Digital soldiers

The modern militaries are getting trained to fight a conventional war which has highlighted the need to develop skills necessary to effectively conduct operations in any state-on-state conflict, characterized with force-on-force engagement.

As traditional forms of warfare continue to develop and military operations become more complex in both scope and approach, the modernization of soldiers in order to combat such changes is an important focus point for militaries around the world.

Today’s conflict situations require a transformed soldier capable of dealing with hi-tech war that will be short and intense plus contending with fleeting opportunities including by terrorists or non-state actors, who are getting more and more sophisticated. For future conflicts, the infantryman must be a man-machine-technology mix, a weapon platform with adequate firepower, self-protection, night fighting capability and mobility. He should have the ability to ‘see’ the enemy much before.

The modern fighting force is required to face new and complex combat scenarios including urban warfare and peacekeeping missions, as well as low intensity and asymmetric conflicts. Force protection is a prerequisite for mission success, irrespective of the complexities of the situation. Innovative solutions for detecting, reacting, countering and eliminating threats are required, which provide soldiers with enhanced situational awareness. The dismounted soldier faces a wide variety of threats including small arms fire, IEDs, and attacks from rocket propelled grenades. For the dismounted soldier, recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have emphasized the need for improved surveillance equipment, protective gear, small arms, and communications equipment.

One of the main challenges in the modernization of today’s armed forces is adapting to the digital battlefield. This implies controlling intelligence, information and communications across the entire battlefield.

Modernization of soldier systems to protect, mobilize and empower the soldier has resulted in an exponential increase in the total weight being carried. The combined weight of equipment prevents them from being agile, mobile and effective war fighters and lives of soldiers are being put at risk as heavy lifesaving equipment is often being left behind. Reducing the weight of soldier equipment without compromising protection and combat performance is another important challenge for the soldier modernization industry.

When it comes to survivability, most major militaries are anticipating a continued rise in urban and irregular warfare, which in turn is calling for a rising prioritization for mobility over general protection.

In soldier modernization programs, a shift is being witnessed towards smaller and lighter systems as the weight being carried by soldiers is increasing. Some form of electric power is required in electronic systems used by war fighters such as night vision goggles, personal computers, unmanned vehicles and smart munitions. Historically, the military’s energy needs were met by a basic standard carbon zinc “D cell” battery or the AA batteries, the same technology powers a flashlight, however, the reliance on electronics systems as a force multiplier, is driving the demand for greater battery power.

The power requirement for the dismounted soldier is also growing at a rapid pace with battery consumption at an all-time high and with the industry looking at alternatives, with no major breakthrough in sight. Defense agencies worldwide are focusing on sourcing and integrating the most affordable, lightweight soldier equipment and technology to reduce the burden to personnel.

The current modernization efforts are focused on developing lightweight equipments including armored clothes, camouflage patterns, weapon platforms, radios and even computers. One of the main aim of futuristic soldier modernization programs around the world is to lighten the load for the soldier in battle, which will subsequently enhance survival rates and operational effectiveness.


Most of the major militaries are undertaking their individual soldier modernization programs in order to upgrade their troops’ capabilities in response to the evolving war scenarios including asymmetric warfare and fighting in urban environments.

Just as India’s economy is expanding, Indian government is looking to bring cutting-edge 21st century technology to its armed forces. Indian MoD has been supporting various modernization initiatives of Indian Armed Forces including many hi-tech future warfare programs. Once such program undertake for Indian Army is the FINSAS project.

The Indian Army’s Future Infantry Soldier As a System (F-INSAS) program, which is to ensure a dramatic increase in lethality, survivability and mobility while making the soldier a self-contained fighting machine, is based on the Land Warrior system of the US Army and Future Soldier Programs of other nations.

The F-INSAS is being developed in three phases; Phase I-comprising weapons, body armour, clothing and individual equipment, Phase II-the target acquisition system and Phase III comprising the computer sub-system, radio sub-system, software and software integration. The F-INSAS will provide the infantryman with latest weaponry, communication network and instant access to information on the battlefield. It will include a fully networked all-terrain all-weather personal-equipment platform, enhanced firepower and mobility for the digital battlefield of the future.

The core systems of F-INSAS comprise helmet and visor, clothing, weapons and accessories. The helmet is an integrated assembly equipped with helmet mounted flash light, thermal sensors and night vision device, digital compass, video cameras, computer and nuclear, chemical and biological sensors, with audio headsets.

Developers have been under pressure to reconcile a lighter load with the ‘soldier as a system’ concept, including the need to weave cabling and battery packs into clothing. Specifically, India’s intention of providing Palmtop computers, fire proof undergarments, health monitoring sensors, and integrated respirators and sensors for chemical protection will all add to the ‘on board’ hardware requirements.

The Indian soldier’s helmet will be made of a lighter-weight composite material so that it balances out the additions of the added, visor, camera and internal communication system, but still protects from 9mm carbine rounds and shrapnel.

It is possible that armored clothing could include a shear-thickening capability that not only disperses the impact of a gunshot or blast, but could potentially harness and transfer that energy for its own internal energy system.

The Indian Army intends to complement its new weapon platforms with a range of high-tech equipment for its infantry soldiers. This equipment includes a new helmet with mounted thermal sensors and night vision, as well as cameras and chemical and biological sensors. The helmet will have an integrated visor with a heads-up display (HUD) capable of outputting images with the equivalent space of two 17-inch computer screens. Other proposed accessories include a full battle-suit with a bullet-proof and waterproof jacket, health sensors and even solar charging devices. This kind of personal energy generation could be used to power the soldier’s HUD and sensor systems, as well as a wrist-mounted Palmtop GPS system that will be used to increase battlefield awareness and act as a networked messaging system between battalions and their commanders.

One of the main aims of F-INSAS is of course to combine a host of soldier-mounted technologies with the aim of creating a new generation of Indian infantry with better communications, lethality, survivability and situational awareness.

The F-INSAS roadmap, laid out by Indian defence officials at the project’s outset, states that the new system will be supplied to eight to ten infantry battalions (up to 10,000 soldiers) soon, with all battalions fully upgraded by 2020.

A significant number of countries are investing in the development of their domestic solider modernization industry by establishing strategic alliances and technology transfer agreements with established global manufacturers.

The defence procurement agencies of various countries are constantly updating the various manufacturers on potential future requirements in fields of lethality, survivability, C4ISR, sustainability and mobility. This makes it absolutely essential for the leading military nations of the world to routinely invest in science and technology as well as research and development in order to ensure they maintain their technological edge


The French soldier modernization program, is the most successful program among the countries that had adopted the total system approach. This success can be attributed to the effectiveness of the supplier to meet the needs of the end-user.

FELIN (Fantassin à Equipements et Liaisons INtégrés) is the first real integrated system for dismounted warfighters, with a number of innovative solutions that optimize the infantry soldier’s operational and decision-making abilities. FELIN is an integrated suite of state-of-the-art equipment that addresses all operational requirements: protection, mobility, weapon use, autonomy, observation, communications, command. Qualified for use in airborne, urban, desert, jungle and mountain environments, the FELIN system includes: combat gear, weapon and scope, eyepiece for around-the-corner sighting, multifunction binoculars, communications system, terminal information system.

The system focuses on the soldier’s basic functions. The scope enables night attacks within weapon range. And each soldier has his own radio, the RIF individual network. Using a processing unit connected to a small screen, the soldier controls his energy source, image transmissions, the interface between all components and radio links. He also has an osteophonic headband that transmits sounds via vibrations, enabling him to communicate while still listening to his surroundings. The radio is of course fitted with a GPS receiver, which periodically indicates his position to command units.

The combat gear is light, strong, practical and ample, for greater wearing comfort. It also enhances safety by reducing the wearer’s thermal and visual signature. Other advantages include its fire-resistance and modular ballistic protection, adapted to each mission.

Due to the around the corner sighting eyepiece on the helmet, soldiers can observe without exposing themselves. They can see their weapon’s line-of-sight remotely, and, if applicable, display the image from their weapon scope on their computer.

Safran, the prime contractor for the FELIN project has also developed the SIT COMDÉ (Système d’Information Terminale du COMbattant DÉbarqué), a sort of laptop for the platoon leader, who can display his men’s position and the photos they send him. Using this touch tablet, he receives instructions from command units, gives orders and writes reports.

COBRA  program

Brazil’s through its COBRA program is well advancing in developing its solution for a networked individual combat system.

The main objective of COBRA project is the integration of technology to improve the capabilities of the fighter and his survival.

Since 2007, the Brazilian Army has studied soldier modernisation, looking at several international  programs like FELIN, Land Warrior and others. The project was implemented in order to avoid a capability gap appearing between the Brazilian army and other armies. COBRA is a program designed to expand capacity in the areas of protection, lethal capability, survivability, communication, mobility and observation. Everything needs to provide greater efficiency.

The aim behind Cobra program is to enhance the situational awareness of the soldier in terms of time space and intelligence which is separate from the second category of command and control which is defined as interoperability and interconnectivity in the tactical environment. Other objective includes modularity, capability enhancement to existing capabilities and the application of technology to solve the problems being faced.

COBRA is an individual combat system but must be still network connected and linked to central command, improving the soldier’s efficiency in communication, positioning and navigation, firepower, protection and survivability. Work on these categories is divided into two broad areas: electronic systems and monitoring and secondly new materials in terms of protection and lethal capacity. Brazilian Special Forces are closely involved in COBRA’s development.

Within its genesis, COBRA’s future capability will be built around six modules, defined as collections of specific equipment, used to increase skills. Each module provides that necessary to be used by soldiers in action. A module consists of different equipments according to the mission and capability. The modules create capacities or increase existing ones.

In developing the protection module the COBRA programme is making particular use of indigenous capability with clothing and protection. Everything the soldier carries load carriage and belongs to the survivability module as part of the logistics systems.
A new 5.56mm weapon will also be acquired and its on board sighting systems will also contribute to the observation abilities of the system such as the target acquisition device. Observation capabilities will also be added to by Brazil’s new wheeled armored vehicles.


The Netherlands’ VOSS (Improved Operational Soldier System) is a combination of a process and program.

The subsequent definition, pre-study and study phases have now been completed and the three separate projects that come under the VOSS umbrella are at different stages of progress. VOSS project consists of three separate projects: E-Lighter; Smart Vest and Integrated Head Protection (IHP).

During the program’s Pre Study Phase (2009-2010) the project team conducted a market survey on both the Smart Vest and on the Integrated Head Protection separately, to obtain more detail on the quality of equipment, price and the possibilities on the market. Regarding the E-Lighter, the focus was on the preparation of a new contract in order to begin final development.

The E-Lighter will be part of the VOSS energy portfolio. The E-lighter is a diesel powered fuel source, carried by individual soldiers. The E-lighter presents the energy supply for longer missions.

In 2012, the procurement focus shifted on the Smart Vest. This comprises several elements; a C4I system including, radio, display, GPS and computer; an energy supply subsystem including batteries and connectors and thirdly a load, carriage and protection system including hard and soft ballistics, carriage vest, hydration system and rucksacks.

The Smart Vest is the core of the Dutch VOSS project as it provides improved situational awareness and overall effectiveness as well as improved protection for the individual soldier. After contract signing, the realisation of VOSS will begin with a pre-serial production and evaluation in 2013-2014, followed by serial production and implementation from 2014-2017.

IdZ-ES program

Germany’s Infanterist der Zukunft (IdZ) system is essentially a two stage program which begun in 1998 as an experimental effort, leading to the first fielded system, the Basic System fielded in 2005.

Earlier the basic system was more or less the workhorse to learn what is really needed. After the first approach Germany realized that a fully integrated system was too heavy and the soldier as a human could not withstand that fully integrated system in a harsh environment. This ended in the requirement for the so called Extended System (IdZ-ES). It is not an extension of the Basic System but something totally different. The project team also tailored the requirement and it is now a totally modular systems concept.

Also focus was given on all the different infantry missions; mountain, airborne, dismounted and also armored infantry; the grenadiers. This is the critical point that this system cannot be in one set up to all the different users. It is also not individual equipment but fits the complete squad.

The IdZ-ES systems is designed for a 24 hour high intensity mission and a secondary 72 hour mission and the ensemble is literally a bottom-up design, beginning from underwear through various layers and sub-systems with everything adapted to the system including integration with the vehicle and Battle Management System (BMS).

The key tests for IdZ-ES were six main functional tests mainly which focused on clothing, protection and carrriage systems, with the last identified as the bottleneck.  

When the initial system was put together, the maximum weight was 72kg which could be more than the bodyweight of some soldiers and operationally unacceptable. A decision was made to split the system and to provide a 110l backpack required for airborne users and others requiring additional loads.

The core of IdZ-ES is the Basic Equipment, equipping every soldier. This comprises the complete battledress, load carriage systems, helmet with integrated digital magnetic compass so that the map is always in the right orientation in the soldier’s direct view, independent helmet mounted display, night vision goggle with a built in display and third hand display which is also the main operational unit for the computer.

This is linked to data and voice UHF radio IP based and hybrid GPS inertial navigation. The system is powered by two batteries with two sets necessary for a 24 hour mission. When in a vehicle, each soldier plugs into the vehicle’s systems at single point, updating C4I data, recharging batteries and using the vehicle GPS so that they have a constant accurate position location, with a three second delay when they leave the vehicle.

Soft ballistic protection on IdZ-ES is Class 1 upgraded to Class 4 with ballistic plates which are offered to soldiers in at least three different sizes to ensure a good fit. The IdZ-ES helmet is a new design with an all in weight requirement of 1.4kg, fully equipped with electronics including a DMC at the back. The Modular Clothing for IDZ is flame retardant, features protection against insects, includes multi-wavelength camouflage and also has NBC protection.

The IdZ-ES system has been designed for rapid information input; three intuitive button pushes are all that is required activate the laser range finder, display it in the situation map and share it within the squad as object mark in the look-through-display.

FIST project

The Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) program is the flagship procurement for the enhancement of the UK’s Dismounted Close Combat (DCC) capability.

FIST has adopted NATO’s five areas of capability enhancement; C4I, lethality, mobility, survivability and sustainability to manage and categorize improvements to the mission effectiveness of eight man sections, comprising two four man fire teams. The program is committed to a Dismounted Close Combat capability, primarily for high intensity conflict but adaptable to the demands of the less severe peace-keeping role.

The FIST program covers the development of all areas of technology for the dismounted infantry soldier and emphasizes the integration of systems. FIST will provide the soldier with improved situational awareness, lethality and survivability. The systems will be assessed on a measure of improved capability and on soldier friendliness with ease and comfort of operation.

The five main areas of capability are identified as C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence), lethality (weapons and sights), mobility (navigation, size and weight of equipment), survivability (clothing, stealth, body armor) and sustainability (logistical considerations).

A main strategy of the FIST program is that the infantry soldier is a key element of the UK’s network-enabled military force. The soldier will have a small encrypted radio that operates over a line-of-sight, short range to other members of his unit. The patrol leader’s radio will communicate with the forward operating base. The network system will reroute automatically to allow continuity of operation when a communications link is broken, for example when a soldier moves over a hill or ridge.

The soldier will have a global positioning system, a dead reckoner and map displays to increase his situational awareness. The use of helmet displays, wrist-mounted displays, hand-held and laptop computers and communications systems will be also be incorporated in the program.

The enhanced FIST lethality capability is mainly through improved sighting and weapons. The use of non-cooled observation and sighting systems saves weight and logistic requirements. Other weapons available to the soldier include MBT LAW and Javelin anti-tank missiles and high-explosive fragmentation grenade (HEFG) launchers.

To engage targets hidden in trenches or behind shelters, the soldier can measure the range of the target with a laser rangefinder.

The clothing will reduce the soldier’s visual, radar and infrared signatures as well as providing personal temperature control and environmental protection. The clothing might have built in wires or a type of wireless technology such as Bluetooth to interconnect the FIST components.

While FIST lies at the heart of the UK’s Soldier Modernization work, there are a number of other projects which contribute to an overall improvement in capability. The main ones are SSARF (Surveillance System and Range Finder), Sniper System Improvements and the Grenade Machine Gun and PECOC (Personal Equipment and Common Operational Clothing) in respect of clothing and development of portable power systems.

The demand for soldier modernization solutions will be driven by the continual digitization of the modern battlefield where many nations are fielding infantry who are capable of utilizing tools such as advanced navigation, as well as communication and targeting equipment. Technological advances in the fields of powered exoskeletons and fuel cells will also drive the soldier modernization market as leading military nations search for ways to minimize costs while deploying these advanced and hi tech technologies on the battlefield.