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Volume 18 Articles

Ultra Electronics logoUltra Electronics CombatConnect

A soldier wearable power & data architecture

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The need for improving how we fit electronics onto the soldier is well understood. Poorly integrated items of equipment and the batteries required to power them can actually inhibit a soldier’s ability to fight. Finding a way to reduce this burden has been the driving force behind Ultra Electronics CombatConnect system, which provides an open, lightweight, scalable, power and data architecture. Working with a team led by UK MOD, Ultra has helped define the Defence Standard that future soldier systems will have to comply with that provides a truly open systems solution.

The UK MOD Land Open Systems Architecture (LOSA) is a mandated approach for systems integration and interoperability in the military land domain. LOSA brings together the Generic Architectures (GxA) that are being developed for soldiers, vehicles and operating bases. Over the last 10 years, Ultra Electronics has worked closely with the UK MOD on all of the technical steering groups to define the standards within the LOSA framework, and also the overall LOSA concept itself. Use of an open system enables cost effective integration and ease of interoperability of a large number of varied devices and sensors on vehicles, bases and soldiers, using respectively Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA), Generic Base Architecture (GBA) and Generic Soldier Architecture (GSA).

CombatConnect’s flexible layout can be arranged for any garment or vest
CombatConnect’s flexible layout can be arranged for any garment or vest

Ultra’s CombatConnect is compliant with the Generic Soldier Architecture (GSA) defence standard (Def Stan 23-012) achieving fast, cost-effective integration and utilisation of up to ten wearable devices on the soldier. Easily fitted into any vest or garment, CombatConnect’s lightweight processor is connected to device ports (distributed about the garment) via robust flexi- circuits. Each port has both power (9-36V) and data (USB) connectivity.

CombatConnect has intelligent power management, that allows devices to be supplied from a central power source (typically a Lithium Ion battery), making use of technologies such as wireless charging to extend mission operability. Each port can individually switch power to and from the central power bus, providing the user with control of which sources and loads are connected. In addition, each port also provides overload protection as well as real time monitoring of power consumed.

Each data connection is also routed to the central processor, which uses an efficient service based middleware (Lean Services) to allow devices (never intended to be connected together) to seamlessly integrate. For example, a GPS-denied tracker can be used with a military mapping application with neither end knowing what they are connected to. New devices can be added quickly and easily, with updates possible “over the air”. Ultra has already integrated radios from Harris, Selex and General Dynamics as well as a range of Military/COTS GPS, and End User Devices such as tablets and smartphones. Commercial technologies such as gesture control, smart glasses and drones as well as the latest technology in personal health monitoring and body-worn cameras have also been integrated and trialled.

CombatConnect is optimized for tactical use by the dismounted soldier, providing a distributed environment without central servers which can work across a radio network of variable quality/bandwidth. This powerful feature allows devices worn by different users to be accessed remotely, giving an enhanced Dismounted Situational Awareness (DSA) capability.

Ultra believe that CombatConnect offers a key component in the realisation of the benefits of any future DSA system- increased operational tempo, improved operational agility, improved operational effectiveness, reduced fratricide and collateral damage, more efficient force application in a combined, joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational command (CJIIM) organisational context. The improvements delivered by enhanced DSA and more efficient power management will contribute to reducing the burden on the soldier.

It is envisaged that CombatConnect will be used across the infantry company group (armoured, mechanised, light; Royal Marines and RAF Regiment) and can be used down to the individual soldier, especially if individual physical monitoring and location indication is required. The difference between soldier and commander (fire team, section, platoon and company) would be the radio and/or End User Device employed. CombatConnect has wider utility across the Combat, Combat Support and Combat Service Support elements of the Joint Force but the greatest benefit will be felt within the infantry.

Despite being originally designed for military applications, CombatConnect also has applications in Blue Light & Emergency Services, and has recently been fielded with both the Police and the Fire Brigade, who have similar Situational Awareness requirements.

CombatConnect has been selected by several international military customers and has recently been chosen to take part in the UK Army Warfighter Experiment where Ultra will use its technology fitted into the new Virtus body armour system to integrate a full DSA solution.

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