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Italy’s Future Soldier: The current status
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Italian flagItaly’s Future Soldier: The current status

Paolo Valpolini looks at Soldato Futuro as it moves into its industrialisation phase

Checking information on the 4-inches screen; most links are by cable in order to minimise interference and jamming problems. © P. Valpolini
Checking information on the 4-inches screen; most links are by cable in order to minimise interference and jamming problems. © P. Valpolini

With the signature of the contract for 92 preproduction sets, the Italian Future Soldier programme known as “Soldato Futuro” enters its industrialisation phase. Developed by a team of five companies led by Selex Communications, the other four being Selex Galileo and Larimart both part of Finmeccanica as the prime contractor, Beretta and Aero Sekur, the programme went through a technological demonstration phase in 2004 which led to the delivery of three prototypes in 2007, one per each configuration, team leader, grenadier and rifleman. These were put through a series of tests at the Italian Army Infantry School at Cesano, near Rome, which provided feedback used to modify wherever possible the prototypes before the second round of tests, which took place in March 2008.

Italy’s Future Soldier system’s pivotal element is the command and control system whose software is provided by Selex Comms and Selex Galileo and which runs on a Larimart computer using a standard man machine interface (MMI) 4-inch touch-screen (the section commander having an 8-inch screen,) which allows the user to receive and send pre-formatted and free text messages and to show digital maps, navigation menus and GPS grids. The computer, together with batteries and other electronic components, such as the GPS, are installed on the soldier’s back and linked through the so-called “e-vest” which contains all connecting cables, wireless links having been reduced to a minimum in order to minimise electromagnetic signature and jamming problems.

The vision system is based on an HMD where the soldier can see some of the information provided by the C2 system and by an LLTV for night operations. © P. Valpolini
The vision system is based on an HMD where the soldier can see some of the information provided by the C2 system and by an LLTV for night operations. © P. Valpolini

The helmet is equipped with a Helmet-Mounted Display (HMD) which shows information coming from the computer or the image provided by the Low Level TV camera mounted on the other side of the helmet, in order to maintain balance. The subsystem is provided by Selex Galileo and is known as NIMOS (Night Mobility Subsystem). The headset including the microphone are linked to the communication hub while a blood-pressure measurement system fixed to the soldier’s ear provides automatic health monitoring. The Individual Pocket Radio (IPR) operates in the 800-900 MHz range and provides a range of 1,300 m in ideal conditions; it ensures communications within the infantry section and allows the section commander to communicate to the section’s vehicle and through the vehicle’s radio, to upper command echelons.

Some of the problems which have been debugged following the first testing phase were linked to the previously described systems. The C2 software has been implemented taking into consideration most of the feedback, systems stability has been considerably enhanced, while considerable effort has been directed at improving the electromagnetic compatibility of various system components. The autonomy proved to be significantly less than the 24 hours initially required; however while a more realistic evaluation scheme based on different mission profiles is now being considered, requirements might also be lowered considering those adopted by foreign systems. The IPR’s range decreased consistently in urban areas; with options being considered to solve the problem, one of them being the adoption of an expendable node to be left on the ground in order to provide a better coverage of the area, while a reduction in frequency (to 400 MHz) might give problems due to the scarce spectrum availability and the coexistence with other radios working in that frequency range, already installed on board vehicles.

Clothing, ballistic and NBC protection systems will be the subject of deep changing in the pre-production kit. © P. Valpolini
Clothing, ballistic and NBC protection systems will be the subject of deep changing in the pre-production kit.
© P. Valpolini

Coming to the weapon, the Beretta ARX 160 assault rifle in 5.56 mm calibre has been developed as an integrated system with the GLX 160 single-shot grenade launcher and two aiming systems provided by Selex Galileo; the Aspis Individual Combat Weapon System and the Scorpio Grenade Launcher Fire Control System. The ARX 160 has a foldable stock and can be equipped with three different barrels, 10, 12 and 16 inches long, and with the longer barrel its weight is less thank 3 kg unloaded. The Aspis features an IR camera working in the 8-12 μm band with a 320x240 uncooled sensor and a 20x15° Field of View (FoV), a daylight black & white TV camera with a 640x480 sensor and a 10x7.5° FoV, a laser pointer with visible and IR mode, and a red dot sight with a x1 magnification; all these functions are packed into a sight which weighs less than 1 kg with batteries and which image can be send to the soldier’s HMD via blue-tooth link (with cable back-up).

The GLX 160 grenade launcher can be fixed underneath the rifle barrel while the Scorpio aiming system is fixed on the left Picatinny rail; equipped with a laser rangefinder and a ballistic computer which allows it to obtain the elevation to hit a static target in less than 1s and elevation and lead angle against a moving target in less than 3s. The Scorpio, which has a range of 400m, allows a dramatic increase of accuracy when firing a grenade. The overall weapon system was successful since the first trials, although some minor ergonomic adjustments are being carried out within the industrialisation process to further improve the overall system.

While the GLX 160 will be issued to the two grenadiers who are part of the Italian Army infantry section, the section commander will be equipped with the Lynx target acquisition system; this allows to identify a target and compute its grids, and to pass over the picture and the grids to higher echelons via the Future Soldier system. It features an uncooled IR camera with the same sensor used in the Aspis but with a 12x9° FoV, a colour daylight TV camera with an 8x7° FoV, a laser rangefinder with a 4,000m range, a digital magnetic compass and a GPS receiver, and weighs less than 1.9kg.

The Future Soldier programme also includes many other items in the ballistic protection, NBC protection and clothing fields. According to the first field tests these items will have to undergo considerable modification in order to respond to the Army requirements. Some decisions still have to be made, such as merging in a single element the combat vest and the e-vest, while the NBC protection suit which was originally a two-piece item might become a single-piece item. Different fabrics are also being sought while further developments of the NBC respirator and of other items such as ballistic eyewear are also on the list.

Despite any possible delay arising from review of requirements and technical solutions related to the NBC and clothing components, the C2 and weapon subsystems are planned to be ready for acceptance tests by year end in order to complete these tests in early 2009 and to provide the kits to the Army within the second quarter. All the equipment will be assigned to the USD (Unità Sperimentale Digitalizzata) base in Altamura, in southern Italy, which is the unit earmarked for carrying out all testing related to battlefield digitization. The USD will receive soon the first Freccia wheeled armoured infantry vehicles, which are the first Italian Army vehicles developed from scratch as digitized platforms, as well as Ariete MBTs, Dardo IFVs and Centauro armoured cars, all equipped with the SICCONA command, control and navigation system which was jointly developed by Selex Communications and Otomelara. Autumn 2009 might prove to be the moment of truth for the Italian Army digitization programme, when USD soldiers will be able to start tactical trials of the new equipment aiming both at validating the systems and at verifying the evolved doctrine developed by the Army Staff.

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