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  SoldierMod Volume 10 - Jan 2013
Volume 10 Articles

Country flagFinland: Technology Developments

Major Matti Honkela,
Programme Manager Warrior 2020

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In March 2012, it was announced that the Finnish Army had acquired a small number of dismounted soldier systems based around Elbit Systems PNR-1000A and its MARS Uncooled Hand-Held Thermal Imager and additional software. Photo: © Elbit Systems.
In March 2012, it was announced that the Finnish Army had acquired a small number of dismounted soldier systems based around Elbit Systems PNR-1000A and its MARS Uncooled Hand-Held Thermal Imager and additional software. Photo: © Elbit Systems.

Recent changes in the Finnish defence budget are seeing a cut in force levels; closing six garrisons and reducing the total number of mobilised troops from 350,000 today to 230,000 by 2015. Priorities though remain the same namely; number one is homeland defence, the second is aid to civil authorities and the third is Peace Support Operations overseas. Conscription remains too and with the limited time available to train these troops, territorial and manoeuvre forces are mixed with specialised units for specialist tasks. Finland is also building a new territorial warfighting concept testing new organisations and new material for those territorial units. In essence however none of this makes Finland unique as Major Honkela explains, “because of the limited military budget, we are struggling with the same problems as the other countries, trying to build up capability and keeping up the quality of troops with limited resources.”

Against this backdrop, Finland is to develop its future soldier programme; Warrior 2020, beginning in 2006 with the goal of having a fully operational system by 2020 without any teething problems or reliability problems. The process of addressing this has been divided into four sub-phases with Finland currently a little over half way through the process.

The process kicked off with the acquisition of modern exemplars of the key systems on the market covering night vision systems, assault rifles, simulators, ballistic protection and helmet systems. These were used in field testing during 2008-9 with the results used to develop concepts of what was technologically available.

The acquisitions were borne out of an inability to access the findings of other militaries in this area during the 1990s, although Major Honkela noted that Canada had made its test reports available.

The information - foreign and domestic, prompted Finland’s Ministry of Defence to fund the Supporting Situational Awareness through Wearable User Interfaces in demanding an operational environments study, better known as SAWUI. Starting in 2008, it was finalised in 2010. The logical continuation of that study was to start the so called Technology Programme 2010.

Finland intends to begin procurement of systems in 2014-17 with the budget for 2014 now being finalised.

Major Honkela outlined the approach, “In the very beginning we were thinking about the system as FELIN and IdZ are systems but with our limited resources, this is not a wise way to procure a system. At the same time, we decided to take a step by step approach.”

SAWUI was divided into a series of five Work Packages. Work Package 1 focused on information requirements for SA capabilities to support the squad and platoon leaders as well as the company commander. The requirements addressed the whole spectrum of warfighting, from territorial defence and manoeuvre warfare at home, to Peace Support Operations overseas. Work Package 2 undertook analysis of the user interfaces at the design. Work Package 3 focused on field testing both at the sub-system and ensemble level. At this stage, the BMS software used was an in house design. Work Package 4 consisted of theoretical work focused on visual and cognitive systems analysis and a multi-model user interface. Work Package 5 includes looking at the effects of stress, which in some cases saw soldiers carrying out tasks with FX Simunitions being fired nearby. Soldiers who had participated in combat in Afghanistan. Major Honkela noted a response from one soldier, based on his experience in Afghanistan, which he sees as getting to the nub of the issue, “Only the most important and necessary things were noticed, when you were in close combat and your life was threatened…”

Major Honkela also outlined the main conclusions from SAWUI on the needs for SA, “The BMS has to be absolutely trustworthy and reliable. If you get the wrong information of where the enemy is or where your own troops are, our soldiers will throw this kind of system away. It will also be good to have the same kind or similar system, especially for logistics and training aspects, so the system has to be scalable and tailorable for different approaches; squad leaders or forward observers or combat engineers role by changing the software or accessing different kinds of software.”

Major Honkela is also keen to emphasise the need for reversionary modes of operations, “We are training all of our soldiers to orienteer with a normal map and compass. In some of the armies that is a skill for special forces but we are still old fashioned so we train with that skill for every soldier. Then there are some concerns based on [the SAWUI study]. If soldiers rely too much on new technology, it might make them too passive. If they rely too much on these computers and if something happens to that then they won’t know where they are and they don’t know how to get information or orders... A well trained, skilful soldier is much more effective than a poorly trained solider with most modern high technology if he is not able to use them.”

The logical conclusion of SAWUI was to commission further investigation of the topics. This is being done via Technology Programme 2010. This was launched, Major Honkela said, “Because we want to prove the ideas. The goal for this programme was not to develop a unique Finnish system but to make us a much wiser customer for the future; to understand the technology and put it in a longer term perspective to understand the costs. It was done together with Finnish industry because it was a good opportunity for Finnish companies and universities to go deeper in the technology and, if they are smart enough and fast enough, they may be able to develop a product for the future.”

This programme was divided into four initial studies looking at sub-capabilities; integration and new energy solutions; C4I and BMS for low level units; Sensor Fusion and Target Acquisition and finally communication by using COTS solution.

In 2011 it was decided to add a fifth study, looking at addressing shortcomings in the current helmet.

The five studies Major Honkela argues, don’t add up to a ‘system’ as such, “We are not going to build up systems like FELIN or IdZ so for us it is very important to understand what a standardised interface is, not to make unique Finnish interfaces for the system so it isn’t interoperable when we are sending troops overseas.”

Nonetheless certain Finnish requirements will be unusual for instance, the lack of sunlight for part of the year makes deriving power from solar panels in Finland a challenge while the same troops overseas at the same time of the year could make great use of them.

Major Honkela outlined the main finding of Study Number 2, looking at low level battle management systems, “There is a core computer, Personal Role Radio connected to the system and a commander’s PDA. If soldiers like the PDA it could also be on the soldier configuration. We have also been working on simple user interfaces suitable for different levels. There have been good results.” For the study Finland has made use of equipment from Norway’s NORMANS programme.

Study Number 3 working with sensors fusion target acquisition, Millog is developing a prototype weapon sight based on sensor fusion. This comprises an integrated day sight, image intensifier, thermal sight, Laser Range Finder and Digital Magnetic Compass in one package. Initially this weighs 1.3Kg but the goal is to reduce this to sub-1Kg. This contrasts with around 3.5Kg for the weight if the items were carried individually.

The study is also looking at presenting the soldier with SA cues and simple messages to the sight.

Information from the sight, such as the location of a lased enemy vehicle would be able to be inputted to the BMS via a sight via a three button single user interface.

To examine the utility of COTS communications technologies Finland has enlisted local firm NetHawk and Canadian firm Exfo. To do this, a small base station was developed with which coverage was measured in a number of terrain types in Finland, using mobile phones adapted to prevent links outside the network, testing messaging, navigation and tactical communications in conjunction with testing of their susceptibility to jamming.

The fifth effort is Helmet Systems 2020 which was brought in during 2011 to address concerns about using the existing helmet in combination with communications and hearing protection. Major Honkela said, “The idea was to have a modular system so that it is a platform where you can integrate the different kinds of device. Communications systems are integrated into the platform and then there are also ballistic shells added against different kinds of ballistic threats. We are also testing so called ‘super hearing’ to hear better in difficult conditions and have an integrated ear and eye protection in the same helmet.”

Head mounted sniper detection systems will be studied but won’t be included in the demonstrator. The demonstrator will be developed further ready for final field tests in September 2013.

Major Matti Honkela was speaking at WBR's Soldier Technology 2012.

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