There are more than 40 countries with formal soldier modernisation programmes. Most have evolved from unwieldy efforts trying to do everything at once – improving firepower, protection, C4ISR, energy supplies and load carriage – into more pragmatic and prioritised schemes once the complexity of balancing capability against weight, power consumption, logistic burden, and cost became clearer. Inevitably, they have been heavily influenced by the exigencies of COIN campaigns, but, for dismounted infantry at least, there are few if any developments from this that would not be of value across the spectrum of conflict from COIN to conflict between near peers and even hybrid warfare. What follows is a digest of those programmes that have made significant progress over the last year or so.
As the operating environment continues to rapidly evolve towards more concentration on urban and littoral warfare, as well as consideration to counter near peer adversaries, armed forces around the world proceed to hone future soldier technology as best they can. However, as the breadth of mission sets continues to expand, R&D bodies, frontline commands, industry and academia are struggling to keep pace with congested and contested battlespaces where operations must be conducted in and amongst local populations and under intense media scrutiny.
Australia Progresses Land 125
Australia's 2016 defence white paper, released in February, said that the government is to continue investing in the improvement of soldiers' personal gear including, “weapons and targeting equipment, digital communications systems, body armour and self protection equipment (including for chemical, biological and radiological threats), and night fighting equipment”. The main focus of the Australian Army's soldier modernisation is the multi-phase Land 125 programme, Phase 3 of which is currently being delivered by contractors including Elbit Systems, Harris, Leonardo, and Thales.
The organisation driving innovation and development in weapons and other equipment for Australian soldiers is Diggerworks, a joint initiative between the Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group, the Army, the Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group (CASG), which took over from the Defence Material Organisation (DMO) at the end of June 2015, and the Capability Development Group (CDG). Inspired by the USMC’s Gruntworks, Diggerworks was formed following a June 2011 MoU to streamline the development and acquisition of soldiers' kit with input from all stakeholders.
Introduction of the Enhanced F88 Austeyr rifle into service was due to begin in July, along with an associated grenade launcher attachment and both day and night sighting systems. This constitutes the lethality-focused Phase 3C of Land 125 and follows a contract for 30,000 rifles and 2,277 grenade launchers, spares and training aids signed in July 2015 and subsequent deals for surveillance and target acquisition accessories inked by November 2015. Rife and grenade launcher deliveries to the bulk of the Army began in August 2015, after the first weapons went to the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (1 RAR) in June for use in trials, and are continuing on schedule. Deliveries of the sights began in February of this year and are expected to be complete ahead of the original schedule, according to defence portfolio budget statements for 2016-17 released in May.
Under the Phase 3B soldier survivability area of the project, troops are already receiving the new-generation Soldier Combat Ensemble (SCE), which includes body armour, helmets, eye and hearing protection, load carriage equipment and field packs, with deliveries of the first equipment sets to the 1st Brigade combined arms unit announced by CASG in June of last year.
Supplied by Australian Defence Apparel (ADA), the body armour and load carriage equipment is organised in tiers intended to optimise protection and mobility according to the soldiers' roles and the threats they are likely to face in carrying them out. Tier 2 Dismounted, for example, is intended for troops who are expected to engage in close combat regularly as part of a combined arms team, such as infantry, joint fire teams, combat engineers and select signallers, while Tier 3 for general combatants whose roles and tasks are primarily focused on providing combat support and combat service support to combined arms teams. The system also includes field and assault packs matched to the tiers.
The armour itself is to be made by Craig International Ballistics, which won a four year contract for 20,000 sets under Phase 3B in April 2015. The new design is designed to improve protection against small arms fire, high-velocity fragments and knife attacks with reduced weight and longer service life.
Another key element of the SCE is the Tiered Combat Helmet, for which Team Wendy’s EXFIL Ballistic Helmet (BH) has been selected and is to be supplied by Australian distributor Aquaterro under a five-year contract with additional two-year options announced on 19 December 2015. Meeting requirements for Tiers 2 and 3, the EXFIL BH comes in two sizes with a complete system weight of 2.6lbs for size 1, 2.75lbs for size 2.
Eye protection comes courtesy of the Ballistic Laser Ocular Protection System (BLOPS), or which Frontline Safety Australia, the local distributor of Wiley X goggles, has won a series of contracts in recent years, most recently one worth more than AU$26,000 for deliveries between 28 January and 27 May of this year. BLOPS comes with clear, smoke grey and laser protective lens options, with anti-fog treatment and can be fitted with prescription lenses. The lenses provide complete protection from UVA and UVB radiation and common lasers along with protection from low-velocity fragments, dust and wind.
Defcon Technologies Group is to supply Inviso’s S10 and V60 combat communication and hearing protection systems for Land 125, Australia's soldier modernisation programme. The decision was announced on 16 October 2015 and followed an extensive and competitive user evaluation. For more on Invisio's S10, please see here.
The S10 consists of a headset and control module, the former including ear buds with speakers and a bone conduction microphone and weighs 150g with its battery. S10 provide impulse noise protection with hear-through for situational awareness (SA), boasting a Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) of 32dB for “crystal clear” comms in noisy environments. As the headset is connected directly to the radio, comms are maintained even if the battery that powers the control unit is exhausted or missing, and all comms functions are controlled by the radio. S10 supports all radio functionality including wireless Push-to-Talk (PTT).
While optimised for use with Selex (now Leonardo) Personal Role Radio (PRR), it supports others including the Thales MBITR and Harris FALCON II and III series, plus vehicle and aircraft intercoms such as ROVIS, SOTAS and VIC-3.
The V60 is a tactical communications hub measuring 70x63x25mm and weighing 145g that connects headsets, radios, remote PTTs and computers that enables the user to listen and talk simultaneously on four different communication systems, mounted or dismounted, says Invisio.
The Australian Army's 1st Brigade, a combined arms unit, received its first new SCE sets under Phase 3B in May of 2015, while the 3rd Brigade is due to receive its equipment this year, followed by the 7th Brigade in 2017.
Invisio Expands Tactical Communication and Hearing Protection Range with INVISIO V20
Invisio’s tactical communications and hearing protection systems target the military and security personnel. Today’s soldier demands tailored and off the shelf solutions with significant functionality and features. Depending on their role and the mission, the professional user requires from one to three radios or communication devices.
The Invisio product range incorporates control units designed to meet these requirements and are interchangeable, including plug and play flexibility. The newest addition to the system is the INVISIO V20, the company’s smallest and lightest control unit available. Designed for soldiers with a single radio with one or two talk-groups, it is very intuitive and simple to use.
“We are broadening our range of control units to meet the mission specific user requirements, by adding simpler, smaller, and lighter control units to the portfolio,” George Nicolakis, Director Product Management, Invisio, said. “The modern soldier requires anywhere from one to three radios or communication devices, depending on their role and needs. With the launch of the INVISIO V20, we now have the product range to cover all these requirements.”
The new control unit powers from the radio, diminishing the system’s complexity, and is fully compatible with other INVISIO systems. Combined with the INVISIO X5 in-ear headset, the INVISIO V20 offers a state-of-art level of hearing protection whilst allowing the user to communicate and maintain a natural level of auditory situational awareness.
As all the other INVISIO control units, the INVISIO V20 can connect to different radios, intercom system, mobile phone, computer, remote PTT or power supply. Either way, the system will automatically sense it and change the settings. With two PTT buttons, the INVISIO V20 offers a rugged design with immersion to 20 metres.
Austria Focuses Soldat 2018
As part of its Soldat der Zukunft effort, Austria tested the Thales Norway NORMANS C4I system between October and December of 2013 in cooperation with Norwegian Armed Forces. The NORMANS Light Unit for squad members resembles a large wristwatch and takes power from radio, while the NORMANS Advanced Unit for squad commanders is essentially a touchscreen PDA powered by its own battery.
Following tests that pitted NORMANS equipped soldiers against a control group using standard Austrian Army equipment, the service concluded that its greatest value lay in better management thanks to voice and data transmission capabilities, while the commander had constant real time SA, providing “permanent command superiority” over the control group. Procurement of a system is expected to begin in 2020.
The near term Soldier 2015 project has been re-titled Soldier 2018 and the equipment package is likely to include a new personal role radio with a headset with hearing protection, body armour with improved ballistic and stab protection, and goggles.
New communications capabilities are focused on the CONRAD combat net radio system from Telefunken/Elbit Systems, and the PNR 500 personal role radio from the same source.
In the area of weaponry, the Austrian Army has been working on its specifications for a replacement for the Steyr AUG (StG77) since 2014 and also wants a new sniper rifle system to replace the Steyr Mannlicher (SM) SSG69, a light machine gun to replace SM MG74 (7.62 NATO variant of MG42) and light mortars, for which Hirtenberger’s M6H looks a likely candidate.
The procurement is focused on the Jägertruppe and €14 million have been earmarked to equip two battalion battle groups, or 4,960 soldiers in total.
On 12 April, the US DoD announced the sale of around 20,000 new combat helmets to the Austrian Ministry of National Defence and Sport, the “hat” in question being Ops-Core’s SENTRY XP Mid Cut Helmet, which at 921g is significantly lighter than the 1,600g headgear it replaces, both weights referring to the large size. Delivery is scheduled for late this year.
In medium term, Austria intends to provide a more comprehensive Soldier 2018 set that includes night vision devices for additional €39 million.
After the Benelux countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, teamed up on their respective VOSS, BEST, and COMPASS soldier modernisation programmes, they chose Elbit Systems’ Smart Vest system in July 2015 as the basis for protection, C4I, specialised displays, and links with vehicle systems. Elbit Systems Land & C4I is the prime contractor, with Thales Nederland main subcontractor for the effort, which has an estimated value of U$150 million over five years.
Brazil COBRA Slithers Ahead
Known as Combatente Brasileiro (COBRA), Brazil's soldier modernisation effort is reportedly nearing the end of its first stage, with around 100,000 troops to be equipped by 2021, subject to the inevitable budget constraints.
The Brazilian MoD has emphasised the importance of studying other countries' soldier modernisation programmes to learn lessons and avoid approaches that do not lead anywhere.
COBRA was the subject of a joint working group formed by the Brazilian Army and France in 2013 under the auspices of which they evaluated the FELIN system that Sagem, now Safran, developed for the French Army, although the Brazilian Army emphasises that while COBRA is influenced by FELIN it will not be a copy.
The small scale COBRA 1.0 evaluation project began in 2014 with the aim of testing equipment to enhance protection, lethality – including both individual and collective use of weapons plus precision marksmanship – survival, C4I and mobility. Equipment sets for around 160 soldiers were put through their paces.
On 2 Dec 2015, the Army approved IMBEL’s TPP-1400 radio for use within COBRA. Developed for use by small groups, the Transceiver Portable Personal 1400, is aimed at military, police and public or private security units. Covering a frequency range of 350-450MHz it is digital radio that features AES 256 encryption for voice and data. Designed for use in challenging urban environments it boasts a direct view rang of three kilometres. Compatible with the OTF-2200 bone conduction microphone, it provides networking for multiple simultaneous users and an unlimited number of listeners plus a commander call prioritisation feature to ensure that critical orders get to all team members. It can also send imagery using the CTV-1410 video compression system. CB-2352i lithium ion or alkaline batteries can be used.
The programme's next stage, dubbed COBRA 2020, is due to begin this year with the aim of developing technologies locally involving Brazilian industry, academia and government research organisations. The Army and AMBINDE (Brazilian Association of Defence and Security Materials Industries) met on 7 June to assess opportunities for national industry and the potential for a Brazilian company to act as a systems integrator.
Canada's ISSP Progressing
Rheinmetall Canada was selected under the Individual Soldier System Project (ISSP) and contract signature was signed on 28 July last year to supply the ARGUS system, which has much in common with the GLADIUS system developed for the German IdZ programme. ARGUS and GLADIUS share C2 software, while Rheinmetall has an agreement with Saab, who provides some of the hardware.
In an update in May, Rheinmetall Canada’s CEO Dr. Andreas Knackstedt said that ISS is progressing well and that he anticipates qualification followed by the start of production of 1,632 ARGUS Soldier System equipment sets this year. He pointed out that the Canadian government has an option for another 2,512 sets under the initial contract and that a second contract for product support could be awarded, bringing the total value up to CA$250 million. Deliveries could begin by the end of the year.
Other sources have said that the ISSP remains in a qualification Phase 1 which, industry sources associated with the programme, said would be wrapped up by the end of the year. This will be followed by Phase 2, comprising the production and delivery of systems with an initial tranche of 1,200 ensembles expected to be delivered to Canadian Forces in 2017.
According to government sources, the ISSP encompasses part of a wider strategy for further develop Canada’s land forces with, “advances in military technology, combined with a more complex and expanding battlespace contributing to battlefield situations in which small, dispersed teams have the SA and ability to create decisive effects such that these teams can achieve decisive outcomes.”
In total, the ISSP could procure more than 4,000 ensembles to enhance dismounted close combat situation awareness with precise navigation and improved synchronisation, performance, and protection. The Canadian solution comprises a handheld tactical user interface with integrated Saab battle management system and control unit; Harris’ 7800S radio; and Invisio ear protection and communications headset. A central power unit allows the capability for devices to be powered by several batteries.
The 7800S Secure Personal Radio provides Canadian soldiers with secure, digitised voice and data communications with additional capabilities including automatic voice conferencing and automatic voice activation. It also features up to 4,000 channels with a variety of three selectable channel sizes as well as integrated GPS, dual PTT, rebroadcasting capability and open standard interfaces including USB connectivity. The radio is capable of conducting high speed data requirements up to 256kbps which could be simultaneously operated alongside voice transmissions. A government source explained: “The ISSP is a suite of military equipment that soldiers wear as part of their combat load. It includes weapon accessories and electronics that allow soldiers to stay connected with their teams after exiting vehicles on the battlefield. It also features a radio, a smartphone-like computer to run battle management software, a GPS, and a communications headset.”
A Rheinmetall Canada spokesperson also explained how, “adaptive and dispersed operations provide the land commander with enhanced capability to create operational and strategic level effects through the use of dispersed teams able to make rapid decisions in order to achieve the commander’s desired end state.”
To date, T&E serials have been conducted with the Royal Canadian Regiment including a six-week exercise in duration; as well as smaller technical evaluation by the ISSP procurement team.
Denmark Eyes Optics, EW, CBRN
The Danish Army Network Enabled Soldier (DANES) programme is an incremental effort that in recent years has seen procurement of personal role radios, combat vests, first aid kits, sights and laser aiming devices plus the selection of a new general purpose machine gun, the US Ordnance M60E6.
In May, the Danish Acquisition and Logistics Organisation (DALO) outlined its acquisition plans, which include issuing a tender for personal CBRN clothing and equipment this year and for handheld ECM systems in the 2017 to 2018 time frame. DALO will also be looking at a broad range of sensor systems including handheld, head worn and weapon-mounted optics and hand launched micro-UAVs.
THOR Headgear for Warrior 2020
Finland wants to field its Warrior 2020 system by the end of 2019, a key component of which is the THOR tactical headgear system from Savox, which integrates communications, sensors, ballistic and hearing protection, SA and power management into a single system.
The electrical, electronic and mechanical connectivity is in a head worn ring to which the bolt-less helmet shell, made from a composite material based on DSM’s Dyneema, attaches. This is the core of a modular structure that can be adapted to the mission with different weights of helmet – or no helmet at all – and various accessories such as cameras, illuminators, and beacons, all of which attach to standard rail mounts. It also supports night vision monocle or goggles with a 60° field of view. The goggles fold close to side of head instead of flipping up, lowering the centre of gravity and profile.
At Eurosatory, Savox' Chief Technology Officer Mikael Westerlund said that THOR had passed its acceptance testing, is now in full production for the Finnish Army and has been attracting much end-user interest from Europe and, following its showing at DSA in Malaysia, particularly from Asia. As well as shipping THOR sets to the Finnish Army, the company has been busy supplying test items to a diverse group of “special users” from across Europe and Asia.
Savox has also won a contract from a European country, believed to be Finland, to connect THOR to its soldier router, a back worn hub designed to network analogue and digital radios, combat management systems and provide wifi, GPS, Ethernet and Bluetooth connectivity and to provide the processing power to run applications directly, eliminating the need for a separate soldier computer, he said.
The company is also working on a separate control device that will enable the soldier to key any radio attached to the router and interact with whatever software is loaded, triggering chains of pre-defined events with a single button push. While the project is nearing completion, the company is still working on new ways to interact with it, Mikael Westerlund said, which virtual, augmented or mixed reality systems.
Integrating UAV control is of particular interest, he said, as the router can run the appropriate applications. Savox would most likely seek a partner with whom to pursue this.
FELIN Upgrades, FAMAS Replacement
France's FELIN is in service and the subject of a V1.3 upgrade effort announced a year ago. Developed by Safran, FELIN has seen combat service and is one of the more mature systems on the market with 18,552 sets on contract for the French Army under a 2014-19 programme. Safran has also revealed a modular, scalable and radio-agnostic version aimed at the export market.
Speaking to Mönch at Eurosatory in Paris on 14 June, officials from FELIN manufacturer Safran described how French Army units were currently equipped with FELIN Version (V) 1.2 systems with force elements including dismounted and mounted close combat infantry formations; customers across the Special Forces Command; and other specialist users including artillery and combat engineer regiments.
FELIN V1.2 was designed and delivered to the French Army as part of its SCORPION future soldier effort, which includes integration of the technology into Thales’ CONTACT tactical communications system.
However, Safran revealed it would begin deliveries of its latest variant, FELIN V1.3, in September this year with deliveries expected to continue throughout the remainder of the year and into 2017/2018. Neither Safran nor the French MoD were able to comment on the numbers of ensembles due to be delivered as Mönch went to press with this article, originally featured in MILITARY TECHNOLOGY #10/2016, available at the show.
Industry sources though, confirmed to MT that the French DGA was in the process of purchasing 8,000 sets of body armour from NFM Group. It is expected that deliveries of the same number of FELIN v1.3 ensembles will be made simultaneously.
Up to 40% lighter than the original, the V1.3 version for the French Army includes newsoftware functionality for units tasked with supporting sharpshooters and mortar teams, a new load carrying structure plus lighter and more modular armour. It features a new combat vest optimised for use of the SitComdé BMS terminal. Plans call for the upgrades to be integrated into new production versions due for delivery early this year.
The main upgrade from V1.2 to V1.3 as comprising the introduction of the next-generation RIF NG tactical handheld radio, which also includes a communications headset, tablet-form End User Device; and and headset; and end user device (EUD) in tablet form; computer processor unit (CPU).
Powered by two battery packs, FELIN V1.3 will also include a helmet-mounted monocular night vision system, feeds of which can be networked to the EUD and CPU for dissemination to tactical operations centres; as well as a BMS for ground commanders based on the French Army’s developmental SCORPION SICS technology.
However, Safran is ramping up efforts to export FELIN technology with particular emphasis being paid to potential customers in the MENA and ASPAC. Industry sources suggested to Mönch how the UAE, in particular, continued to consider procuring elements of the soldier system for operation with Special Forces and infantry units. UAE Counter-Terrorism Units have already evaluated BAE Systems’s Q-WARRIOR helmet-mounted device for utility in urban environments.
At Eurosatory, Safran unveiled its latest export offering which was displayed with an EUD mounted on a body armour plate carrier; CPU capable of being integrated with most tactical radio systems; and the most recent addition to the FELIN system- a Smart Tactical Watch capable of being networked to the EUD and CPU. This latest capability allows an operator to use an odometer to measure distances travelled as well as Blue Force Tracking and Direction Finding systems and an alarm system for the battlefield alerts.
The export version includes a C4I system weighing less than two kilogrammes. Being comms agnostic enables it to work with a wide variety of radios and to offer options such as 4G/LTE networking. Other options include a computer hub, a portable terminal, tactical smart watch and a weapon foregrip controller with PTT and remote controls for optronics. Designated Version 2 (V2), the FELIN export model can support any IP-based communications solutions with the capability to support Mobile Ad Hoc Network (MANET) and 4G/LTE applications as well as a multitude of C4ISTAR solutions including optical gunsights, handheld and vehicle-mounted payloads.
Also at Eurosatory, Safran dislayed the possibility to network FELIN V2 to the company’s own JIM Compact optronic binocular handheld solution. This latter product is currently in service with French Special Forces as it is evaluated for use with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers for Close Air Support as well as Battlefield Surveillance missions and sniper operations.
The search for a new assault rifle to replace the FAMAS took a step forward with the reported elimination of Beretta’s ARX-160, Swiss Arms SG 550, and HS Produkt’s VHS-2 bullpup rifle from the competition to provide the Arme Individuelle Futur (AIF), leaving Heckler & Koch’s HK416 to shoot it out with FN Herstal’s SCAR. A final decision is expected between November and the beginning of 2017 and is expected to lead to an eventual order for around 101,000 weapons. The decision is in: The HK416F is to replace the French Army's FAMAS bullpup assault rifles.
Responding to feedback from German soldiers, Rheinmetall has refined the GLADIUS system developed and fielded for the Infanterist der Zukunft (IdZ) programme. The new version is reportedly lighter, down to 3.9kg from 4.5 kg, achieved in part by removing the Inertial Navigation System (INS), providing a new integrated tablet computer and squad leader display, replacing separate units and upgrading the C2 software. A new PTT switch on the G36 rifle using a proprietary wireless link replaces the power hungry Bluetooth original. The upgrade also includes a new battery with 30% more capacity and a 12 month service life. Energy output has been enhanced by an additional 30% by way of the introduction of lower power demands through the withdrawal of the GLADIUS Bluetooth PTT system, generally integrated onto a weapon system via Picatinny Rail Adaptor System.
Speaking to Mönch at Eurosatory on 14 May, company officials explained how they continued to shape the technology with enhancements based on operational feedback from Afghanistan.
Company sources explained how they were expecting a follow-on contract from the German MoD in 2017 for an additional set of IdZ suites capable of equipping nearly 70 infantry platoons. Such a contract, worth an undisclosed sum, would comprise a total of around 2,100 individual ensembles. Rheinmetall explained it was positioning itself to deliver these systems, should a contract be granted, in 2018 and beyond.
According to Stefan Wöstefeld, Rheinmetall Vice President for Mission Equipment, the company has integrated a new End User Device (EUD) in tablet form into the GLADIUS concept as well as the weight reduction mentioned above.
At Rheinmetall's recent Defence Days, Mönch learned that the company is preparing the next IDZ-ES batch, ready by the end of October, worth €350 million, with more than 40 subcontractors are involved. This new batch has lost 4kg and gained ProxDynamics' BLACK HORNET Nano-UAS as well as sniper detection system (both as options).
The Russian Bear
Meanwhile, the Russian MoD continues to drive forward with its RATNIK soldier modernisation programme having once considered procurement of FELIN technology from the French DGA in 2011. Such a decision failed to materialise however, thereby prompting the government to pursue its own indigenous design and development of future soldier technology.
RATNIK continues to be rolled out to the armed forces with force elements continuing to evaluate the technology, especially during peacekeeping operations in Russia’s Central Military District.
The news follows a report by the UK government which warned of Russia’s growing capability to conduct Unconventional Warfare. According to the “Russia: Implications for UK Defence and Security” report, Russia’s Armed Forces continued to conduct deniable operations with the campaign in Crimea acting as a “laboratory” for them to hone their skills.
“The Russian Armed Forces have shown impressive deployment abilities in Crimea and Ukraine, the effectiveness of which was enhanced by the use of integrated, unconventional warfare techniques. Russia has increasingly demonstrated military aggressiveness in different regions, as well as the ability to create confusion, fear and doubt in others, including NATO member states. Because it perceives these methods as successful and because they appear to Russia to be unchallenged, it is likely that Russia will continue to use military means and unconventional warfare as ways of reasserting what it believes to be its rightful role on the international stage,” the report stated.
In July, industry sources explained to Mönch how Russian infantry forces could soon be fielding a Voice Command System, allowing soldiers to operate EUDs and CPUs in a “hands-free” capacity while retaining control of a weapon system with both hands.
Developed by Russian company Titan Information Services, the technology is expected to be integrated into the RATNIK concept by 2020.
A spokesperson for Titan explained: ”The voice control system frees a soldier's hands and eyes during fighting and he can simultaneously move, shoot and interact with the computer. Also, he can communicate with the command, send messages and listen to the advice of an advanced automated system as well as receive ciphered voice messages. Our technology uses the context, the environment and the previous dialogue to predict which general phrases can make sense at the moment.”
Additionally, the Russian MoD is also considering which assault rifle system to integrate into the RATNIK programme. A decision, according to defence sources, is expected to be made towards the end of 2016 with candidates including Kalashnikov’s AK-103, AK-104 and AK-105 weapon systems as development of the third generation soldier system continues.
According to MoD figures, a total of 80,000 soldiers have already been furnished with RATNIK V2 ensembles as of the end of 2015.
In the US, the US Army’s Nett Warrior programme office continues to evaluate and enhance its offering with emphasis being paid to wireless technology, especially regarding night vision helmet mounted devices.
Speaking to Mönch at the Soldier Equipment Technology and Advancement Forum event in London on 15 March, US Army officials explained how 7,000 Nett Warrior ensembles had been delivered to soldiers with a further 10,000 in production. Specific user communities include the USSOCOM and Airborne Divisions. The DoD has published a target to reach the delivery of a total of 60,000 ensembles in the future.
Currently, the ensemble comprises a chest-mounted Samsung Galaxy S5 EUD; data power cable; PRC-154A RIFLEMAN Radio; DAGR; Central Processor; and conformal battery. Additionally, troops carry the Squad Power Manager 5590 allowing four batteries to be recharged simultaneously as well as solar chargers and the Thales Modular Universal Battery Charger.
The Future of Powering Radios
After a series of new contracts for its LIPS batteries for the Australian, Danish, Canadian, and New Zealand Armed Forces, Lincad unveiled to MT its battery design used in Thales’ Squadnet Radios at Eurosatory 2016. The radio was designed by Thales to provide secure communications, over an extended range. The new battery has a life of 28 hours. It is highly flexible when it comes to charging as it can be recharged by power sources with a USB port (e.g. laptops, power banks, and solar panels). This battery greatly extends the radio’s and the squad’s autonomy, thus reducing the logistical footprint and the implications this can have in a combat area.
It was in November 2014 that Lincad was approached to undertake this time-critical project, which required the rapid generation of design and test data, and regular development gateways to minimise project risk. Lincad’s flexible working methods enabled the company to commence the preliminary project tasks immediately. Lincad has been able to call on its existing, well-established supplier network to provide the necessary piece parts to begin prototype build within only six weeks of receiving the go ahead. Approval to progress the design was achieved in late January 2015 with progression to an approved prototype build standard in early March 2015.
Next to batteries, Lincad produces a range of chargers for its own range of LIPS batteries and, with the most recent additions to the product portfolio, the CARAVEL Mk2 and Power Scavenger, is now able to charge non-Lincad batteries of any electrochemistry. The Power Scavenger is Lincad’s all-purpose solution to mobile power management in any situation where reliability, light weight and ease of use are critical. It charges different battery types of any electrochemistry from any DC input such as solar panels, a vehicle or other batteries.
Significant interest is also being made to the integration of specialist applications or “apps” into Nett Warrior with the Joint Fires community based out of Ft. Sill seeking to use it for Precision Fires Imagery. Such a capability is expected to be fully integrated into Nett Warrior by the end of Financial Year 2016, army sources explained to Mönch.
Additionally, the programme office continues to consider additional apps for parachute insertion navigation; sniper ballistic calculators; tactical combat casualty care; foreign language translation; heat traces; and Pocket Forward Entry Devices.
Meanwhile, the US Army Materiel Command’s Communications/Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) continues to consider how dismounted soldiers will operate in the so-called “Day Without Space” when GPS-reliant equipment could be disabled.
The centre is considering what it terms “Vision-aided Navigation” solutions using miniaturised cameras capable of shooting rapid frame rates of imagery and geo-referencing technology to recognise progress of a soldier against reference points. However, camera technology must be integrated with Inertial Measurement Units (comprising gyroscope and accelerometer) currently in service which rely upon the kinetic movement of a soldier to track his speed, time and distance between waypoints. Information from the camera will serve to minimise any errors caused by IMU technology, CERDEC explained.
Describing how soldiers’ reliance on GPS data, which could be interfered with, remained very high, CERDEC officials explained to Mönch how it continued to design and develop technology capable of supporting alternative solutions should so-called Near-Peer adversaries with mature Electronic Warfare capabilities, employ any type of GPS-jamming operations. To date, CERDEC has devised a vehicle-mounted system with plans to work up to a double-camera or stereo solution. Additionally, it continues to organise urban environment testing in order to deal with more rapidly emerging landscapes especially when operating in mobile configurations as opposed to foot. CERDEC is also collaborating closely with the US Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate in order to take advantage of other sensor technology including Thermal Imaging cameras, particularly suited for low light operations.
US SOCOM Picks iPhone 6
Illustrating significant market change in July was the US Army Special Operations Command’s (USASOC) decision to swap Android smartphone technology for Apple’s iPhone.
The iPhone 6S will be running the iPhone Tactical Assault Kit (iTAC) software as a replacement for a Samsung device running the Android Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK) that is prone to freezing when running demanding applications streaming live video on a split screen, for example. The decision affects the special ops version of the service's Nett Warrior SA and mission command system.
According to USASOC, Apple’s iPhone 6S will become the primary EUD for the Tactical Assault Kit, the US SOF variant of the US Army’s Nett Warrior concept. The move, industry sources explained, is associated with the dislaying of Full Motion Video feeds from airborne assets, as well as capability to simultaneously display geo-intelligence material on the same screen. The TAC is currently integrated into a Harris AN/PRC-152A handheld tactical SDR.
Replace Every Handheld with the Harris FALCON III RF-335M-STC
In September 2015, <Harris won an IDIQ $390 million contract to deliver a new handheld radio for USSOCOM with deliveries starting in September 2017 throughout 2020. At SOFIC 2016, Harris was showing the new radio for the first time: FALCON III RF-335M-STC, a multi-channel handheld radio with Mobile Ad-hoc Networking (MANET) and crossbanding capabilities. The plan is to replace every handheld with this new product. It was developed in cooperation with TrellisWare.
Attached to this radio can be a third L-3 expansion module for ISR Full Motion Video – so a Forward Air Controller/JTAC holds three radios in one very capable and small handheld (15.24x5.08x7.62cm; 1.22kg). Trellisware is responsible for the TSM-X MANET Network. It is capable of 200+ nodes (functionally unlimited), and every radio also acts as receiver and relay, so communications is also possible in tunnels, caves, ships, etc. The whole system is self-healing and auto-configuring.
Overlapping UHF and SATCOM band availability in both channels offers flexibility for any tactical use. Radio 1 offers VHF (30-88 MHz, 118-512MHz and UHF 225-51 MHz) as well as MUOS SATCOM, while radio 2 offers UHF (225-450 MHz) with a power output of 5W and 10W for SATCOM and L-Band 1300-2600 MHz. Data can be sent with 16 Mbps and Harris’ multi-channel DENALI security architecture is used. The architecture allows up to 16 independent talk groups, the user can choose who he wants to listen to. Also for the first time ever a SAASM GPS was integrated in a handheld radio, enabled by new smaller GPS receivers. The full-duplex MUOS waveform should be available the first half of 2019.
The display of this handheld is twice as tall as previous Harris handhelds, enabling the status of both channels to be viewed at a glance. The radio is submersible up to a depth of 20m, even with the L3 ISR module on. Thanks to a 19-pin-ADF, even a USB connection is available along with both audio channels. As a part of the contract a 50W vehicle adapter will be delivered.
Finally, the global soldier modernisation market continues to closely monitor USSOCOM’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) programme, which is set to unveil a Technology Demonstrator in August 2018. The five-year development programme was initially triggered to provide enhanced mobility, protection, lethality and connectivity to dismounted Special Forces operators, particularly during urban warfare. However, the concept continues to develop and consider a multitude of future soldier technologies, which could yet be rolled out into the Nett Warrior programme or elsewhere.
According to Richard Hansen, former Program Manager for Nett Warrior at the US Army’s PEO Soldier, long term thinking of the army and USSOCOM will feature the integration of autonomous deep learning machines and systems for big data analysis; human-machine collaboration to support decision making processes; and assisted human operations by exoskeletons.
Addressing delegates at SOFIC 2016 on 24 May, US Navy SEAL Cpt. Baker, programme manager at USSOCOM’s Joint Acquisition Task Force, explained how the effort aimed to allow operators to, “stay left of the bang,” benefiting from enhanced situation awareness. Acknowledging how TALOS comprised a much broader application than just direct action operators, Baker explained how future technology aspects included the development of smaller form factor communications devices and antennas, as well as batteries and NVGs.
The JATF, which comprises operators from USASOC, Naval Special Warfare, and MARSOC, as well as industry partners, is also considering the development of MANPACK power sources and a baselayer system comprising embedded biometric sensors to act as an “interface” between the operator and TALOS suit. Simliar to ongoing Russian efforts, Baker also revealed how the JATF was considering how to oeprate technology while keeping both hands on a weapon system with voice activated commands being considered alongside more traditional options such as C4ISTAR hand grips.
Baker explained how TALOS could provide a toolkit capability for operators, similar to the SOF MOD kit for the M4 assault rifle, allowing them to tailor the suit based on threats and opportunities.
“Some of this technology can get to the battlefield much sooner than the August 2018 deadline,” he concluded.
Soldier modernisation programmes continue to transition towards more piecemeal procurement efforts as opposed to more traditional holistic programmes encountered in the early 2000s. Such an approach is now seeing more next generation technology being fielded with frontline units, which will only benefit soldiers and whet their appetite for the next leap in technology as the contemporary operating environment continues to evolve yet further.
Peter Donaldson and Andrew White, with additional comments by DPM