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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

16 March 2016

Change in British Fire Support Options and Equipment Tiers

British Army infantry platoons and sections could soon be operating without a belt-fed support weapon as the service seeks to enhance lethality and reduce the burden of the dismounted soldier, senior commanders have revealed. According to the UK Army’s Lt.Col. Iain Moodie, SO1, Dismounted Close Combat, Capability Directorate Combat, options could include the removal of the FN Herstal 5.56mm x45mm Light Machine Gun (LMG) from the British Army Section as well as the removal of the 7.62mm x51mm General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) from the Platoon headquarters force element. Such a move would see all belt-fed support weapons being operated by an infantry’s support company, which is also responsible for the provision of anti-tank munitions and mortar weapon systems.

Speaking at the Soldier Equipment and Technology Advancement Forum (SETAF) in London on 14th March, Moodie explained how the army was considering “precision versus suppression,” and referred to the LMG as a, “pretty ineffective,” weapon.

We are looking at replacing [the LMG] with more precision,” Moodie described while outlining how the army had considered replacing the machine gun with the 5.56mm x45mm Light Support Weapon (LSW) which comprises a heavier and longer barrel extending range 600-1,000m, the army claimed. However, he then announced the L85A2 (aka SA80A2), which had outperformed the LSW in field tests, could even replace the LMG instead. Moodie said the Section would continue to operate the L129A1  7.62mm Sharpshooter rifle.

MT was informed by defence sources how the LMG had been a popular fire support option for British Army Sections operating in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade, providing a lighter weight support option to the heavier GPMG. Additionally, Moodie said 2025 would represent a “Cliff Edge” for the future of the L85A2 assault rifle, with the service continuing to update the rifle to A3 configuration as utilised in Afghanistan. This particular set up comprised the integration of a handgrip/bipod and Picatinny top rail system for the integration of ancillaries and sensors.

Responding to questions regarding any change in future calibre away from 5.56mm x45mm, Moodie explained how the 7.62mm or 6.5mm calibre debate remained ongoing although much would depend on the future direction and decisions of the US Armed Forces. Finally, Moodie described the 60mm mortar system as, “woeful in capacity,” and suggested Saab’s CARL GUSTAV anti-tank weapon could provide a replacement with utility of different warheads for various mission requirements. A standalone multiple grenade launcher could also replace the underslung grenade launcher (UGL) as well.

The service is also considering non-lethal options for Public Order operations- something which has not been updated since the end of conventional operations in Northern Ireland in 2007, Moodie said.

Equipment Tiers

Elsewhere, it emerged that the British Army could soon be equipping different force elements with varying scales of equipment relating to their readiness state as the service seeks to save money in the constrained fiscal environment. According to Moodie, the service is continuing to integrate Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) from Operation "Herrick," Afghanistan into its Future Soldier Vision with a heavy emphasis on reducing the burden on the soldier. Moodie explained how the army’s Vertus Pulse 1 “form, fit and function” apparel continued to be delivered to Very High Readiness (VHR) force elements comprising 16 Air Assault (16 AA) and 3 Commando (3 Cdo) Brigades.

However, Moodie admitted that it appeared, “unaffordable,” for the army to equip the remainder of the service, including High Readiness (HR), Medium Readiness, Low Readiness and Very Low Readiness formations, with the same equipment scales as VHR units. Describing the creation of a, “Tier System,” which could see existing equipment, “handed down,” the Force Readiness scale as and when new technology such as Vertus Pulse and first variants of the Dismounted Situation Awareness (DSA) system comes online with the danger that Light Infantry Brigades could be using equipment outdated to those already in service with the VHR and HR force elements.

Referring to early reports coming from 16 AA and 3 Cdo regarding employment of Vertus Pulse 1 technology (rolled out between September 2015 to April 2016) which comprises scaleable body armour, combat helmet and load carriage equipment, Moodie described the effort as a, “real success,” although he admitted there were a, “few cultural niggles,” regarding its employment.

It is delivering real enhancement, comfort, agility and weight saving,” he urged.

However, defence sources explained to MT that soldiers within 16 AA and 3 Cdo trialling the equipment, had said it was ideal for Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) where minimum amount of kit should be carried. However, they warned it appears unsuitable for any type of longer term patrol missions for example, where its suitability for load carriage has been questioned. Vertus Pulse 1 is expected to be rolled out through to 2018 with follow-on phases Vertus Pulse 2 and 3 running through 2019-2022 and 2023-2025 respectively. Vertus Pulse 2 will comprise the integration of additional light armour systems, with body armour capable of withstanding three direct hits in the same location from 7.62mm ammunition; as well as the DSA. Vertus Pulse 3, which has been funded to concept and development at present, will focus on future small arms lethality and close combat unmanned aerial system (CCUAS).

Post Afghanistan

Referring to operations in Afghanistan, Moodie explained how significant investment had been made in the individual infantryman level in the form of UORs, although the army had lacked integration of these various programmes into a single soldier system. “Our challenge is to bring those disparate bits of kit together and integration is the only way we can address the second point of increased burden,” Moodie highlighted. “After 10 years of significant resources, there is a perception that the DCC community is well resourced. But we are being left to continue with equipment bought over the previous decade and we do that at our peril.”

Attempting to reduce the burden, the army has accepted a maximum combat weight of 40kg for patrolling and 25kg for assault order, compared to the 58kg carried by soldiers during the Afghanistan campaign. However, with the average British soldier weighing 71kg, Moodie explained how this remained a significant proportion of body weight. “Musculoskeletal injuries are up there with hearing loss,” Moodie asserted while describing how the British Army pack animals hadn’t been allowed to carry more than 82% of their own body weight. “If we increase the weight, cognitive performance is reduced and they get tunnel vision which in turn effects survivability. We have to reduce kit to enable DCC to do their jobs and increase SA.”

Meanwhile, the army is pursuing a Combat Identification technology for personnel, vehicle and base marking. The technology is expected to be integrated into the DSA with options being made available in 2019 onwards. “We will not be fighting on our own so are engaging with NATO to work out interoperability issues. There is pressure on us to deliver a rudimentary common Combat Identification system following investigations into ‘Blue-on-Blue’ incidents [post-Afghanistan],” Moodie explained. “We cannot afford not to look at this but we have to do it quickly.”

Referring to Surveillance & Target Acquisition (STA) technology, Moodie described how the British Army must continue to, “own the night,”, with an ability to detect, recognise and identify targets with in-line and fused technology. Additionally, Close Combat UAS (CCUAS), light ground-based ISTAR and remote ground sensors look set to be considered moving forward. Highlighting mobility requirements, he explained how the army was looking at a Light Tactical Mobility Platform to replace in-service Quad Bike All Terrain Vehicles in 2020 and beyond, as well as a reintroduction of pack animals.

With regards to combat clothing, Moodie warned that the army’s Multi-Terrain Pattern (MTP) uniforms brought into service during the Afghanistan campaign, remained unsuitable for jungle warfare and described how such a development remained unfunded. Additionally, he said the army had not yet begun to consider Arctic clothing. “These are areas we need to address,” he admitted.

Finally, Moodie described ongoing efforts to improve hearing protection for soldiers with the introduction of blast attenuation devices and suppressors for assault rifles. “In a time of poor funding, we need to get clever and be agile,” Moodie enthused. “We want to increase that to the integrated soldier system- using money for concept and assessment to develop equipment required for the future soldier.”
Andrew White