From counterinsurgency operations in Northern Ireland, to the battlefields and war-torn cities of Afghanistan and Iraq in the ‘war on terror’ era, British soldiers have increasingly found themselves engaged in close-quarter combat alongside their allies in difficult urban and semi-rural environments where they are not fighting a conventional force. Rather than being able to rely on traditional combined arms manoeuvres they have been compelled to engage in dismounted fighting – away from the usual battlefield comforts of close-air support, concentrated artillery fire and massed armoured formations working in tandem to create breakthroughs in enemy lines and exploit operational opportunities.

While this certainly says something about the changing character of war, it also highlights the need for military adaptation and to reinvigorate efforts to create cutting-edge capability for dismounted infantry. This will allow armed forces to deal with the challenges of the modern battlefield while still being effective within the context of fighting a conventional foe, should the need arise. But how will that capability be developed? And, once developed, how will the various pieces of equipment and technology the modern soldier needs be integrated – and become scalable – without imposing massive physical and logistical strains? The answer to that question is to create a modern British Army that is fit for the future and not the past.

LOSA to the fore

Enter the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) flagship Land Open Systems Architecture (LOSA) platform. Far from being complacent when assessing the emerging global threat picture, the MOD has often been ahead of the curve, seeking to blend technological advancements into the British Army’s tactical and operational dispositions. The aim is to enable it to dominate its enemies on the field of battle while avoiding encumbering the infantry and complicating their logistics.

The LOSA programme is composed of three synergistic strands: the Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA), the Generic Base Architecture (GBA) and the Generic Soldier Architecture (GSA). Together, they are designed to enhance land warfare capabilities by enabling flexibility through a modular, scalable and unrestricted technological approach, allowing the British Army to fight a variety of different missions depending on the varied parameters it may face.

Of course, these parameters do not necessarily have to be against unconventional foes engaged in an insurgency. For example – although it is too early for any complete and detailed operational breakdown of the ongoing war in Ukraine – preliminary analysis appears to suggest that, despite the use of conventional forces, Russian advances have been hindered by well-coordinated, Nato-backed and infantry-heavy Ukrainian defences. By failing to gain air superiority and by seriously underestimating their foes, Russian forces have been forced to engage in costly land battles and have been unable to hold onto what territory they could seize near Kyiv in the face of a determined Ukrainian defence – once more bringing to the fore how important advanced dismounted capabilities are.

While it has often been said that it is difficult, if not outright impossible, to predict the next war, the only indication military planners have to go by is usually the wars they have fought themselves, or the ones they are able to study. This, then, provides a special impetus for accelerating the GSA programme, as the next war may not necessarily be against a distant, low-tech foe, but could well be against a more experienced, professionalised and conventional enemy.

The GSA’s past

The GSA started life in 2012, as a result of the UK’s experiences operating in Afghanistan and dealing with the issues raised by attempting to adapt mounting numbers of third-party technologies in an increasingly digitised battlefield. From GPS navigation systems to satellite imagery, and thermal and night vision imagery to reconnaissance assets and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) acquiring targets, the modern battlefield relies on a multitude of different technologies to enhance the effectiveness of the modern front-line infantryman.

“The MOD has often been ahead of the curve and it has sought to blend technological advancements into the British Army’s tactical and operational dispositions.”

That is precisely the objective of the GSA programme – to enhance the lethality and survivability of British soldiers who are at the cutting-edge of battle, and therefore need cutting-edge technology. However, being more lethal while being harder to kill is not enough. Forces must also be agile with a reduced physical and cognitive burden enabled by technology. Therefore, the GSA’s Integrated Soldier System (ISS) aims to standardise the interfaces and protocols for the modern soldier’s loadout.

This has led to the development of the MOD’s Defence Standard 23-012, which sets out its approach to realising an open system architecture that will reduce the burden of equipment and power sources physically carried by soldiers to enable them to fulfil their roles. The standard not only covers physical and electrical guidelines of equipment integration for the defence industry to follow, but also how the GSA will work as part of the wider LOSA platform synergistically alongside GVA and GBA. This, then, lays out the rationale for why the programme has been initiated, and the path to achieve it. It also ostensibly allows the British Army to be competitive at all times, relying on combat readiness, nimble logistics and technological superiority and agility to be decisive. To achieve that, forces need to not only have the technological capability, but also the capacity to procure and integrate new technologies with minimal configuration. As Ric Green, GSA systems architect and the man tasked with designing the entire technological platform this future force will operate on, wrote in Soldier Modernisation: “GSA is focused on the personal soldier domain for an Integrated Soldier System, with the architecture specifying intra soldier requirements.

“These white papers are intended to provide an avenue for dealing with the practicalities of undergoing one of the most ambitious military modernisation packages in British history.”


The number of cuts to British Army personnel by 2025 following the MOD’s Integrated review in March 2021.


“The Integrated Soldier System has three main subsystems: the Torso, Helmet and Weapon, all of which have the power, data and physical interfaces defined with open standards.”

Middleware as software’s middleman

But what are these “open standards”? And how can the UK future-proof its efforts and ensure interoperability as part of multinational military alliances such as Nato? The answer lies in the use of middleware – essentially a set of common standards that allows systems to be extensible, enabling the GSA to add new features to an existing architecture without the benefit of hindsight. In other words, the British Army will not have to reinvent the wheel each time.

“Having a middleware that is open, built in a modular way and fully owned by the MOD is seen as critical,” Green wrote. The Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) middleware has been taken forward for consideration for final selection “due to its strong governance processes, maturity as a standard and its perceived low barrier for entry for software application developers and integrators”, he added.

MQTT is designed to make integrating with the GSA platform as seamless as possible. It will deliver a standardised application programming interface and a software development kit to allow third-party contractors to innovate technological solutions but to an existing architecture. According to Green, MQTT will also be enhanced to standardise the way messaging is exchanged on the system to future-proof it and enable intra-node communication. It was seemingly also selected due to its compatibility with GOSSRA, the EU’s GSA equivalent, and Nato standards, ensuring international interoperability in multinational deterrence operations or active warfighting.

While this all sounds like heady and ambitious stuff, it must have concrete application to enable the army to achieve its goals in line with policy. As such, the next phase of development will now undertake a series of white paper studies to address a number of practical issues, including: wireless data links between subsystems; optimising the soldier power supply chain while on operations; investigating the anticipated power demand for the 24-hour integrated soldier; and assessing whether it is technically viable to mandate GPS as a shared service across the GSA platform, among others.

These white papers are intended to provide an avenue for dealing with the practicalities of conducting one of the most ambitious military modernisation packages in British history. If successful, then the British Army will maintain and perhaps even enhance its effectiveness across a breadth of operations despite troop numbers being slashed by 10,000 by 2025 following the MOD’s Integrated Review of Security and Defence published in March 2021.

However, as with all great overhauls, there is a chance that the programme may be unsuccessful, or at least not as successful as intended. Arguably, senior policymakers are aware of this, which is presumably why Conservative MP, chair of the Commons Select Defence Committee and former soldier, Tobias Ellwood, urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to reverse the cuts to British troop levels in March 2021 – likely cognisant of the fact that modernisation alone may not be enough of a deterrence against a foe like Russia that is currently invading Ukraine.

In an increasingly insecure world where war is once again in Europe and therefore closer to home than at any point in recent history, the British government may be prudent to consider expanding its defence policy to have a plan B ready – just in case.