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Col. Bill Pointing, Dismounted Close Combat (DCC) Team Leader at DE&S discusses the way forward for FIST

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FIST Increment 1a is currently equipping 4 Rifles ready for deployment to Afghanistan © DoD
FIST Increment 1a is currently equipping 4 Rifles ready for deployment to Afghanistan © DoD

The Future Integrated Soldier Technology (FIST) Increment 1a achieved contract award in September 2009 and is in front-line service. The equipment was issued first to the Infantry Battle School in Brecon and then to 4 Rifles in Bulford who will take them to Kenya for an exercise in June.

Col. Bill Pointing, Dismounted Close Combat (DCC) Team Leader at DE&S explained, “The introduction of thermal imaging, supported by the proliferation of helmet mounted night vision systems has materially changed what people can do at night and the Lightweight Day Sight is, together with the Close Quarter Battlesight, proving to be genuinely popular because of the improvement in Close Quarter Battle (CQB) capabilities.”

That is not to say all is perfect with elements of the solution having a strong legacy feel to them. Pointing attributes this to the nature of Cat. A programmes and the time it takes to complete the process. “There are very good questions from the users about why we still have a Common Weapon Sight (CWS) with a CQB on the top. That is because that was what was available at the time that we went through the competition in 2008. The issue now is how we migrate to the FIST suite which is going to be with us for a good quantity of years and how do we make sure that we maintain the technology refresh. That is part of our discussions now with industry.”

How the capability is sustained is being actively discussed. Col. Pointing said, “There is a debate to be had between capability improvement and capability maintenance; driving down the burden versus stopping proliferation of different types of equipment. There is going to be a balance struck over the next couple of years with some wanting to have a single fleet of equipment because it is easier to manage, whereas others ask why we should buy the same items in 2016 that we down selected in 2008. We will have to consider very carefully how we decide between fleet commonality and getting the benefits or reductions in size, weight and power.”

Other FIST 1a work is ongoing. The 40mm Under-barrel Grenade Launcher Sighting System (UGLS) is supported by a quadrant sight with an EOTech sight which allows the user to select a range with pre-defined gradations. As part of the FIST 1a business case, a Laser Range Finder based solution was submitted with a decision point towards the end of 2011.

There is also a continuing requirement for additional numbers of FIST 1a equipment to meet training requirements. Col. Pointing said, “Some elements of the FIST 1a we need more of. The Lightweight Day Sight (LDS) has a 70mm eye relief and shoots differently to the SUSAT. If you talk to the Infantry Battle School or 4 Rifles they are doing a lot of the initial contacts through the CQB; you need to train to do that early in the training process so that it becomes automatic. There isn’t really much of point to first learning to shoot on the SUSAT and then converting to the LDS so we need more of them.”

What is next?

The next technological step for night vision is to field systems with fused Thermal Imaging (TI) and Image Intensification (II). We think that we will see inline, optically fused systems being available earlier than digitally fused solutions. Whilst this is still an emerging technology, first generation systems are being fielded in significant numbers by the US and the number of systems available commercially is also growing, allowing for trials and assessment of the technology using solutions from wide spread manufacturers.

Col. Pointing explained that work to understand just what this technology provides is already going on but noted that there was less certainty about the confirmed dates for availability of final products.

“We have an idea of what the actual items are out there and what they do. We know precisely what the art of the possible is based on TI and II and there are rather fewer real offers out there than you might think. There are some really interesting questions about what you are trying to do with fused weapon sights and for whom and how much you are willing to pay for it in financial (as well as size, weight and power) terms. You need to be really sure that you have it set at the right range, the right performance criteria against the right cost before you start issuing it. If it is too expensive, then it is not feasible and when you have total fleet requirement in the thousands, cost is important.”

Discussing how fused weapons sights might be first fielded, Col. Pointing said, “For the Green Army, fused weapons sights will come when they are affordable. Because of the nature of its use and fleet size, you might choose to roll ‘fusion’ out earlier to certain key users to see what the issues are but there isn’t a programme to do that at the moment. We also have to be careful of large ‘dustbin-like’ sights strapped to rifles in the pursuit of technology. We know that large sights stuck on rifles don’t stay there very long.”


The Situational Awareness capability that was to be provided under FIST 1b was last year pushed to the right and will instead be included in FIST 2 requirements due to be delivered after 2015. However, not all the issues that contributed to this rescheduling have been resolved although discussion of the issue continues. “It is a complex area,” explained Col. Pointing. “The issue revolves around management of spectrum and spectrum allocation which is a dynamic process. There is also a very real debate about spectrum allocation versus power, versus range, versus impact on the total system.”

There is also a question about the cost-benefit analysis that informs the relative prioritization of investment in the DCC capabilities. “If you are delivering a series of ‘-ilities’ why would you put all of your money into Command and Battlespace Management (CBM) and disinvest in the rest? CBM in the DCC space is not necessarily the battle winning edge. In a debate about the relative merits of investment in certain elements of the DCC suite, you have to start making some interesting trades between the size, weight and power of command and control systems against the needs of lethality, survivability or sustainability. Spending all your money on radios might not ‘cut it’ when you do your concept of analysis and prioritize your balance of investment. There are some hard ‘trades’ yet to be had in the programme and we are putting the mechanisms together to do that.”

Col. Pointing noted that many of the assumptions and assertions underlying dismounted communications, notably security and information assurance at the fire team level are both difficult to achieve and impose a high financial cost on DCC programmes.

The precursor to FIST 1b; ELSA is out of service. In both programmes’ place will be the Casualty Locator Beacon (CLB) Equipment Programme-funded Urgent Operational Requirement programme. “The FIST 1b requirement set was entirely. You don’t get to that requirement set after ten years work by accident and ELSA was also a reflection of that requirement set. The CLB is precisely the same thing but provides a number of improvements over ELSA. There are elements of the ELSA systems that carry over to CLB and in terms of its functionality CLB replicates elements of FIST 1b.”

In terms of lessons learned, Col. Pointing cited ELSA’s modules as being too large and with a wide variety of wires, batteries and boxes which aren’t replicated in CLB.

Col. Pointing explained that CLB potentially has a migration path to the emerging Land Environment Tactical CIS architecture work which will converge with the Bowman BATCCIS transformation in the second half of this decade. He noted that there is also an inevitable and natural tension between the needs of supporting operations today in Afghanistan and planning for the wider development of Bowman post 2015.

The debate on how DCC-level situational awareness (SA) is reconciled with the complexity of Bowman which must operate throughout the defence enterprise is, said Col. Pointing, “a really interesting question.”

“When you push a secret radio down to that level, your costs go up significantly as the number of those devices increases. Are we delivering a communications architecture that fully conforms to the requirements of passing information to higher levels or are we enabling DCC fightability? You can have the best communications in the world but if you can’t see a thing at night or the enemy can see further than you can, you have probably got your balance of investment wrong.”

Weight management

The long term goal in DCC is to reduce the combat burden of the soldier down to 30Kg. To that end the Reduction of the Burden of the Dismounted Soldier Initiative is continuing its research activities.

“Some of it is to do with quick wins; lighter magazines take small amounts of weight off but significant weight is driven by the protection levels and prompts the question of whether everyone should have the highest level of protection all the time.”

“If you make [body armour] infinitely modular, it comes with a weight cost because the more bits of MOLLE you have, the more complex it becomes. If you want to drive down burden, you start with a balance between infinite user choice and a reduced level of flexibility about where stuff goes. Mandating where the ‘boxes’ go allows you to route power through the vest and that allows you to achieve a spiral of benefit: when you can start distributing power around the load bearing equipment and body armour, you are getting much better power density and then you start scoring tangible weight benefits.”

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