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The infantry of the 21st century


By Sakhal

During the mid 1990s, in a conference in the French military polygon at Satory, not far from Versailles, were given the guidelines for what should be the infantry of the 21st century. A combatant - not necessarily a man, seeing the progressive incorporation of the women into the first line of fire - that should assume and defeat terrible threats. For such the infantryman should be transformed into a system by receiving a wide range of means destined, on the one hand, to optimize its effectiveness and prevent its destruction and, on the other, curiously, to take into account factors that were once neglected: the influence of the mass media in the events and the weight of the public opinion for which the loss of their own human lives turned more unacceptable every day. In France, the Staff of the Army and the General Delegation of Armament, based on these guidelines, had started time ago studies that in the first years of the 21st century, would provide the infantrymen with equipment that responds to the objectives of effectiveness, mobility, protection, logistics, formation and training. The systematic analysis of the available technologies led them to the definition of the infantryman as a fighting system that will integrate, in every individual, all the indispensable functionalities to allow to comply with every mission that were assigned to him, as soon as disembarked from the transport vehicle. To materialize these objectives was formed the group of companies GECAD in which took part brands of the highest level. Particularly Giat Industries, in charge of the general direction of the project, as well as the NBC (Nuclear-Biological-Chemical) equipment, energy sources and the adaptation of the individual weapon; Matra Cap Systemes, which assumed the technical direction and the materialization of the electronic and communication devices; Sopelem-Sofretec, which contributed its knowledge in optronic and fire control equipment; and VTN, specialist in special clothes and ballistic protection. But technology is not everything and its adequate integration in the combatant is a vital factor, being in charge of this the Research Center Bouchet, in which participate diverse entities along with the General Delegation of Armament.

To begin with, the French Army possesses an unit with five centuries of history, the 3rd Infantry Regiment, in charge of testing as many new materials as came from the factories and laboratories. In this force, based in Nimes and where Basque, Gascon and Catalonian soldiers abound, were seen in action diverse devices, such as day-night binoculars fitted with an afocal lens, manufactured by Ugo, the novel simulator for light weapons SMART, of which only two exemplars existed then in France, the helmet Spectra, intended to be distributed in large scale beyond the year 2000, or the new anti-bullet vest developed from the experiences gathered on the everyday. Chief Sergeant Souques, a veteran of the regiment, commented:

"The infantryman of the future should fight either during daytime or nighttime, and his equipment is designed for such. To begin, the protection. The time of the large batallions is gone and the technic soldier of the 21st century is precious. Second point, the effectiveness on the battlefield. We currently test day/night integrated optics that allow to perform observations, driving and any other task either with light or in the darkness. These optics weight 730 grams and in the night or with very dark weather they reach about 180 meters, which means a 90 percent of hitting a target in the shooting from 100 to 150 meters. During the night this is concretized by the apparition of a green luminous dot, visible only to the wearer of the integrated optics. We have also effectuated tests about fatigue, this is, walking eight hours during the night with the artifact worn. Eventually, one ends lowering the head for the helmet plus the integrated optics weight, I think so. During daytime exists also a problem with visual acuity. But we believe that such inconveniences will be fixed."

It was notable as well the presence in the 3rd Infantry Regiment of a light and very discreet communications equipment, with a small radio-transmitter on the chest and a microphone integrated in the helmet, which would allow the infantryman to receive and transmit any type of informations. There were seen also very comfortable uniforms made with gore-tex, a special type of fabric that combines lightweight with waterproof and breathability.

The infantry of the 21st century

Artistic impression of the infantryman as a fighting system as envisioned in the early 1990s by the masterminds of the GECAD.

The program FELIN

Those activities carried during the 1990s took shape in the program FELIN (Fantassin a Equipement et Liaisons Integres), name given to the French infantry combat system of the 2000s. FELIN man- machine interface combines a modified FAMAS rifle with a host of electronics, optronics, special clothing and body armour. The helmet is a Spectra fitted with real-time positioning and information system and light amplifiers for night vision, powered by two rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries. The full equipment for a soldier is more expensive than a mid-range car and in principle only a limited number, representing roughly a fourth part of the French Army personnel, was to be delivered between 2010 and 2015. The system saw service for the first time in September 2010, when 300 exemplars were deployed in Afghanistan.

Clothing is designed to not hinder movement and is built with spacious pockets and with fabric that offers good mechanical properties, good air permeability and resistance to heat and washing. The jacket offers both flexible and hard ballistic protection and integrated electronics featuring a computer, energy manager, radio, GPS (Global Positioning System) and the man-machine interface, along with the required connectors and cables. The portable electronic platform is built around an USB 2.0 digital data bus that grants strong interoperability to the system. The jacket has as well disposition for a flexible water bottle and space to store magazines and grenades. Since the jacket represents the main weight in the set, its design optimizes the distribution of the weight on the body. The NRBC (Nuclear-Radiological-Biological-Chemical) combat clothing is designed to allow combat phases to be carried out with the same efficiency as that achieved with conventional combat clothing. The jacket equipment is autonomous and can be used alone.

The helmet is fitted with communication headset and optronic equipment. Its ballistic shell optimizes protection and weight distribution, and its shape is compatible with any firing position that might be required by the weapons used. The helmet can accommodate various items required for a given mission and facial shields to protect the infantryman from wind, rain, dust, ultraviolet radiation or other threats. The NBC mask can be equipped with a filter cartridge or linked to a ventilation powerpack. A tube built into the mask can be used to take in water and nutrients. The communication headset, linked to the radio, uses transducer microphone and earpiece that work by bone conduction of the sound vibrations; this system can be used without wearing the helmet. The optronic equipment includes light intensification camera and OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display units allowing any data transmitted through the data bus to be displayed, in the form of text, symbols, images or real-time video coming from a camera mounted in the head or in the weapon. The display unit is fixed to the helmet through a foldable mounting; its screen can be brought in line with the eyes or raised up as convenient.

The assault rifle

In the late 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century the standard assault rifle for the French Army has been the FAMAS (Fusil d'Assaut de la Manufacture d'Armes de St-Etienne). This rifle is one of several models - such as the Austrian Steyr AUG or the British SA-80 - that use the modern configuration known as bullpup. Giat Industries was the manufacturer of this rifle, whose development started already in 1967, being completed the first prototype in 1971; finally it was adopted as standard rifle by the French Army in 1978. The FAMAS was slightly improved along the years, passing from the original version F1 - shown in the image - to the G1 and G2. The FAMAS fires the standard caliber NATO 5,56 x 45 millimeters and has a magazine containing 25 cartridges in the original version and 30 cartridges in subsequent models. This rifle has a total length of 75.7 centimeters of which 48.8 correspond to the barrel, nearly so long as the barrel present in traditional rifles. The last version of the FAMAS is precisely called FELIN and it has a couple of modifications to adapt it to the forementioned system: accommodation for a man-machine interface and a telescopic sight. This sight will be of the light intensification type, but one soldier per squad will be equipped with a thermal infrared sight. An integrated camera in the sight and a wire connection to the system will allow the soldier to aim the weapon from covered positions without exposing himself. A second grip has been added to help the soldier to better handle the rifle when firing bursts, since bullpup rifles are not so stable for sustained fire as traditional rifles, whose design help to better handle recoil.

The infantry of the 21st century


Categories: Infantry - Small Arms - 21st Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-12-11


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