All about power: with the years the term "Future Soldier Programme" has become hardly applicable in a certain number of nations, although many, if not most of the systems announced by certain nations, yet need to enter service. Some soldier modernisation programmes, or SMPs in short, have been announced, but work is still in the starting blocks.

Author:Valpolini, Paolo
 
FREE EXCERPT

The advent of smartphones with powerful computing capacities is definitely influencing the evolution of many soldier modernisation programmes, to the extent that some had to be moved back to square one to exploit those suddenly available technologies. However, no system in service is yet based on that type of hardware and the related operating system that allows the installation of rapidly developed apps.

Currently only France has operationally fielded an integrated suite. Britain, for its part, has fielded most of the Fist components, although they are only related to sighting and targeting, while Germany deployed its first IdZ-ES equipped infantry battalion to Afghanistan in summer 2013.

One of the programmes that was heavily impacted by the advent of smartphones is definitely the Nett Warrior, the successor of the Land Warrior, which is evolving yearly through Network Integration Evaluations (NIEs). Following the decision to abandon the conventional way of acquisition, the DOT&E that saw three companies being selected for the development of competing systems to be evaluated, and that of following a cots path, the programme has now gone through various iterations, the one that started last May being NIE 13.2.

One thing that is relatively stable is the communications element. The choice went to the General Dynamics C4I Systems AN/PRC-154, which is able to transmit both voice and data simultaneously utilizing the Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW). Thanks to the embedded GPS it continuously transmits the Position Location

Information (PL), enabling situational awareness and blue force tracking, and supports hands-free display and external computer interfaces. The radio operates in UHF and L bands and allows to actively participate in one voice talk call group while simultaneously monitoring other talk groups. At 417 grams without battery and 771 grams with battery, its operational life is of over 10 hours.

In November 2012 the US Army launched a first contract for the new AN/PRC-154A Nett Warrior Radio. The main difference is that the "Alpha" is made to allow platoon leaders and those above to connect on secure nets up to Secret, while keeping the Sensitive-but-Unclassified connection to the soldiers equipped with the standard radio, even while physical features remain nearly identical. The Low Rate Initial Production order covered 2,052 radios and had a maximum potential value of $11 million if all options are exercised. Initial deliveries started in Q1 2013.

Turning to the computer, the "Network Integration Evaluation 13.1" of November 2012 saw the adoption of the first cots item in the form of a Motorola Atrix smartphone. At 135 grams, it featured a 4-inch display with a 960x540 pixel resolution. A Soldier Worn Integrated Power Equipment System was also adopted to extend the endurance of the system - this conformal battery package providing some 14 extra hours to be added to the radio's 7 hours autonomy. The Atrix screen dimensions were considered too small and for NIE 13.2, which was run in May 2013, a 178-gram Samsung Galaxy Note I was adopted, its 5.3-inch Super Amoled touchscreen having a 1280x800 pixel resolution. However, following the issuing of the Atrix to two of the 10th Mountain Division brigades (the next unit to receive Nett Warrior gear), part of 1st Armored Division will get the Samsung Note II that features a 5.5-inch display and can host memory cards of up to 64 GB. The software has evolved considerably according to user indications, especially in terms of map handling. The Nett Warrior also includes a helmet-mounted display, while the cabling of the various elements has also been upgraded to save weight and improve reliability.

Last May--a noteworthy point--the Department of Defense announced the release of the Apple iOS 6 STIG (Security Technical Implementation Guide), adding this operating system to BlackBerry's Enterprise Service 10 software and Google's Android OS for Samsung Knox which had already been released. This allows the Department to chose among multiple cots options for its SMPs. With the delivery of the 10,000th kit to the French Army, the Felin programme is moving at a steady pace. In the meantime the first lessons learned have started to flow back from Afghanistan: according to 1st Infantry Regiment personnel, who first deployed downrange with the Felin system, the sights proved of invaluable importance in improving fire effectiveness and reducing ammunition consumption. Each infantry team was normally carrying three thermal imaging sights and four image intensification ones. As for C2, radio performances have to be improved according to French soldiers, who particularly appreciated the osteo-microphone fitted in the headband.

The touch-screen tablet was used only at platoon/company commanders level; on the move it allowed to verify the position of the sub-units, while when static it was used to verify the firing plan, getting the info from section commanders, and to send to higher echelons a summary of the situation. Not been used by the 1st Infantry Regiment in Afghanistan, however, were the preformatted messages as well as the head-mounted display. Battery endurance proved to be more than sufficient, given the relatively non-intensive use of the system.

The spiralisation of the system will see the adoption of a new radio and of a new body armour, the latter aiming at increasing the infantryman mobility by lowering weight and increasing comfort. This should occur two-thirds into the deliveries, that is around kit number 15,000--out of a total of some 22,000 systems.

IDZ-ES / GLADIUS

The Bundeswehr IdZ-ES (Infanterist der Zukunft--Erweiterte System)1, the future infantryman improved system, officially started its operational life on 7 March 2013, when the system was officially handed over from prime contractor Rheinmetall Defence to the President of the BAAIN (formerly BWB), Mr. Harald Stein, in the presence of the General Inspector of the German Army, Lt.Gen. Bruno Kasdorl

In fact one German Army unit, the 12th Security Battalion, has been training with the system since September 2012 in order to gather as much experience as possible. The battalion is now in charge of the instruction of the operational units that will receive the IdZ-ES gear and will deploy in Afghanistan. The first unit to be equipped with the system is the 232 Gebirgsjii.gerBatallion based in Bischofswiesen and part of the 23 Mountain Infantry Brigade, (which will have been redeployed in Afghanistan since Summer 2013). The IdZ-ES familiarisation phase for each of the battalions lasts six weeks and takes place at the Infantry School in Hammelburg.

A few elements have been changed, starting with a new helmet, the Ops-Core Fast Ballistic Helmet (1328 grains in the Medium/Large size including Visual Augmentation System Shroud and rails). With the improved body armour, these two new items result in a 20-25% weight reduction over the previous subsystems.

Shortly before the configuration was frozen the German Army decided to adopt the Mehler carrying vest in place of that from Bliicher, the latter company nevertheless remaining the main provider for the clothing and protection system.

In the field of the night vision, a new thermal imager has been added to the Zeiss Optronics (now Cassidian Optronics) IRV-600, a thermal imager perfectly suited for use at longer ranges--400 to 600 metres--by designated marksmen, snipers or machine gunners, as well as by riflemen operating at medium distances. The performance of this clip-on system, that can detect a person at 1,520 metres, recognise it at 520 and identify it at 250, comes at a price, namely weight, since the IRV-600 weighs 1,090 grams including batteries, mount and CQB rail. To lighten the burden of the rifleman when operating at shorter engagement distances, under 100 metres, the Bundwswehr added a second clip-on uncooled thermal imager, the Dragon C developed and produced by Qioptiq in Britain. This unit can be integrated with optical day sights in the range of x 1 - x4 magnification and thus perfectly fits the Zeiss Optics 4x30 sight chosen for the IdZ-ES. Excluding batteries the Dragon C thermal imager weighs less than 390 grams, its two AA 1.5 V batteries providing over five hours of operation at standard temperature.

Each infantry squad will maintain four Cassidian IRV-600, while in mechanised squads we will also find three Qioptiq systems, allowing soldiers to choose their equipment according to the mission. Night vision goggles remain the 51[degrees] FoV Lucie II D, 310 of which were ordered to Thales in late 2012. Compared to the standard NVGs of that type those developed for the IdZ-ES feature an integrated OLED data and video display. With this add-on the Lucie II D can be used for night vision only, image display only, showing terrain layouts or maps, or mixed-mode operation, overlaying tactical and status information in the upper or lower display area over night vision. Moreover the contract also included 16 Lucie II DIR; these NVGs will feature the Thales Angenieux IR module that creates an image overlay with residual light and thermal image. Thales is also responsible for communications and supplies its Solar 400 EG, lithium-ion batteries as the power supply for the entire electronic backbone, charging stations, antenna kits and adapters and cables.

Although currently not yet part of the IdZ-ES, the Rheinmetall man-worn shotgun detector known as AkSL (Akustisches Schiitzen-Lokalisationssystem) is now a reality and a proposal to the Bundeswehr was filed in late April 2013. The system adopts the well-known configuration with a shoulder pad containing the sensors and the electronics and a light wrist-worn display. Currently seen as a stand-off system, the Aka might well be integrated into the IdZ-ES, feeding its data into the main computer and exploiting the IdZ-ES man-machine interfaces.

The IdZ-ES programme also has a considerable...

To continue reading

REQUEST YOUR TRIAL