SOLDIER TECHNOLOGY 2010
By Yvonne Headington
24 May 10. Equipment currently deployed with, or being evaluated for, UK Forces was prominent among the exhibits at this year’s Soldier Technology exhibition and conference (London Olympia,18-21 May 2010).
Thales featured the Miltrak situational awareness system, a version of which is currently deployed as part of the UK’s Enhanced Low-latency Situational Awareness (ELSA) system. Miltrak, along with the Company’s ST@R Mille radio, is being offered for the C4I requirement (Increment 1b) of the UK’s Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST). The prime contract for FIST Increment 1a (surveillance and target acquisition element) was awarded to Thales in September 2009 and an announcement on the C4I element is anticipated in the Summer. However, given the MoD’s current budgetary woes, this part of the programme schedule may well slip.
The Thales stand also highlighted the company’s involvement in a number of international soldier system programmes, including Norway’s NORMANS light version of the C2 soldier system. NORMANS is currently in the final development phase and is due to enter service in 2012.
Thales’ Rifle Input Control (RIC) device is being put forward for the ‘lethality’ element of Phase 3 of Australia’s Land 125 programme. The device attaches to the front grip of the rifle, enabling soldiers to control a variety of equipment (sensors, radios, computers) by pressing a series of buttons. A procurement decision on Phase 3 of Land 125 is anticipated in 2013.
QioptiQ, currently supplying FIST Increment 1a thermal weapons sights and image intensified weapons sights, unveiled two new products: Dragon and Merlin. Dragon Compact is the Company’s latest lightweight, multi-use thermal weapon/observation sight intended for dismounted close combat and Special Forces’ requirements. The device has been designed as an in line ‘clip on’ thermal weapons sight which allows the user to retain any existing day sight on the weapon.
Dragon Compact works with a range of optical day sights and can also be used as a stand-alone thermal weapon sight, providing x1, x2 and x4 magnification as well as on board aiming mark selection and zeroing capability. The long-range version of Dragon is aimed at section level and heavy support weapons, operating beyond a range of 2km.
The new Merlin family of night vision sights comprises short, medium and long-range variants for assault, sharpshooter and sniper rifles. The sights have been designed to provide a system capable of retaining boresight when subjected to harsh shocks.
Racal Acoustics, acquired by Easterline in January 2009, profiled the Personalised Interfaced Hearing Protection (PIHP) system first issued to UK troops deploying with 19 Light Brigade to Afghanistan in 2009. The digital custom-moulded earplugs are designed to provide ear protection against high volume impulse sound and vehicle noise, while enabling the soldier to remain aware of external environment sounds. Mini-microphones in the headset pick up external sounds but any loud noises are reduced to a safe level using compression technology.
The PIHP headsets take some getting used to and the MoD is said to recognise that troops need much longer than the current familiarisation period of up to 16 weeks before deployment. Over 10,000 sets have been supplied to date under an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) awarded in September 2008. In total, over 40,000 sets are to be acquired at a cost believed to be in the region of £10 million.
New In-The-Ear (ITE) technology from Selex Communications (Finmeccanica) was also on display. The hearing protection headsets, which can be supplied with generic or customised earplugs, are fully compatible with the Personnel Role Radio (PRR and EZPRR) currently in service with UK Forces. The headsets can be used with the Selex CTX Intelligent Radio Interface, a three-input