Soldiers of the future (programs)

Infantry equipment hasn't improved much in the inter-war years or between the Korean War and the end of the Cold War.
WW2 advances focused on weapons and ammunition while Cold War developments focused on lighter rifles and better AT/AP grenade projection capability.

The accumulated opportunities for technical improvement and the concentration of 'few casualties' wars with highly trained infantry allowed for major modernisation efforts in the 1990's.

These modernisation efforts included clothes/bags, camouflage patterns, weapons, radios and even computers. The tank technology competition between NATO and WP had lost relevance and the AT weapon modernisation was degraded to merely one of many modernization efforts.

Germany exchanged almost the whole set of infantry equipment during the 90's, ("Soldat 95") but another type of modernisation attracted more global interest: High-tech modernization with altogether new tools based on micro-processors. The U.S. Army's "Land Warrior" program became the model for many comparable (and mostly less Sci-Fi) projects in other, mostly "Western" nations.

Australia - "Land 125" ak.a. "Soldier Combat System" a.k.a. "Wudurra"

Belgium - "BEST"

Canada - "Integrated Protective Clothing and Equipment" (IPCE), "Integrated Soldier Systems Project" (ISSP)

Czech Republic - "21st Century Soldier"

EDA (multinational) - "21st Century Soldier System"

France - "Fantassin à Équipements et Liaisons Intégrés" (Félin) ", "Systéme Combatant" (SC) 2005

Germany - "Infanterist der Zukunft"(IdZ)

India - "F-INSAS"

Israel - "ANOG", Integrated Infantry Combat Systems (IICS) a.k.a. "Dominator"

Italy - "Soldato Futuro"

NATO (multinational) - "NATO Soldier Modernization Plan"

Netherlands - VOSS (~Improved Operational Soldier System), "Soldier Modernisation Program" (SMP)

Norway - "NORMANS"(Norwegian Modular Arctic Network Soldier)

Poland - "Tytan"

Romania - "Romanian Individual Fighting System" (RIFS)

Russia "- ~"Project Wolf" a.k.a. ~"Soldier 2000"

Singapore - "Advanced Combatant Man System" (ACMS)

Slovenia - “Warrior of the 21st Century

South Africa - "ANOG", "African Warrior"

Spain - "Combatiente Futuro" (Comfut)

Sweden - "MARKUS"

Switzerland "IMESS"

United Kingdom - "Future Integrated Soldier Technology" (FIST)

United States - Army: "Future Soldier", "Future Force Warrior" (FFW, succeeded by Future Soldier), "Objective Force Warrrior" (OFW, succeeded by FFW), Marines: "Marine Expeditionary Rifle Squad"

In short: Modernisation of the infantry is about as much in fashion as decimating the infantry was in fashion during the 90's. And this modernisation fashion emphasises a "system" approach instead of classic patchwork.

The funny outcome: Program managers needed to admit that reality is a bitch.

The components were envisaged as a part of a whole, but didn't mature all at the same time. This and requirements creep turned several of these projects into patchwork despite the systems approach. In fact, the U.S. "Land Warrior" program even had several generations of equipment in it.

These programs did a lot for better communication, camouflage, firepower, protection against climate.

The disadvantages were considerable as well.
The previously dirt-cheap infantry has become an arm with more expensive individual outfits than a Gucci-Rolex-tailored clothed pimps have.
The most expensive part of the old infantryman equipment was the rifle - now it's about a fraction as expensive as its sighting accessories alone.

The relatively high cost wasn't the only problem, of course. Electronics compatibility, weight, bulk, energy supply (= weight + builk + cost) and a disctraction from classic skills (as navigation with compass & map, guessing of distances) became serious drawbacks.

The weight problem is the ultimate problem, and drastic measures had be taken to keep the weight problem in check. Weight savings became a major objective of such programs and only about one in four to one in ten infantrymen actually get a near-full suite (with all those electronics), while most only got a 'light', reduced set.

The cost (and immaturity) problems also restricted several programs to the infantry and close troops. Logistics troops rarely get any of the new toys, for example.

It seems as if the quest for ever better infantry equipment will go on for a while. Programs will either be extended or get similar successor programs. The enormous innovation in the trekking and civilian "Tactical" markets as well as the almost global interest in infantry tool innovations lead to enough incremental innovations to keep program managers busy.

The model for the future maybe the U.S. Rapid Equipment Force (REF) that seeks good off-the-shelf equipment. It's apparently turning to just another bureaucracy, but the basic idea looks sound especially for small soldiers.

The use of a collection of off-the-shelf hardware mostly defies the "systems" idea, though. That nice (on paper) idea is probably already in the death row.

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The whole stuff isn't new, of course. There was already such a thing in the 1950's. It led to a series of rifle development dead ends. 1959:

The interest in infantry modernization seems to overreach a bit. It should be obvious that training budgets and time as well as the allocation of resourceful recruits are more important for the infantry (and by now usually more deficient) than most gadgets.

P.S.: Yes, I think it's appropriate to mock some of the projects by adding pictures of Robocop and Star Wars Imperial Stormtroopers. Some real, official mock ups shown on conventions and exhibitions were no less ridiculous.

Robert A. Heinlein's original novel "Mobile infantry" suit may have had a huge subconscious effect as well. Others have pointed at the "Predator" movie alien as inspiration for cloaking etc. and some other sci-fi movies offered a concept in which every soldier in action has a radio link to an advisor, similar to the motorcycle Sci-fi detective series "StreetHawk".

edit 2013-06: http://china-defense.blogspot.de/2013/05/pciture-of-day-mic-sudan-shows-off-its.html
edit 2015-10: A 1980's concept from the UK: http://augfc.tumblr.com/post/132042234505/infantryman-2000-in-1984-scicon-services-ltd 


  1. These programs have always struck me as far too expensive, complicated, fragile, and heavy to be deployed on a large scale. Not only are electronics and optics easily damaged, but it adds another logistical problem: electricity. Maybe they could be deployed on a limited level with special mechanized heavy infantry, but a general deployment of the system to all infantry would negate one of the infantry's main advantages: they're cheap.

  2. Infantry in wealth countries really aren't cheap, when you consider the the cost of training and other "life cycle" costs.

    And especially the political and moral costs of losing them in combat.

  3. Isn't Heinlein's one of the few fiction works in the required reading list for officers in the US?
    With the suit and tactics comes along a society organized for that kind of soldier.

    1. Afaik it's on some reading list(s), but not sure if required.