Defense Media Network

The Rise of the Soldier System

“The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.” – Aldous Huxley

Nett Warrior

On June 14, 2010, the Army’s 235th birthday, GSS “Increment 1” was renamed as Nett Warrior. Frequently misinterpreted as a reflection of its tactical networking features, Nett Warrior honors Col. Robert B. Nett, who received the Medal of Honor as a lieutenant during World War II.

Less than a year later, in the spring of 2011, the Army introduced a “Nett Warrior surrogate” at its Network Integration Evaluation 11.2. Characterized as essentially the Land Warrior ensemble then in Afghanistan (the Land Warrior-equipped unit returned to the United States in spring 2012) but enhanced with some additional software, the NIE 11.2 ensemble still weighed approximately 10 pounds.

Post NIE 11.2 assessments redirected the effort toward a simpler and much lighter “off the shelf” hand-held solution that integrated a hand-held screen device with the Rifleman radio transport mechanism. The new design, weighing less than 3 pounds, participated in the subsequent NIE 12.1 [November 2011].

As these pages go to press, Nett Warrior has received additional rounds of modifications. NIE 13.1, for example, featured the Rifleman radio with the Motorola ATRIX handheld device. The upcoming NIE 13.2 will replace ATRIX™ with a Samsung Note 1, providing users with a significantly larger screen and other enhancements. Meanwhile, plans are under way to subsequently field the Army’s 2/1 brigade with Nett Warrior combination featuring the Samsung Note 2.

Meanwhile, during the same period that the United States has continually refined and evolved its soldier system vision, other international land forces have also developed and introduced designs supporting the “soldier as a system concept.” Representative examples of these efforts and technical approaches can be found in the armies of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Norway, Switzerland, and Russia.


Germany: Gladius

German bundeswehr gladius system

More than just the sum of its parts, the Gladius system puts German Bundeswehr infantrymen on the global cutting edge in terms of networking capabilities, command and control, and operational efficiency. Rheinmetall Defence photo

One of the most recent milestones on these myriad international pathways occurred in January 2013, when the Germany-based Rheinmetall Group announced its receipt of an award from the German Bundeswehr to provide 60 additional “Gladius” soldier systems to that country’s infantry forces.

The 2013 award follows an initial award for 30 systems in 2012. Those first systems, designed to equip 30 10-man infantry sections, are slated for tactical deployment to Afghanistan in June of this year.

Rheinmetall originally developed Gladius under the designation “Infanterist der Zukunft (IdZ 2 or “Future Soldier”). Company descriptions state that the system “substantially exceeds the capabilities of previous infantry systems used by the Bundeswehr, especially with regard to networkability, command and control, and combat effectiveness. Reflecting the heightened requirements profile of the user as well as incorporating knowledge gained during comprehensive testing and in the field, Gladius is essentially a new, highly advanced system.”

While viewing and equipping the soldier with a system-based philosophy, Gladius expands the system vision somewhat to encompass an entire 10-man infantry “section” (squad) with each system. Noting that the system is “intended first and foremost to bring the 10-man infantry section and its vehicle into the network-enabled operational loop,” company representatives point to a network, “consisting of reconnaissance, command and control components, and weapons, [that] enables rapid exchange of information as well as shared situational awareness as the basis for planning and conducting operations.”

Core Gladius subsystems include:

  • headset;
  • core computer;
  • batteries;
  • navigation (GPS and inertial);
  • helmet display;
  • night vision goggle with infrared module;
  • control unit with display;
  • UHF squad radio; and
  • digital compass.

Core elements will support multiple weapons, accessories, reconnaissance equipment, clothing, protection and load-carrying systems, and links to command elements and tactical vehicles.

Rheinmetall representatives are quick to emphasize many of the features that support the “core electronic backbone,” highlighting the system’s ergonomic features, “especially with regard to weight reduction, miniaturization and improved integration of individual components. The modular battle dress uniform, body armor and harness system provide excellent protection from detection in the visual and infrared spectrum as well as from the weather, even in extreme climate zones, and especially from biological and chemical agents. Flame retardant equipment and vector protection round out the system’s high level of protection.”


France: FELIN


France’s FELIN has been under development for some time. SAFRAN photo

France is procuring and fielding the FELIN [Fantassin à Équipements et Liaisons Intégrés] integrated soldier modernization system developed by Sagem, a Safran group company.

Company overviews describe FELIN as “an integrated soldier system designed to enhance all the dismounted soldier’s operational functions: protection, observation, C4I (command, control, computers, communications and intelligence), weapons use, mobility and support.”

The FELIN program underwent technical and operational evaluation in 2009, during which 358 FELIN units were tested by four regiments that all had seen combat in Afghanistan. Their mission was to test the system in the most demanding environments: mountains, jungles, deserts, when parachuting, and in urban combat. Based on the success of that test milestone, the French Army’s 1st Regiment began to receive FELIN systems for all of its combat companies in September 2010. That was followed by fielding to the 13th Chasseur Alpins battalion, with fielding increased to four regiments per year starting in 2011. In total, 22,588 systems are slated for delivery.

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...