France: First public demonstration of the FELIN system produced by Sagem (Safran group) for the French army. The 1st French Infantry Regiment, the oldest in Europe, shares its initial impressions of this high-tech integrated equipment suite for today’s solders.
Direct assault, urban combat, stealthy advance in a dark building, offensive reconnaissance, neutralization of hidden enemies, site protection from an observation post… These and other operational scenarios closed out the FELIN technical orientation phase performed by this French army unit. Following this recently completed six-week phase, a new period is starting, namely the service entry of the system and its tactical integration. This phase will be followed by deployment in foreign theaters by the end of the year.
Integrating the digital battlefield
FELIN is an integrated equipment suite developed by Sagem (Safran group) for the French army as part of an overall soldier modernization program. It signals the advent of the all-digital battlefield for today’s ground combat troops. At the heart of the system is a “tactical vest”, including an individual radio with integrated GPS – a first for infantry soldiers – its processing unit, batteries and man-machine interface, namely a miniature terminal that displays data, including orders, positions of fellow troops, and images from gun sights for round-the-corner firing.
Another innovative new item is the osteophonic headband. Placed around the soldier’s head, the headband captures or transmits via the bones of the skull the vibrations from the soldier’s speech or audio receiver. This ensures discreet voice communications in both directions, and leaves the ears free to stay alert to all outside noises.
A keyboard on the rifle handgrip allows soldiers to control vital FELIN functions, radio and sight, while keeping their hands on the weapon, eyes on the target, and ready to fire.
Squad and section leaders have larger terminals with a mapping function, dubbed SITComDE (dismounted warfighter information system terminal), that allows exchanging information with their troops and sending orders. In particular, this terminal tracks the positions of friendly forces in real time, for very effective control of operations. It also enhances intelligence, since it can transmit images from cameras integrated on sights deployed by FELIN-equipped soldiers.
The addition of optronics (optics + electronics) equipment has considerably increased the effective firing range of Famas rifles, even at night. And the new scopes are especially appreciated during different phases of combat, as one of the regiment commanders explains: “The FELIN scopes give us new day and night firing capabilities. With the Famas rifle, our range now extends out to 400, or even 600 meters.” A squad leader adds: “The Famas rifle now offers real long-distance sharpshooter capability. Furthermore, FELIN technology greatly increases our mobility.”
Observation and protection capabilities have also been considerably enhanced by the use of new JIM multifunction infrared binoculars. “The FELIN system design is an excellent example of human engineering,” says one captain. “It integrates all ergonomic requirements, while facilitating logistic support and durability. For example, the sight, binoculars and other equipment all run off the same battery.”
This brand-new system will obviously require a dedicated training period before it can be used under operational conditions. Sagem has therefore trained all instructors at the Infantry School, and these instructors are teaching soldiers at regiment level.
Starting in January 2011, the men in the 13th Mountain Infantry Battalion at Chambéry, the second regiment to be outfitted with the FELIN system, started a tactical trial in training zones in order to validate operational concepts.
Four other regiments will take delivery of the system this year, and the overall objective is for 22,600 French soldiers to be equipped with FELIN systems by 2015.