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By Adam Baddeley, Deputy Editor, BATTLESPACE

06 Feb 07. The Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) Prime Contract Management Office (PCMO), will decide in the next few weeks whether to proceed with just one or an additional solutions, for the programme’s C4I ‘Level B’ trials, recently begun which will end in March. The trials will be used to finalise the communications element, the FIST System Requirement Document (SRD) prior to a Main Gate decision, expected in the second half of 2007.

Two teams have already been briefed on why they will not proceed to this 30-system trial; an ITT/Cobham team using the Soldier Radio and the new Integrated Digital Soldier System (IDSS) and a Selex Communications solution understood to be using the H4855 Personal Role Radios and H4880 Soldier System Radio and their Infantry Soldier Situational Awareness Tool.

Neither party disclosed details of the PCMO’s briefing as to why they were not asked to proceed to the next stage.

It is however understood that while the ITT Soldier Radio had excellent range, it fell down on occasion when the radio dropped out of network and then reappeared, the IP address was not re-established eliminating data transport, although voice communications were maintained. Selex are understood to have submitted questions to the PCMO based on their initial brief and are keeping options open.

This leaves Wearable EPLRS solution also matched with the Cobham IDSS and Thales package using BOOTS software, a Thales Norway based wearable computing solution and a radio system comprising two Vector Tetra radios. The two combinations were used in ‘Extended Level A’ trials, which took place in December. The Raytheon/Cobham solution has already begun deliveries of its system to the PCMO.

At this stage the PCMO have opted not to mix and match comms and C2 systems, continuing with the same combined radio and C2 suites solutions that were tested by the PCMO and ITDU over the week long Level A evaluations undertaken by each of the teams during November. The EPLRS/Cobham solution will see essentially the same system with a new antenna and rely on the radio’s embedded GPS rather than that within the IDSS with the addition of a monocular device to improve night performance.

A key issue for the SRD deliberation are issues of range and more specifically, whether this can or should be met via an ad hoc network.

It is understood that while the Vector solution has a simple point-to-point range advantage over the Wearable Microlight, the latter’s ad hoc networking however allows it be extended by routing information through other radios in the network. Routing traffic across several Microlights would outrange a single Vector and provide superior area performance, although individual soldiers would still drop out of the network if they moved outside the Raytheon radio’s inherent base range. The issue underlines the complex trade studies now being undertaken.

Thales are developing Vector to support simultaneous voice data and ad hoc networking protocols for FIST and other SMP opportunities.

An argument being articulated in favour of the Microlight path for FIST-proper is that while there is some UK reticence to buying into the legacy EPLRS waveform, the next generation SCA compliant hand held EPLRS will be able to run the Soldier Radio Waveform, reflecting the Army’s interest in the DoD’s choice for their dismounted comms system.

It all provides an interesting backdrop to the latest FIST industry day on February 8th, when DCC TL Col Peter Rafferty formally outlines FIST’s new revised strategy.

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