Innovation and Adaptation
The Integrated Digital PlatoonBy Dan Skinner May 13, 2019
9 Platoon (PL) Charlie Combat Team (C CT) is mounted in four new Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV), acquired under Project Land 400. With three crew and six mounted combatants in the back of each section (SECT) vehicle and PL Headquarters (HQ) in rear of the trail vehicle, the PL is making good time across the scrubby ground in the middle of the moonless night. In each IFV the Crew Commander (CREW COMD), Driver (DVR), Gunner (GNR) all wear the new Integrated Digital Helmet Systems (IDHS), part of the Integrated Digital Soldier System (IDSS). The IDSS is in turn integrated into the Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA) of the IFV (but generic across the entire ADF combat vehicle fleet including the Boxer CRV, Thales Bushmaster and Hawkei, SupaCat Nary, Rheinmetall MAN Trucks and Mercedes G Wagons). The remaining six members of the SECT (and PL HQ) in the rear of each IFV are also wearing the common IDSS.
The IFV is completely buttoned down (sealed) and the drivers are all steering heads up, absorbing the view of the country ahead through the Heads-Up Display (HUD) Augmented Reality (AR) visor view vide the see through retractable ballistic and laser protected visor of their Combat Helmets. The AR is currently generated by the IFV external sensors (cameras), allowing 360o visibility from the IFV, almost as if the vehicle shell itself doesn’t exist, as the DVR turns his head left and right to gauge vehicle spacing distance. The IFV’s Health & Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) is displayed as simple icons in the left of his HUD, with vehicle speed and navigation aids as icons on the right side. As the Driver casts his head to the left and right, the elliptical symbol in the bottom of the visor view rotates, bringing up red (enemy), blue (friendly) and green (neutral) icons as his view aligns with them. The other three vehicles appear as blue icons in the bottom of the ellipse, the next navigation way point (WP) as green and a suspected enemy (EN) location 1400m away as a red icon.
With the voice command “Thermal”, the helmet system responds to the Application (App) command, bringing up the thermal image (TI) view of the terrain ahead, which is immediately overlaid on the digital colour night vision that currently presents in the retractable visor. He can see a cooler line of terrain up ahead and indicates his interest to the Platoon Commander (PL COMD), who is seated in the rear of the IFV. His voice commands are crisp and clear regardless of external noise, emanating from the In the Mouth (ITM) transceiver clipped to his upper molar. The ITM provides a direct bone link to his inner ear, enabling him to hear “inside his head” and enunciate “inside his mouth”, free from any external (to his mouth) noise. His transmissions go via Near Field Magnetic Induction (NFMI) to his neck loop and onto to his Push to Talk (PTT) switch system.
“Boss, can you give us a look down view of the patch at 1 o’clock, about 500m ahead? Looks like a creek or defile?”. The PL COMD, who is sitting in the rear of the IFV with the other members of PL HQ, all with the same HUD/AR enabled IDHS, grunts his assent. He directs the Reconnaissance (Recce) Corporal (CPL) sitting next to him to launch the new Gen X Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) mounted in an external compartment of the IFV.
With simple one hand gestures, the Recce CPL quickly launches and guides the UAS forward of the PL IFV. He views the images seen from the UAS’ Point of View (POV) as a Window inside a Window (WIW) within his HUD. The PL COMD also pulls up the UAS POV within his HUD as a WIW as well, whilst still keeping an eye on the rest of the PL and the wider situation.
The Recce CPL guides the UAS forward, gesturing one handed to manoeuvre around and through trees. Coming up the defile the Recce CPL slows the UAS into a hover and manoeuvres it higher for a panoramic view. He notices a number of interesting shapes at irregular intervals in the vicinity of the defile, gesturing to zoom in whilst getting the PL COMD’s attention. He transitions the spectrum of the sensors on the UAS from II/TI through alternate frequencies, eventually showing the outline of a dozen bodies prone on the edge of the creek, oriented towards the entrance of the defile. These are marked by the Recce CPL and now appear in the vision of each member of the PL as an icon in their HUD.
These icons are simultaneously synchronised with the CT and Battle Group (BG) Battle Management Systems (BMS). Synchronisation, transmission and storage of the data and vision streams are enabled by self-meshing Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (MANET) communications systems (computers that are also radios, streaming at 2 Mbps). Each combatant, and vehicle, is enabled with this system. Each combatant is also fitted with wearable 1 atom thick graphene antenna, enabling the rapid transmission of data between individuals.
The PL COMD immediately halts the PL IFVs, which settle and blend into the surrounding countryside, courtesy of their multi-spectral camouflage. All PL members are alert, scanning their assigned arcs using their own HUD AR, looking through the vehicle hulls at the immediate surroundings from the IFV in a 360o arc.
The IFV GNRs scan the surrounding countryside, covering their arcs of responsibility. As the IFV GNRs turn their head the IFV main armament turns in sync with the GNR helmet visor view. The targeting App in the GNR’s visor enables the GNR to swing the main armament across the allocated arc in synchronised fashion, with the App showing range to each point the gun crosses. He switches between visible and multiple invisible spectrums via voice command, marking potential targets for rapid engagements. These targets remain as red cross hairs in his view and can be immediately called up by any other member of the PL.
The IFV’s CREW COMDs, all Lance Corporals (LCPL), keep an overview on both the GNR and the DVR’s activities. Whilst this is happening, the Platoon Sergeant (PL SGT), in the PL COMD’s IFV, is simultaneously taking inventory of the status of the PL vehicles and combatants. He calls up a summary of each of the IFV’s HUMS in his HUD as green, orange or red icons, as well as Combatant-HUMS (C-HUMS) of each individual in the PL.
The C-HUMS includes the Physiological Data Management (PDM) of each member of the PL, such as Core Body Temperature (CBT), Heart Rate (HR), Heart Rate Variability (HRV), Blood/Oxygen Ratio (VO2 Max), Respiration Rate (RR) and Blood Pressure (BP). This is derived by sensors integrated into the combatants Soldier Combat Ensemble (SCE) and communications systems. The PDM component of C-HUMs shows each combatant safely within their green (normal) envelope. With activity this will extend into their orange envelope. If any of the combatants extend to their red envelope, the system will alarm to the combatant and to the PL SGT for close monitoring.
Other C-HUMS statistics include the current charge of the wearable batteries on each of the combatants (which are being charged via an inductive pad on the vehicle seat), ammunition, water and unopened rations. Assessing that caution and distance are the PL’s best approach, the PL COMD instructs the Recce CPL to hand off the target to the CT’s Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) for prosecution. The JTAC receives the target data and opens a POV via the one of the BG UAS, now on station above the target, with the Recce CPL still maintaining the PL UAS in position. The PL launches additional vehicle mounted UAS to reconnoitre their surroundings whilst stationary. The Officer Commanding (OC) of the CT is now monitoring the activity, taking alternate POV from the IFV sensors, the UAS and the CTs own UAS high in the sky above the PL.
The JTAC is able to visualise in three dimensions all of the geographical, safety and weapons effects options for the fires she has on call. These are represented as volumetric forms from the UAS POV she has from the BG UAS. She adjusts these to suit the target area, stretching the target area slightly by gesture to encompass some cover over possible withdrawal routes. Visualised within her IDHS HUD she cycles through the various fires options she has available, before selecting 155mm rounds from the single gun available at that time. She chooses a pattern of 3 rounds with simultaneous detonation, though the rounds will be fired consecutively by the gun. The fires saturate the target area, with multiple UAS being used to record the event as well as construct a Battle Damage Assessment (BDA) for the mission.
The PL COMD assesses that physical clearance of the now destroyed EN position is warranted. The combatants in the rear of each IFV disembark and deploy into a tactical formation, advancing to the defile. A member of the lead SECT is pushing forward an Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV), monitoring the POV WIW whilst controlling it via gestures with his non-rifle hand. Each combatant is scanning the dark countryside using their digital colour Image Intensification (II), with integrated TI, generated as an AR in their helmets HUD. They also are geared to “fight light”, with absolutely minimal load carriage. Any resupply (RESUP) required will be brought forward via UAS or UGV, dependent on requirement and ground conditions, coordinated by the PL SGT.
The IDHS worn by each member of the PL incorporates not only the flat mounted digital II/TI Image Processing Centre, providing vision as an AR, on the retractable ballistic visor, but also a number of other features. This includes powered rails, enabling the fitment of battery-less devices (lights, cameras, strobes). Another feature is a system of gunshot detection sensor nodes on the helmet, enabling the rapid detection, identification and location of gunshots, indirect fire and some UAS/UGV movement. The IDHS itself has a rechargeable battery fed from the wearable power system on the plate carrier system. The ITM communications system eliminates the requirement for an external microphone or fixed headset, allowing for the use of combat hearing protection only, while significantly improving communications clarity, even when whispering.
The plate carrier ensemble is enabled with an integrated power and data management system. All components are simply plugged into the integrated harness, eliminating the need for cabling. The presence of the integrated graphene antenna strips ironed onto the uniform, and stuck onto the plate carrier and helmet, eliminates the requirement for bulky antenna. The plate carrier integrates with the vehicle seats of the IFV for the recharging of the wearable power systems and the transfer of high-speed data of the GVA within the vehicle environs.
Data is live streamed via the individual and vehicle MANET communications systems, facilitating the immediate sharing of digital video data. Each combatant’s small arm platform is fitted with a digital weapon sight, compatible with the integrated II/TI of the digital combat helmet. The weapon sight is a combined day, II and TI sight, able to stream vision to the combatant’s HUD as AR, reducing the requirement to sight from the shoulder, whilst enabling the combatant to fire the platform accurately around corners etc.
Each combatant advances wearing an individual multispectral camouflage suit. This suit comprises pants, jacket, hoody, gloves and booties, yet enables the wearing of the ensemble during high intensity movement. Each individual ensemble features dispersed reflection and thermal diffusion capabilities to significantly enhance individual signature management.
The PL moves forward, each member, including the IFV crews, aware of the remainder of the PL location, even when outside of direct physical view. Suddenly a burst of fire rings out. A surviving, but badly wounded, EN has seen one of the PL silhouetted against the stars and fired. The PL goes to ground and commences to return fire at the EN. The helmet mounted gunshot detection system, with each helmet system synchronized with its fellow systems, has precisely located the shooter 300m ahead. The EN is shown accurately, within a second, as a red icon in each combatant’s HUD, regardless of their particular orientation respective to the EN position. This icon remains vivid red for 10 seconds until it starts to fade, as the veracity of the location commences to wane.
The PDM of the lead SECT’s scout notifies a spike in RR and a sudden loss of BP. This generates a red cross icon in the SECT COMD’s, PL COMD’s and PL Medic’s HUDs. The PL Medic quickly identifies the individual, and their location, commencing to move forward. The scout is non-communicative, but the Medic is able to precisely monitor the scout’s vital signs and commences broadcasting these to the Health Knowledge Management (HKM) as a precursor of additional assistance from the Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) and the Casualty Evacuation (CASEVAC) system.
The lead SECT COMD directs grenadiers to fire airburst guided 40mm rounds onto the now defiladed target, whilst simultaneously launching a smaller personal UAS for reconnaissance. The PL COMD and CREW COMD simultaneously monitor the activity, whilst also staying abreast of the wider scenario.
C-HUMS is also updating the PL SGT C-HUMS overview system, not only the ammunition usage but also the PDM condition of each of the members of the PL. Apart from the lead scout who has be badly wounded, and shows as a red cross icon, the remainder of the PL show as green crosses (healthy and within normal parameters).
Clearing the defile, the Lead Scout of 1 SECT approaches the EN figures to collect intelligence. All appear dead and most are disfigured from the 155mm rounds. One though, is discovered still alive but badly injured, so treatment is commenced immediately. Whilst the PL Medic commences first aid, one of the SECT COMD squats opposite. His helmet mounted camera generates a facial recognition picture and compares it against the cloud database. The report presents inside his visor, unseen by the EN combatant. Identifying that the person is a known insurgent, the SECT COMD addresses him in English, which is then translated to the local language, generating the questions to the EN person. The EN answers in the same language, which is translated concurrently into the SECT ITM headset.
The PL returns to their IFV to await the CASEVAC of the wounded scout and EN combatant. Luckily the Scout’s self-activating tourniquet prevented too much blood loss from his arm and he, along with the wounded EN, is quickly evacuated by a CASEVAC UAS, after being assessed as suitable by the Medic. They are back in the Regimental Aid Post (RAP) inside 10 minutes, the EN flying in a restraint.
The Platoon mounts and moves on.
NOTES: Whilst the scenario above might sound like science fiction or many years in the future, in actuality the majority of the systems featured are here today!
Iron-on 1 atom thick graphene antennas; data streaming MANET communications systems; Physiological Data Management (PDM) Systems; helmet mounted gunshot detection and location systems; In the Mouth (ITM) transceivers; gesture and voice controllers; digital day/night weapon sights; power and data management systems integrated into plate carriers; inductive charging systems for vehicle seats; multi-spectral individual camouflage suits; all and more are either in-service or available now.
An integrated digital helmet system (IDHS), with colour night vision and integrated TI, into a HUD as AR, is less then 2 years from fully functional prototype systems. The same goes for a combined day/II/TI weapon sight that weighs the same as each of the current 3 sights (day, II or TI) individually.
Another consequence is that the entire action described above may be simulated using the same IDHS/IDSS ensemble, integrated into a gaming engine for fully immersive simulation. This simulation may be augmented, immersive dry or immersive live firing.
The fulcrum that enables all of these systems to realize their full potential is an IDHS, which in turn enables an Integrated Digital Soldier System (IDSS). If you think of the IDHS as a de-scaled F-35 Joint Strike Fighter helmet, crossed with an AH-64 Apache helmet, but worn like a current combat helmet, you have a pretty good idea of what it is.
As the Chief of Army stated at the Innovation Symposium in October this year, if the innovation does not change the way we fight, it’s not innovation.