FELIN fine – equipping the dismounted soldier4 June 2014
With dismounted soldiers forming the backbone of every modern army, ensuring infantry troops have the very best equipment is a constant struggle for today’s military forces. Colonel Michel Maury of the French Armament Corps discusses the French Army’s investment in FELIN, including its performance to date and planned upgrades.
In May 2010, the first FELIN systems from a total order of 22,588 were delivered to the French military by SAGEM. An integrated infantry system that enhances close-combat mobility, lethality, survivability and C4I (command, control, computers, communications and information), France's dismounted soldiers are now among the best-equipped ground forces in the world. In total, the FELIN programme - including development, production, engineering and initial support - is worth around €1 billion.
While it provides infantry forces with enhanced combat abilities, FELIN's design also focuses on flexibility and human centricity. Ergonomics and intuitiveness are vital if the soldier's work is to be made easier by new equipment.
In January-June 2012, France's 1st Infantry Regiment was the first FELIN unit deployed to Afghanistan. In May that year, the 16th Chasseurs Battalion became the second. The new equipment received high praise from officers, along with stories of US soldiers being so impressed by the technology when they borrowed it from the French that they wanted to keep it for themselves.
Now, four years on from when the FELIN systems were first received by the French military, Colonel Michel Maury of the French Armament Corps reflects on how the equipment has performed so far, and where the French Army will take it from here.
What were the key ideas behind the creation of FELIN?
Colonel Michel Maury: FELIN is an armament system dedicated to the dismounted soldier. Its creation came from three main ideas:
- An integrated and global system should increase the capacity of dismounted soldiers to incorporate the technical performances of each device they use, and rationalising the whole equipment in terms of mass and power supply.
- Before FELIN, dismounted soldier equipment had some gaps in observation, communication or protection fields. Moreover, that equipment was not consistent enough and lacked integrated thought, leading to a possible lack of combat efficiency. It was necessary to stop the incremental equipment logic that had endured through decades.
- The need to connect the soldiers in inside the platoon, as well as the dismounted platoon, with upper level of commandment (C4I) in real time.
The equipment must be thought of as a whole - as a human-centric system that is global, modular, integrated and flexible according to the missions, while keeping the soldier at the heart of the system.
In addition to better sharing the information offered by C4I, FELIN gives new possibilities for dismounted combat, such as 'around the corner' observation and firing, combat in a CBRN environment and making combat by night similar to combat by day.
What is FELIN's key technology and why is it significant?
The key technology is the batteries, night observation and vision means (low-light imaging and infrared), radio link for voice, data and blue force tracking, protection solutions, and also wiring and clothing issues. The logic was to increase the collective performance of dismounted squads and platoons by improving the performances of individual soldiers.
The solution, in terms of equipment being operated and carried, must not increase weight or burden for the soldier. Consequently, the human factors, such as ergonomics and intuitiveness, are key drivers.
Moreover, the six core functions (observation, communication, mobility, lethality, survivability and sustainability) of armament equipment are not independent; they are linked. Only a system-based approach allows optimisation of these functions in a coherent way, which was a key approach for FELIN design.
Which aspects of the FELIN system have proved most useful in combat?
The FELIN system has been deployed since the end of 2011 in different foreign theatres, such as Afghanistan, Mali and the Central African Republic. The operational feedback notes special added value in: communication and observation devices; allowing shared and discreet cover of a controlled area; observation in large desert areas, especially by night - essentially, the early detection of operatives, allowing the driving back of attacks at FOB Tora in Afghanistan; level-4 ballistic protection for soldiers; robustness of parts; and increased clothing quality.
Are US or other NATO forces also purchasing FELIN systems?
For the time being, FELIN is the only system of this kind that has been mass produced and widely deployed. The prospecting of potential exports is ongoing, and some FELIN devices or related products, such as binoculars, are sold by SAGEM to other countries. In any case, the sale of FELIN systems or parts has to comply with exportation regulations.
How many soldiers are currently equipped with FELIN?
There are 13 infantry regiments equipped so far, which is about 10,000 soldiers. Eventually, about 18,000 will be equipped in total.
Do you envisage any future changes to the FELIN system?
The FELIN system is managed as a standard that allows evolution and modification in a consistent way. The main changes in the short term relate to:
- For 2016, there will be a new design for the portable structure in order to reduce weight and allow better weight transfer between the shoulders and waist. The goal is to increase the tactical mobility of soldiers, especially in the offensive phase. This change will increase the performance-to-mass ratio according to the mission.
- For 2014, there will be a new radio subsystem allowing major capacities. This will include dynamic relays inside radio sets and relays mounted on infantry vehicles (VBCI and VAB), allowing robust and secure radio links and networks despite natural screens, such as those found in urban environments, for instance.
- A FELIN database management system (DBMS) software evolution for the first step of Project Scorpion.
In the coming years, new assault rifles, such as a FAMAS replacement, will also be integrated with the FELIN system.
How does FELIN fit into the wider Scorpion programme?
Through DBMS evolution and new tactical radio, FELIN will be fully integrated into the Scorpion battle groups. Step two of Project Scorpion will address the future evolution of FELIN.
What directions do you see dismounted soldier equipment taking in the future?
French infantry forces are up to date thanks to the FELIN system and its planned evolutions. DGA is working on the next soldier system specifically within the Project Scorpion framework. The major issue is, and will continue to be, the ongoing search to reduce the mass of dismounted forces.
Nevertheless, various other topics are addressed as well: individual protection, new power supplies, augmented reality, soldier navigation in areas not covered by GPS, integration of mini robots or drone control... all within a system-based approach.