Europe's soldier systems of the 21st century leave the past behind
a summary of the future soldier systems in europe. while it all sounds well & good, opswarfare feels that an important point is weight. modern warfare dictates a much higher tempo of operations than before, with the soldier on the ground having to cover more ground. weight is a penalty in this area, with every kilogramme added a liability, reducing endurance and increasing fatigue, eventually reducing combat effectiveness. as the saying goes, light is right.
Update (23 April 2011)
eDefense no longer online. Full-text from www.archive.org
Europe's Future Infantry
Europe's soldier systems of the 21st century leave the past behind
by Michal Fiszer
Mar. 25, 2005
The challenges of the 21st century will require a new type of soldier to fight its wars. Low-intensity conflicts characteristic of the global war against terrorism and prolonged stability operations are much different than the full-scale wars of the 20th century. Industrialized, mechanized warfare stressed numbers and attrition, both of men and materiel. If current conflicts are any guide, wars of the 21st century will place much more emphasis on the skills and kit of individual infantrymen. It is interesting to note that aside from weapons, the line soldier's gear has not changed much since WWII, particularly compared with "upscale" systems such as aircraft, armored vehicles, warships, guided weapons, and command-and-control systems.
Can a soldier be a system? The answer is yes. A human being can be treated as a self-propelled combat unit, armed and equipped with that most effective of mission computers – the human brain. As in the case of fighter aircraft, the individual soldier-system can be integrated with useful sensors, navigation systems, communications, and means for "friend-or-foe" identification. Or, rather, "friend-or-foe-or-non-combatant" identification, speaking in terms of 21st-century warfare.
And as in the case of combat aircraft, room and payload capacity for additional soldier equipment is very limited, so every item has to be carefully evaluated as to whether it adds sufficient capabilities to justify the penalty of encumbrance and cost. The most difficult aspect of this calculation is measuring the degree to which the "synergy" of a soldier's equipment fit enables capabilities that are more than the sum of its components. We can create a system around a soldier, and such a soldier will be able to fight much more effectively than a current soldier loaded with various more or less useful items, ranging from gas masks, ammunition, grenades, compass, helmet, frag-jacket, spare meal rations, and fresh T-shirts. And even better, when we take such soldier systems and, as "subsystems," integrate them into squad- and platoon-level systems, connected by voice and data networks, these tactical formations can be lethal and highly survivable combat assets (see "Dressed for Success"). In fact, the squad and platoon "system of systems" will be the most effective tools for commanders tasked with executing missions on the low-intensity battlefields of the near future.
Some countries in Europe have started to recognize this transformation. Individual approaches might be different, but the basic requirements and basic avenues of development are much the same. The lessons of modern war learned by those militaries that have experienced it, when properly analyzed, must lead to similar conclusions. These, in turn, drive requirements for so-called future soldier programs.
The first requirement can be illustrated through a story that I witnessed myself during my military career. A column of 10 BMP-1 armored personnel carriers (APCs) stopped in a small village in the vicinity of the large Drawsko Pomorskie training range in Poland. Three officers, looking somewhat confused, unfolded a map and started a vigorous discussion about their location. A 10-year old boy, observing the scene, turned to his father and said: "Dad, why don't they just ask us for directions?"
The story illustrates the first and most basic challenge confronting any infantryman of the past, present, or future: "Where am I?" In the 20th century, answering that question was the problem of commanding officers. An officer's men followed him into a full-scale conflict scenario, and theirs was not to question why or worry about where. In low-intensity conflicts, in which problems of location are compounded in a battlefield that is most likely a built-up or urban area, each individual soldier will almost certainly be isolated from his platoon leader by a house or a wall at some point during a fight. At night, he would be even more alone, with friends unseen even a few meters away, just around the corner or across the street. A map and compass is never enough since the required accuracy can be counted in meters and 20 meters away would position a soldier on another street or in another garden than where he should be.
This leads to the second challenge of the infantryman: "Where are my friends?" To be alone in combat is the last thing any infantryman wants. Soldiers are expected to provide mutual cover and supplement each other's firepower. Knowledge about the position of all colleagues in a platoon greatly helps in the recognition of who is a friend and who is the enemy. GPS navigation and integrated communications and computing systems enable the plotting of platoon members on a map display.
When all friendly soldiers in a team can accurately locate themselves and their colleagues, the next question is "Where is the enemy?" The "first see, first shoot, first kill" rule is well known among air forces, but it can be applied to the infantry much more literally. In a traditional full-scale war engagement, infantry in trenches created a "wall of steel," using its firepower to repulse the enemy's assault or to support own forces advancing. Being hit or achieving a kill was more a matter of an incident than anybody's specific intent. Areas were targets, not individuals. In urban warfare, when distances are measured in meters rather than hundreds of meters, individual fire is aimed at particular targets and carefully executed – as much as we can use the term "carefully" in the heat of combat. Targets in urban environments tend to emerge for a short while, as the enemy's combatants (rarely soldiers) run from one hiding place to the other or expose themselves to take a shot or a look at the scene. Many of these engagements take place at night, when darkness helps in achieving surprise and supports those who know the terrain best. Therefore, night-vision and thermal-imaging devices and sights are essential.
The next important question, especially in face of an unexpected attack, is: "What should I do?" It is a responsibility of the team leader to tell his subordinates what they should do. For centuries, commanders at the platoon level have used their own voices to communicate with their troops. This has always been a problem given the terrible noise and distractions of the battlefield. But in an urban engagement, some soldiers are searching a house, some are providing cover for them from one street, and the rest are on another street – and the platoon leader has to maintain contact with all of them. Reliable communications are essential for any military activity. Now every soldier has to carry a radio for voice communications and has to have his hands free to carry a weapon.
Finally, there is the question every soldier asks in combat: "Am I safe?" Survivability is the main focus of any "Soldier of 21st Century" program. The threshold of what constitutes "acceptable losses" in warfare has come as close to "none" as it is ever likely to get. All of the aforementioned means and technologies contribute to solving this issue. The observer's eye is drawn to the intriguing body armor that characterizes many of the future soldier programs. But ideally, the synergy created by the array of technologies involved in the future soldier's kit will make him safer so that protective materials are a last line of defense.
Germany's Infanterist der Zukunft
The German Armed Forces are reorganizing to meet future requirements, taking the emphasis off heavy armored divisions for homeland defense and placing it on lighter, deployable forces for out-of-area operations. The changes include new concepts of operations and careful adherence to the network-centric warfare model, at least with regard to deployable maneuver forces. To enable such operations, Germany formed two large tactical units: the Special Operations Division and the Airmobile Division.
Germany's deployable forces are first in line for new equipment and employing new concepts of operations (see "Germany Looks Outward With Bundeswehr Reorganization"). This is partially because they were less prepared for their intended mission than the "core" heavy divisions. Another reason is that demands are urgent and already existing, while the threat of a conventional conflict in the heart of Europe seems remote.
The main forces for out-of-area operations are drawn from the Special Operations Division, reformed from 9th Airborne Division. This formation currently consists of two airborne brigades (26th and 31st) and the Special Operations Command. The integration of the special forces into the tactical, deployable infantry units is something of a novelty, but it makes the new unit even more flexible and capable. Both airborne brigades are fully equipped with Wiesel APCs, most of them armed with TOW anti-tank missiles. Some of the latest and most important equipment that will enhance the capabilities of the light infantry and special forces are coming online with the introduction of the "Infanterist der Zukunft" (IdZ) soldier of the future program. The contract for the program covers delivery of 15 sets for a like number of 10-soldier squads, for a total of 150 sets. In July 2004, the first such system was handed over to the German Army by EADS Defense Systems (Ulm, Germany).
In addition to ballistic and nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) protection, the IdZ equipment consists of night-vision binoculars, GPS with a navigation calculator, and a personal radio. The night-vision device will be connected to a laser rangefinder. The weaponry of the squad will consist of standard G36 automatic rifles with 40mm grenade launchers and a 12.7mm heavy machine gun as a squad automatic weapon. The squad will also have portable anti-tank weapons. Every soldier will have a portable palm-type computer with a tactical-situation display, but these will be mainly passive systems for receiving data. The devices will be able to display the soldier's own position and the position of the other soldiers in the squad via GPS, positions of known minefields and danger zones, target positions and movement, and the enemies' known positions and situation. Additionally, the commander of the squad will have a portable laptop-type computer terminal. This will connect the commander to the overall command-and-control system (see "German FAUST C4I System Evaluated").
The first recipients of the IdZ system are to be the special forces. However, in the future it is anticipated that all airborne and light infantry units will be thus equipped. The system will greatly increase the combat effectiveness of infantry around the clock, especially during fights in difficult urban environments. Current conflict experience has shown that the biggest challenges are the engagements in villages and small cities, as terrorists and other guerilla-type opponents usually avoid big cities as they are too densely patrolled by numerous troops and security forces. Of course, there are exceptions, such as the al-Sadr uprising in Baghdad and Najaf.
It is not expected that "heavy" mechanized infantry will receive IdZ. According to EADS Defense Electronics, the system has been already tested in operational conditions – by special forces in Kosovo.
The French FELIN Program
In March 2004, the French defense-procurement agency, the Delegation Generale pour l'Armement (DGA), awarded Sagem (Paris, France) a contract for the development, engineering, and production of FELIN (Fantassin à Équipements et Liaisons Intégrées; or Integrated Soldier Equipment and Communications) systems that will become the standard equipment of French Army soldiers.
Under the $1-billion contract, the French Army will receive 22,600 systems, which will fully equip 20 infantry regiments, as well as an additional 9,000 systems for dismounted soldiers belonging to armored, artillery, and combat-engineer units. The first infantry regiment will be fully equipped by mid-2007, and by the end of 2008, two-thirds of the army's infantry units will have been equipped with the new system. The process will be completed in 2012.
Under the FELIN program, the weapons of an infantry section (three sections per platoon) will include FAMAS assault rifles as the basic infantry weapon, a MINIMI light machine gun, and a FRF2 sniper rifle. All weapons will have low-light TV devices for day and night observation. The sight of the FAMAS rifle (10° field of view) will incorporate a video camera (50° field of view) that will transmit images to a video monitor on the soldier's chest or to his helmet-mounted display. One soldier per section will have a thermal sight (10° field of view). Similar sights will be mounted on the MINIMI machine guns (8° field of view) and FRF2 sniper rifles (4° field of view).
The soldier's helmet, in addition to its protective function, will be fitted with optronic systems that will display images provided by the weapon-mounted video camera or the helmet-mounted thermal imager. The faceplate display will provide ballistic protection, as well as protect the soldier against non-eye-safe lasers. The helmet-mounted display will also be able to display warning symbols sent by other soldiers.
There will be communications systems that will establish a local combat network at the infantry-section level. A portable electronic terminal is the core of the FELIN system. Designed around a high-volume databus (USB 2.0), it will manage the power resources and signal exchanges between the various subsystems. The system also provides the access to higher-level battle-management systems. Such terminals will be carried by platoon leaders or all soldiers in special-forces groups.
Platoon commanders will be equipped with a multifunction (compass/telemetry and rangefinder) thermal-imaging monocular sight, providing an additional day/night observation capability, as well as the aforementioned computer terminals. France chose not to equip individual soldiers with an identification-friend-or-foe (IFF) system because of the weak operational performance of current technologies, such as interrogation lasers and response radios. However, IFF systems could be an option for the future.
The FELIN equipment, including clothing and protective material, weighs 25 kg, while the helmet weighs an additional 2.5 kg. The ammunition stock, water, and battery enables 24 hours of continuous combat operations. The present "core" capability is called FELIN V1, and there are plans to develop FELIN V2, in which new types of firearms will be incorporated, probably with modernized observation and sight equipment.
The FELIN system is very well suited for night combat and urban operations, as well as special operations. In the nature of current conflicts, there is a requirement that almost every infantry soldier be special-operations capable. We can see examples in the guerilla warfare and anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The FELIN system provides tools for soldiers to gain a significant advantage over semi-trained and poorly equipped combatants who would like to use night or urban areas to achieve tactical surprise in ambush-type encounters.
The UK's FIST Program
The UK's Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) program dates back to 1994. At that time, the UK Ministry of Defense (MoD) established a tri-service dismounted-soldier program initially called the "Future Fighting Soldier System" (FFSS). A three-year, jointly funded MoD/industry technology-demonstrator program has been completed, the lessons from which have now been applied to help define the future requirements for dismounted close combat and for risk-reduction efforts.
In its current incarnation, FIST includes an all-weather surveillance and target-acquisition capability (thermal imagers and remote sensors); power supplies; rapid area effects (a weapon, ammunition, and fire-control system that can suppress and kill the enemy with increased accuracy and ranges); and wide distribution of light and effective voice and data communications – aspects of which are currently being addressed under the Bowman program. The Bowman system will probably be integrated with a future FIST communications system at a platoon-leader level, which means that a platoon leader will have a Bowman interface enabling him to communicate with his commanders, while all the soldiers within platoon will have short-range communications sets to enable them to communicate within the platoon. However, various means of Bowman integration are being examined. Finally, the entire system is to be implemented with an eye toward logistics and sustainability in the field.
On March 12, 2003, Thales UK received a contract worth $28.5 million for the FIST assessment phase, with the aim of testing just concepts, not developing a system prototype. Thales UK used various types of off-the-shelf equipment, integrated into a single system and built around a soldier as an operator. The V1.0 tests were conducted in September-November 2004. They took place at the British Army's Salisbury Plain Training Area and involved some 70 soldiers, representing the organizational structure of an infantry company. Each soldier was equipped with a kit of experimental FIST systems, including radios, computers, GPS, weapons sights, and cameras.
The tests compared the capabilities of a soldier carrying currently used gear and a FIST-equipped soldier. The trials demonstrated significant time reductions in performing activities such as reporting, navigation, casualty finding, and communication of tactical information. The study also showed the potential for reducing casualties. In addition, FIST-equipped soldiers suffered less from fatigue and strain than their non-FIST-equipped colleagues.
Further trials (V2.0 tests) are to take place in October-November of this year. Until that time, the outcomes of the V1.0 tests will be evaluated, and some of the aspects of the program will be decided. One question is how many different standard system layouts of the system should exist within a platoon. The other challenge is assessing the combat value of individual pieces of equipment against their weight and cost. After a thorough analysis, the V2.0 tests will be conducted using an equipment configuration close to the final requirements of the FIST program. The outcome of these tests will then form the basis for setting final program requirements for industry bids. This process is expected to be complete by September 2006, after which industry will be invited to submit proposals for a prototype FIST system.
After testing of the prototypes of FIST system, a major commitment to full-scale production is to take place in 2007. Full operational capability of the selected system is expected between 2015-2020. At this stage of the project, it is anticipated that approximately 29,000 individuals across all three services (Royal Marines, Infantry, and the Royal Air Force Regiment) will be issued FIST equipment.
The Dutch Soldier Modernization Program
The Dutch MoD treats the improvement of soldier capabilities as a "moral duty," to provide personnel sent on missions abroad with the best tools to reduce losses and to enable them to complete the mission. The latest Dutch Defense White Paper says exactly that: "A prosperous country such as the Netherlands is able to give its soldiers the state-of-the-art materiel they need to limit their risks and increase their effectiveness. In new procurements, [issues of] the safety of the personnel, the capability to limit collateral damage to civilian targets as much as possible, and round-the-clock action will be given priority."
For its future soldier program, the Dutch MoD has decided on what might best be termed a "gradual approach" as opposed to the "systems approach" pursued by other armed forces. The Dutch Soldier Modernization Program, begun in 1998, is an ongoing effort consisting of multiple steps over which a soldier's capabilities will be improved. By June 2000, the Dutch MoD was able to organize its Soldier 2000 Demonstration for NATO, which triggered NATO to set up Topical Group 1 On Soldier System Interoperability. The main objective of the group is to ensure that the systems developed by individual countries will comply with NATO standards and interoperability requirements. As such, Topical Group 1 – which, at last count, formally consists of 27 NATO countries – is not to provide the basis for any common program. Instead, national programs should be constructed in such a way that the NATO armies will be able to conduct multinational, combined operations, maintaining levels of cooperation and interoperability in combined formations as demanded by the alliance. Most of the countries that have joined Topical Group 1 are still far from even launching their own soldier-improvement programs. Some of them will never do this alone, mainly due to the lack of industrial capabilities (such as the Baltic states, for example) and would rather seek international cooperation or join an existing program. Such a posture has been, among others, presented by Denmark, which is interested in the UK's FIST and other European programs, to develop a solution suitable for Danish Army.
According to military analyst George C. Marshall, the NATO Topical Group 1 identifies five capability areas: mobility, lethality, sustainability, survivability, and command and control. For the purpose of the Dutch Soldier Modernization Program, these areas have been translated into five distinct modules: clothing, equipment, communications and information, armament, and power supply. After these basic areas were defined, it was possible to develop more detailed requirements to embark on the more "technological" parts of the program. There are collectively known as the Dutch Dismounted Soldier System (D2S2), sometimes called the Dutch Digital Soldier System.
The Communication and Information Module (CIM) is to form the core of the D2S2. As Marshall wrote, the CIM is likely to contain a "soldier computer," GPS, digital compass, personal radio, and an energy grid. Navigation functions of the CIM will enable a soldier to orient himself and will provide his position information continuously. The communications functions of the CIM will enable voice communications within a platoon. Additionally, the wireless connection of every CIM with the Battlefield Management System in the platoon's command vehicle will offer more possibilities. For example, it will be possible to display elements of the tactical situation on a soldier's laptop or helmet-mounted display. The detailed concept has not yet been finalized, though. The CIM is to be developed by Thales Communications (NL) and is to enter major field trials conducted by the 13 (NL) Mechanized Brigade at Oirschot starting in the summer of 2006.
In keeping with the "gradual approach" philosophy, other pieces of equipment are being procured separately and are to be integrated into the Dutch Soldier Modernization Program. The MoD purchases limited numbers of a specific type of equipment and then subjects them to brief, intense trials by the user in operational circumstances to determine its added value. Examples are a rapid-aiming sight for the DIEMACO rifle, a hands-free radio for infantry units, and the Thales Lion uncooled thermal-imaging system.
Dutch efforts initially concentrated on elite forces, such as special forces, Marines, and airmobile units. It seemed to be justified, since these formations are tasked with the most complicated and dangerous missions. However, it was soon discovered that the approach was too limited. In real operations, such as those experienced by the Dutch in Iraq and Afghanistan (see "Dutch AH-64D Apaches at War"), all of the soldiers deployed in the combat zone are exposed to serious threats and need improved capabilities to survive and be effective. Thus, the scope of the program will soon be widened to cover regular infantry. Dutch military forces are now fully professional (i.e., there is no conscription), and the expansion of the program should not be difficult.
The Swedish MARKUS (Markstridsutrustad Soldat; Ground Warfare Equipped Soldier) program was launched in 2002 and is, thus, one of the newest European programs of this type. According to Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters, the project is aimed at finding technical solutions that improve a dismounted soldier's capability without resorting to a "Christmas-tree system," in which equipment is hung on the soldier.
The project is currently in the study phase. Interestingly, the Swedish concept, in contrast with almost all other similar European projects, focuses on homeland defense rather than on overseas operations. This might change however, when a common European Foreign and Security Policy is implemented. Sweden, in terms of military involvement, is a neutral country, although it is a member of the European Union. As of now, though, the Swedish Armed Forces are expected to provide self-sufficiency in the defense area, and their main objective is to defend the country. Only then can consideration be given to assist other nations in maintaining peace and stability in the world.
Currently, the MARKUS program is concentrated on evaluating methods to prepare the proper set of detailed requirements for the system a whole and its individual components. This project is led by Colonel Per-Eric Gustavsson, commander of the Jämtland's Regiment at Östersund. He is assisted by Lieutenant Colonel Christer Olofsson, who heads the department of development at the Army Combat School in Borensberg. The work has so far resulted in the following priorities:
1. Communications within the squad
2. Combat at night and in reduced-visibility situations
3. Determining one's own position and the positions of other squad members
4. Pointing out targets to others within the squad
5. Pointing out targets to others outside the squad
6. Sending and receiving data and graphic information
7. Differentiating friend from foe
8. Acquiring improved thermal-signature masking and better ballistic protection
The evaluation phase of the project will be completed in 2006. A report will be submitted stating the principles of design and technology upon which Sweden's future soldier should be based. In addition to this, the report will offer suggestions as to the order in which base capabilities should be developed and integrated. Only then are any contracts for developing real systems to be expected.
A Russian Soldier of the 21st Century?
It is very difficult to make a proper assessment of Russian future soldier programs. Officially, the Russian MoD has stated that studies are being conducted, but currently there are higher-priority programs being developed and implemented across the Russian Armed Forces.
However, Russian sources wishing to remain anonymous have added some clarity to this enigmatic response. They confirmed that intellectual changes occur very slowly in Russian high command circles. Despite 25 years of real combat experience in low-intensity conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya, the Russian MoD focus is on strategic force capabilities, strategic defense, air-force programs, new tanks, new missiles, and the building of a common information network (a Russian version of network-centric warfare). The life of individual soldiers was never valued particularly highly in the Soviet Union, and this has changed little in Russia. One source, tongue planted firmly in cheek, suggests a typical Russian MoD statement would read as follows: "In order to fight international terrorism, being presently a goal of the highest priority, the procurement of six new ICBMs has been authorized."
The other problem is the conscript system on which Russian forces are still based. Only the 42nd Evpatoriyskaya-Krasnoznamennaya Guard Mechanized Division has been experimentally "professionalized," with career officers and all of its soldiers serving multi-year contracts. The unit, belonging to North-Caucasus Military District, is being successfully employed in combating Chechen guerilla forces, although only from early December 2004 as a fully professional unit. The "professionalization" of all of Russia's military forces has not yet been decided on, and there are strong opponents to the idea.
This being the case, a study group for developing requirements for the soldier of 21st century for Russia has to factor the existing conscript system into its requirements. Almost all the soldiers and junior non-commissioned officers – the foundation of any future soldier concept – are drafted. Moreover, many recruits are able to avoid military service or obtain for themselves posts in the less arduous internal forces, militia, border guards, and other public institutions. Usually, the best-educated young men living in cities are able to do this, so the military recruits are mostly villagers. Of the pool of recruits left for regular military service, the Strategic Rocket Forces pull out the best men, since the service standards in the nuclear forces are high. From among those left, strategic air defense and the air force take the best men, since maintaining the high technology associated with surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), radars, and aircraft demand so. Airborne and special force also make rigorous selections. Then the navy and marines make their selections from the recruit pool. The army has little choice, being the last in the chain.
Even now, although it is extremely difficult, the army has to take the best men from among those left to serve in communications, combat-engineer, anti-tank, SAM, artillery, and tank units. Infantry is the very bottom.
We are talking about hands-free radios for intra-platoon communications, when some Russian infantrymen from various autonomous republics do not speak Russian. We talk about reading a digitized situational picture and GPS indicators, when some Russian infantrymen do not know Cyrillic characters. So there is no little wonder that when President Vladimir Putin announced Russia's procurement plan for 2005 (which, by the way, is to be doubled from 2004), there are references to new ICBMs, new ships, new missiles and SAM systems, new tanks and APCs, and modernized aircraft and helicopters – but no mention of any soldier-modernization program. The Russian infantryman, alas for him, is likely to tread the battlefields of the 21st century in the boots – and kit – of the 20th century.