The contemporary operating environment’s hybrid mix of regular and irregular warfare continues to be illustrated around the World with state and non-state actors employing a diverse range of Concepts of Operation (CONOPS).
Such CONOPS range from information operations involving a cyber dimension, through to kinetic strikes designed to create strategic, operational and tactical effects. Many of these CONOPS continue to be executed in highly contested and congested urban, suburban, subterranean and littoral environments, as well as more remote and inaccessible areas of the world. This means that armed forces must be well trained and sufficiently equipped to successfully execute such operations. All this must be achieved in an environment where any loss of human life remains unacceptable to taxpayers subsidising the operations, particularly in the West, where some elements of civilian populations have become increasingly critical of military action as a means to resolve security concerns.
Within such a delicate operating environment, Counter Insurgency (COIN) operations remain highly prevalent missions for armed forces seeking to conduct internal security operations at home and abroad. For example, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS) recent attacks in Brussels on 22 March 2016 representing ISIS’ shrinking presence in northern Iraq and Syria, as the US-led air campaign against the movement in this part of the Middle East, coupled with Russia’s air campaign in operation since late last year, continue to push the movement out of areas it controls in both these countries.
However, despite these recent incursions into Western Europe, similar COIN operations continue to be conducted abroad with conventional and unconventional forces performing campaigns across multiple environments including tropical, desert, mountainous, cold weather and temperate climates. Each of these pose different requirements for armed forces operating in extreme climatic conditions.
Elsewhere, recent Russian involvement in Syria has led to a resurgence in the importance of combat identification systems for friendly forces and enemy forces across the battlefield. Although not working in collaboration with the US-led Operation INHERENT RESOLVE, which commenced in June 2014 to neutralise ISIS’ presence in the Middle East, Russian air forces and special operations units on the ground have been forced to de-conflict with US and coalition counterparts in order to avoid ‘Blue-On-Green’ collateral damage.
Speaking to delegates at the Soldier Equipment Technology Advancement Forum (SETAF) in London on 14 March, representatives from the German, UK and US armed forces described “urgent” requirements for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) members to address interoperability issues including combat personnel, vehicle and base location identification. One such defence source explained to Armada, “We won’t be fighting on our own so there is pressure on us to deliver a rudimentary common identification system. We can’t afford not to look at this and we have to do it quickly,” it was explained while referring to the 2019 timeframe for an initial operating capability across the alliance.
Meanwhile, the growing nature of multi-national and multi-agency campaigns is also creating further considerations for armed forces to consider with NATO’s Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE held in Spain in November 2014 representing the first time representatives from the defence and security industry had been fully integrated into such an exercise. NATO commanders view their participation and feedback in such iterations as critical in fulfilling future armed forces requirements as combat units continue to suffer from ongoing financial constraints.
Also present at the event was Richard Hansen, former programme manager for the US Army’s Programme Executive Office-Soldier Warrior, who warned delegates, “There is always a lot of focus on platforms. But really it comes down to the individual human who is part of that system and comes out the back of that platform.” Moreover, defence sources at SETAF explained to Armada how security priorities continued to trend towards more homeland security and counter nuclear proliferation efforts which threaten to overshadow the requirements of dismounted soldiers at the lowest tactical level. No matter how uncertain the contemporary operating environment remains, what does remain assured are the areas in which current and future armed forces requirements will be focused moving forward.
Power, particularly when mobile, remains a critical issue for soldiers as commanders continue to place more emphasis on the integration of more and more Command and Control (C2) systems in order to maximise situation awareness across the battlefield. Although not yet mainstream (Special Operations Forces are currently dabbling in this field), renewable energy sources such as solar power and fuel cell technology look set to play an important role in this area.
As previously mentioned, C2 remains a critical component for dismounted forces, particularly in contested and denied environments against so-called ‘near peer’ adversaries with more mature technology. Concerns for the capability to maintain seamless communications and connectivity in a Global Positioning System (GPS)-denied environment continues to dominate research and development work of armed forces with increased interest in Mobile Ad Hoc Network (MANET) systems communications as units seek to minimise reliance upon Satellite Communications (SATCOM).
An ability to deliver lethal effects remains integral to much of the work of the armed forces, be it as a deterrent or as a practical course of action. However, ongoing research and development by academia, industry and military organisations appears to be agreed on how best to optimise it, via enhanced precision. Meanwhile, next-generation weapon systems appear unlikely to deviate from contemporary assault rifle and bullpup designs. However, the market is seeing increased adoption of suppressors (Sig Sauer appears to be one of the first to integrate a suppressor into its MCX rifle) while armed forces worldwide continue to monitor US Department of Defense (DoD) consideration of a calibre change from 5.56mm x 45mm to 6.5mm or 6.8mm ammunition.
More than a decade of NATO and Non NATO Entity (NNE) operations in Afghanistan certainly did its best to nullify member states’ desire for enduring campaigns, endless expense and climbing casualty rates. Protection of deployed forces remains a high priority for force elements while a balance must be made with regards to appearing confident in the security measures of indigenous host armed forces who could view the carriage of overt high levels of individual armour as indicative of poor attitudes towards their own security measures.
The market has yet to witness the proliferation of liquid armour and current upgrades continue to comprise reductions in the size and weight of armour plate inserts by way of manufacturing improvements and the utility of new materials. Such enhanced protection comes at a price as continues to be witnessed with the US Special Operations Command’s (USSOCOM’s) Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) which is working to develop new wearable technologies for commandos. In line with many other soldier modernisation programmes currently being facilitated globally, USSOCOM’s Joint Acquisition Task Force continues to juggle mobility and agility with the integration of additional body armour, sensors and weaponry.
Finally, armed forces appear to be paying attention to the human factors and ergonomics associated with the integration of weaponry, power solutions, C2 sensors and payloads, and protective solutions. Not only does this include ergonomic fits of technology and clothing but also efforts to assist the soldier to lower heart rates to improve marksmanship and physical performance, an area hitherto not focused on by defence ministries and departments beyond Special Operations Forces. Each of these factors previously listed will help shape the future soldier and their effectiveness to operate across a battlespace which is continually shifting and providing ever increasing and evolving challenges, all of which will be considered in the following articles in Armada’s Soldier Modernisation Compendium.
by Andrew White