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British flagFIST pushes ahead

Continuity and change in the UK’s soldier modernisation project

FIST must be flexible enough to deal with any future operational environment. © AJB  
FIST must be flexible enough to deal with any future operational environment.

The Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) programme is the flagship procurement for the enhancement of the UK’s Dismounted Close Combat (DCC) capability. With the first Increment of integrated capability scheduled for fielding from 2010, and staggered Main Gate decisions this year and next, the enhancement to British soldiers, airmen and marines undertaking the most arduous combat tasks is gaining pace.

FIST has adopted NATO’s five areas of capability enhancement; C4I, lethality, mobility, survivability and sustainability to manage and categorise improvements to the mission effectiveness of eight man sections, comprising two four man fire teams. The programme 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.

In a statement the DCC IPT said, “While FIST lies at the heart of the UK’s Soldier Modernisation 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, all of which have been the subject of recent announcements, PECOC (Personal Equipment and Common Operational Clothing) in respect of clothing and development of portable power systems. We have begun concept definition work on a modular and agile future family of small arms.”

  FIST must operate independently of, but synergistically with vehicles. © AJB
  FIST must operate independently of, but synergistically with vehicles.

Thales UK were selected in March 2003 as the prime contractor for FIST’s Assessment Phase (AP), for an initial 32 month contract, with the subsequent AP(X) phase seeing the completion of selected COEIA work. DE&S confirmed that, “The Thales PCMO remains under contract and will support the FIST Assessment Phase up to Main Gate. Subject to Main Gate approval, Thales will continue as the prime contractor for the first increment of FIST.” FIST’s anticipated schedule has moved slightly to the right. “We plan to seek Main Gate approvals for Surveillance & Target Acquisition at the end of 2008 and for C4I during the first half of 2009. Decisions on subsequent timescales, numbers and costs will be made at the respective Main Gates.”

FIST has adopted incremental acquisition, with details of planned iterations become more apparent in the past 12 months with Increment 2 for example planned from 2014 integrating amongst other new capabilities remote sensors and C4I improvements. This approach will require change to the conventional procurement process. The approach will be to run assessment phases for later increments in parallel with demonstration and manufacture phases for earlier ones. “This will require a more agile approach to management of the overall programme. A systems engineering approach will be applied to soldier modernisation through the Individual Capability Group.”

FIST’s Initial Operating Capability is also prompting a ripple effect in other procurements as they adapt to the changed and enhanced capabilities, not least in the area of training and synthetic environments. The MoD’s Dismounted Close Combat Trainer (DCCT) is one example of this. “DCCT will be a key part of the training system for FIST, especially the Surveillance & Target Acquisition and lethality sub-systems, and integration requirements definition work is in hand.”

The importance of C4I has been supported by extensive AP and APX trialling. © Thales  
The importance of C4I has been supported by extensive AP and APX trialling. © Thales  

Over several years a view articulated by programme officials from many countries involved in soldier modernisation, is that it could be advantageous to pursue joint procurement of modules and capabilities for Solder Modernisation Programmes (SMP). In practice however, this has had limited traction in actual procurement strategies now being implemented by FIST and equivalent programmes overseas. DE&S offered their perspective on why this is, “Different doctrines, concepts of operation and requirements among nations lead to significantly different solutions. We have no current plans for joint procurement, although we may buy sub-systems used on other SMPs if they meet our requirements.”

A whole fleet management approach for FIST has now been decided upon, likely to be balanced by providing some elements universally as it the case with current individual equipment. “FIST in service will be managed to suit the requirements and the contemporary operational environment. This will include whole fleet management and may also include a conventional approach for certain items.”

The FIST requirement is clear that the programme will remain a firmly dismounted programme, operating independently but synergistically with any platform it is required to work with, “Where a platform is part of the section ‘system’ then it must be part of the FIST network in order to support the dismounted element effectively. At the same time we will seek to exploit the potential platform contribution to FIST situational awareness and power. However, FIST will be fully capable of supporting extended dismounted operations and will not be dependent on vehicle support.”

Troops are being asked to carry large loads in extreme environments, particularly in Afghanistan. “Operational experience shows that a load carriage target of this order is a significant challenge. Soldiers are routinely fighting while carrying 50kg or more, and even when opportunities arise to save weight they may elect to substitute the saving with more ammunition or water. The FIST weight User Requirement centres on minimising the weight increase over baseline rather than setting an all up weight limit.”

Load carrying, clothing and protection will be vital in this equation. The IPTs responsible for FIST and PECOC maintain a close and continuous liaison, facilitated by a common Requirements Manager. The Director of Equipment Capability (Ground Manoeuvre) is the sponsor for both projects. These arrangements are designed to ensure effective integration of the FIST and PECOC requirements, with PECOC focussing on improved protection, learning from current experience in theatre.

This article was written with the input of the Dismounted Close Combat IPT

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