“SENSE & SENSORBILITY” - SINGAPORE LEADS ASIAN FUTURE SOLDIER SYSTEMS

Since the dawn of time, commanders have been seeking ways of giving their soldiers an advantage in terms of situational awareness, lethality, mobility, survivability and command and control (C2). The modern infantryman is equipped with all manner of high-tech communications, armour and weapon paraphernalia. However, the soldier can easily be weighed down by such equipment so requirements need to be carefully programmed to keep weight to a minimum, to ensure interoperability, to keep man-machine interfaces simple, and to make it ergonomically comfortable.

3rd Jun 2012


 Singapore

 “SENSE & SENSORBILITY” - SINGAPORE LEADS ASIAN FUTURE SOLDIER SYSTEMS

Byline: Gordon Arthur / Hong Kong


Since the dawn of time, commanders have been seeking ways of giving their soldiers an advantage in terms of situational awareness, lethality, mobility, survivability and command and control (C2). The modern infantryman is equipped with all manner of high-tech communications, armour and weapon paraphernalia. However, the soldier can easily be weighed down by such equipment so requirements need to be carefully programmed to keep weight to a minimum, to ensure interoperability, to keep man-machine interfaces simple, and to make it ergonomically comfortable.

Asian countries face an added problem in that the average soldier’s physique is not as large as that of a Western soldier. The commonly quoted maximum load is 30% of body weight but the average Singaporean conscript weighs 66kg in comparison to 82kg for a Canadian soldier. Thus the maximum load in Singapore is approximately 22kg, which is still the equivalent of a medieval knight’s armour! High temperatures and humidity found in much of Asia further degrade a soldier’s performance. This suggests the need for customised Asian solutions that do not impinge on a soldier’s mobility, flexibility and endurance.

Singapore leads the way
Singapore is in the Asian vanguard of developing a workable soldier system, and this article examines the country’s progress as a case study. For many years the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have been promulgating the development of a third-generation force utilising the very latest in technology. The individual soldier is very much in the spotlight, with the country’s programme known as the Advanced Combat Man System (ACMS).

Launched in 1998 as a technology exploration and demonstration initiative led by the Singapore Army, AMCS is a joint effort between the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA), SAF and two local companies, ST Electronics and ST Kinetics. The first ACMS set in 1998 weighed 25kg but soldiers could not move more than about 1km with it. In 2002, the AMCS moved to a three-year technology consolidation and development phase with the focus on a seven-man infantry section. By this time the experimental system had been reduced to 12.5kg. Upon this phase’s successful conclusion, the ACMS moved to company-level trials under an integrated concept development demonstration. It included 60 sets of soldier equipment and two Bionix infantry fighting vehicles (IFV). Subsequently ST Electronics was awarded an ACMS contract in June 2009 and the 5th Singapore Infantry Regiment was the first battalion equipped with ACMS in January 2010. A second battalion was furnished later that year and production is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The weight of the ACMS has diminished to 8kg.

Background
The SAF describes ACMS as having two key aims - to ensure seamless integration of an individual soldier’s capabilities, and to integrate individual soldiers/tactical units into a network-centric force. In essence, every soldier becomes a sensor, and every sensor is networked to give a beyond-visual-range capacity and local superiority. The individual soldier tracks both friendly and enemy positions, feeding images and data back to his command.

In practice, not every infantryman is equipped with a full ACMS ensemble. Within a typical seven-man section, only the commander and his two team leaders will be equipped. The ACMS has three modular configurations – the Basic Fighting System (BFS) focuses on fighting capabilities at the team leader level, while the Commander Enhancement System (CEA) adds C2 capabilities for section, platoon and company commanders. The third configuration is the Information Management System (IMS) used by platoon, company and battalion headquarters for detailed mission planning and monitoring. All three have commonality in terms of their five chief components: a Communication and Navigation Subsystem, Soldier Computer, Head-Mounted Display (HMD), Weapon Subsystem and Power Subsystem. Each of these is looked at in turn.

(a) Communication and Navigation Subsystem
This comprises a Selex Soldier Personal Radio (SPR) offering high-rate voice and data communication, as well as provision of real-time tracking of soldiers and units by a headquarters. A wireless mesh network card connects everyone in the immediate vicinity, while soldiers also have a longer-range Selex SSR+ radio. Soldiers can input data through a keypad to give updates or request assistance. The keypad includes hotkeys such as “in contact” and “call for medic”. Active noise reduction in noisy environments improves awareness and protects the wearer’s hearing.

A navigation capacity is gained via a built-in global positioning system (GPS) that provides autonomous updates. Because GPS performs poorly in buildings, there is a dead reckoning module (DRM) for indoor use. The DRM currently achieves an accuracy level of 95%, but the SAF is seeking to improve this.

(b) Soldier Computer
The portable 1.5kg Soldier Computer collects, processes and disseminates data. It possesses a standard alpha-numeric keyboard and is carried on the soldier’s back. It allows the soldier to view instantaneous battlefield information, send text messages and receive video from remote sensors. The computer and Ad Hoc Network Communication System developed in-house by ST Electronics allow a soldier to track his position and those of friendly troops (blue force tracking) plus identify enemy troop positions (red force marking). A larger Panasonic Toughbook is used by commanders as part of the IMS.

(c) Head-Mounted Display
A full-colour organic light-emitting diode (OLED) HMD allows soldiers to see digital maps, satellite images or videos of surrounding terrain. Locations of friendly and enemy forces are plotted on such displays. Two variants are available – a standard helmet-mounted system plus a head-mounted system for commanders and special forces. The programme initially employed the Rockwell Collins Proview SO35 HMD. Integrating various night-vision goggles (NVG) onto helmet mounts still needs standardisation.

(d) Weapon Subsystem
The standard weapon is the 5.56mm SAR21. However, ACMS uses a shorter-barrelled SAR21 for greater manoeuvrability. It has a Modular Mounting System (MMS) that includes a Picatinny rail to which mission-specific accessories can be added. The 3.5kg carbine version measures 680mm in length compared to 755mm for a standard SAR21. The section commander’s rifle possesses a camera that captures and transmits pictures to headquarters through buttons on a weapon interactor on the hand-guard. A further advantage of this sensor and associated LCD screen is that it can be used as a round-corner firing (RCF) device, meaning the soldier does not need to expose himself.

The RCF attachment is fully integrated with the SAR21, allowing the soldier to aim through the weapon’s optical sight. A quick action flips the camera sideways to return to the normal sight. A push-to-talk wireless radio is mounted on the hand-guard so it can still be used in the firing position. An ITL MARS reflex sight plus a laser aiming device are standard. The Weapon Subsystem is connected to the Soldier Computer by a solitary cable.

(e) Power Subsystem
As with every future soldier system, there is perpetual tension between power and weight requirements. The AMCS is powered by a single battery that permits ten hours of use. However, the SAF considers this inadequate so designers are waiting for the next technological battery breakthrough. The subsystem has an integrated power management module.

Associated equipment
It is not just the ACMS per se that sets Singapore apart, but rather its inclusion within the broader vision of a full-spectrum, third-generation and network-centric SAF. Trials have included surveillance balls, remote-control surveillance vehicles, keyhole sensors and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Examples are the ST Electronics Tactical Throwing Sensor (TTS) and Forward Sensor System (FSS), while the army is already using the Skyblade III mini-UAV. Such a virtual presence avoids soldiers risking their lives when entering buildings, for example.

Network-centricity extends to armoured vehicles such as the Terrex 8x8 armoured personnel carrier (APC). A commander can operate from such a command post since it possesses more advanced capabilities than what a dismounted soldier carries. These work on the mother ship principle, with the Terrex acting as a connectivity gateway to higher commands with its battlefield management system (BMS). The ability to call firepower (e.g. artillery or aircraft) from higher echelons is also integral to ACMS. A section may tap resources available within a battalion or higher levels via a ‘1-800-dial-a-bomb’ service.

Lessons learned
What benefits has ACMS delivered? Evaluations have demonstrated that C2 flow reaches users at twice the speed, from 13 minutes down to seven. Accurate information distribution also increased. Employing incumbent technology, 40% of end users received the wrong information, 32% received nothing and just 28% gained the correct data. However, ACMS improved the equation to 83% of users receiving the correct orders. In a force-on-force scenario, the side equipped with ACMS achieved a 100% kill rate while suffering 35% less casualties. There was a fourfold reduction in the time taken to react to and disengage when in contact.

Trials also showed medical advantages. The time needed to locate casualties was reduced by a factor of four to less than three minutes. Simply by clicking one button, a casualty can summon assistance and relay his position. A major part of the ACMS programme is designed to meet the demands of urban combat and reduce the risk of fratricide. When units overlap a dot immediately pops up on a commander’s screen. Much of Singapore’s ACMS training occurs at the Murai Urban Training Facility (MUTF).

Continuing developments
Some of the challenges encountered by programme managers are architecture integration, simply because there are so many elements running in parallel. Furthermore, there are limits to power sources available to run the system, as demand needs to be balanced against what soldiers can carry. One solution is dynamic power management, whereby power turns off and on in a more intelligent manner.

Trial systems were based on a Windows XP platform, but commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components were not always rugged enough in harsh environments. Systems overheated and overloaded. Wherever possible, ACSM uses COTS items at the developmental stage before customising them for military requirements. It was also discovered the original HMD hindered mobility and the aiming of weapons so the current HMD offers a full peripheral view.

Initially ACMS was going to integrate load carriage and ballistic protection but this was found to be impractical because of Singapore’s climatic conditions. These aspects were separated and the resulting integrated Load-Bearing Vest (iLBV) includes a hydration bladder and the ability to house protection plates. Thus, modular protection can be selected according to the mission and threat level.

At the Singapore Air Show in February 2012, ST Engineering showed two ACMS versions - the standard system and ACMS Lite for future applications. What differentiates it is the latest ARM processor and mobile communications technology. It includes a smartphone portable device providing mesh-networking communications and fabric cabling integrated into the load-bearing vest to give more reliability and a low-power solution. ACMS Lite is designed for use by team members at lower echelons.

Another new piece of hardware is the 500g HELMIS uncooled head-mounted thermal viewer from STELOP, an ST Electronics subsidiary. Able to operate in mixed lighting conditions or total darkness, it is at the prototype stage and will be tested with ACMS. It is helmet- or headband-mounted and offers a four-hour operating time.

There is no point in supplying new hardware if it does not alter the way soldiers fight, and ACMS is certainly achieving this even though it will take time for soldiers to become fully conversant. Traditionally, battalion orders were disseminated in a hierarchal fashion through voice commands. However, ACMS provides a mesh bubble concept where everyone has situational awareness of themselves and the enemy, and data is becoming more important than voice. Introduction of ACMS is affecting tactics and procedures as the system is further exploited. For example, movement can be more distributed because of superior topographical knowledge. Since Singapore has a small military without significant combat experience, it has leveraged lessons learned from countries like Australia, the UK and USA.

Handling bandwidth and power consumption demands remains a challenge, and the programme is trying to move away from the commercial 2.4GHz band and to improve encryption security. Experimentation is a continuous process and technical areas being examined are integrating unmanned sensors that give live video images. The SAF wants to increase connectivity to allow up to 200 nodes. It is also exploring fuel cell technology and wireless links between subsystems such as the helmet and weapon. They are also looking at a voice command smart vest.

Sun Tzu wrote: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, your victory will not stand in doubt.” As can be seen, innovative Singapore is well on its way to producing the ultimate digitised war-fighter.

 

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