviation arm of the British Army. AAC soldiers deliver firepower from battlefield helicopters and fixed wing aircraft to overwhelm and defeat enemy forces. They use Army aircraft, such as the Apache attack helicopter, to deliver hard-hitting and effective support to ground forces during the key stages of battle. The AAC’s role also includes reconnaissance, where from high above the action, they observe enemy forces and pass information to troops on the ground. This fearsome combination of manoeuvrability and firepower makes the AAC one of the most potent of the Army’s combat arms.

Cadets get to prepare and assemble helicopter underslung loads and then operate with a Wildcat squadron on the airfield at HQ SAAvn (School of Army Aviation) at Middle Wallop. The theory of flight with particular reference to helicopters is taught and demonstrated, the theory and design of weapons and ammunition along with their testing and deployment is shown to cadets who also have hands-on with the systems and cadets are shown the latest Apache AH.1 attack helicopter up close and personal, with a chance to talk to the aircrew and sit in the cockpits. Images from the 2018 STEM Course.

Cadets will come home buzzing with enthusiasm! All the cadets were full of praise for the course and the career opportunities that it opened up for them. For any youngster seeking work in STEM fields this course should be at the top of their ‘must do’ list for 2019. Check here on our calendar to find out when the next STEM course is running.

All the images taken over five days of Ex STEM Challenge in October 2018 can be found here.