First pass approval to progress a range of soldier combat-related capability elements under Project Land 125 Phase 4 is imminent, although details of what will be involved are still being finalised.
The project will deliver 14 varying capability elements in three tranches, the first stretching from 2019-20 to 2022-23; the second from 2023-24 to 2026-27; and the third from 2027-28 to 2031-32. Gate Two is anticipated around the middle of next year, after which Tranche One acquisitions can begin.
These will primarily focus on enhancements to the Soldier Combat Ensemble (SCE) and refreshes to field equipment, but will also involve the augmentation of live instrumentation systems for large exercises, enhancing combat life jackets for amphibious operations, and upgrading initial targetry.
Developed by Diggerworks and a Capability and Sustainment Group (CASG) project team working closely with Army, the SCE comprises five elements: Load Carriage Equipment including packs (LCE); Protective Equipment (PE); Tiered Combat Helmet (TCH); Combat Hearing Protection (CHP); and Ballistic and Laser Ocular Protection (BLOPS).
Under Land 125 Phase 3B, deliveries of 22,000 sets of the SCE to the ADF began in 2015 and were completed early this year with the most recent deliveries incorporating several iterative improvements thanks to a spiral development approach.
These include adoption of a high cut combat helmet with rails to facilitate the integration of head-borne equipment, numerous small modifications to pouches, and a complete design of the large field pack.
Tranche One of Land 125 Phase 4 will see the delivery using extent contracts of SCE19, incorporating further enhancements that are currently being refined, to ensure that ADF units continue to maintain world-leading SCE.
Director of the Soldier Combat Systems Program at Army Headquarters Colonel Marcus Fogarty, points out that the SCE equips not only Army combat units but also RAAF airfield defence guards, and RAN clearance divers and boarding parties.
“We’re receiving a lot of really positive user feedback and where appropriate we’re incorporating that feedback into incremental improvements to the capabilities we deliver,” COL Fogarty said to ADM. “RODUMS – Reports on Defective and Unsatisfactory Materiel – from soldiers saying what needs to be improved are also noted carefully and incorporated into the planning for the next iteration.
“The bottom line is the key information that is provided in looking at the requirements for the close combatants of the future is provided in our cross-disciplinary working groups by subject matter experts coming out of the units.”
Clearly, the focus has now moved on to the SCE after next, a tender for which will be issued in 2020 for delivery in 2023 as part of Tranche Two.
Work under way includes assessments of the current and future threat environments, liaising on similar developments with coalition partners, and working with a range of agencies to take advantage of technological advances.
These seem likely to offer ways of improving protection and reducing the weight of the ensemble.
Currently, the Tiered Body Armour System (TBAS) of the SCE weighs around 6.5 kilograms for the Tier 2 Dismounted system issued to close combat troops within a dismounted combined arms team, and 7.3 kilograms for the Tier 3 General Combatant design provided to troops whose role is primarily concerned with combat support to combined arms teams.
While outside of the project, one promising development is the latest high-end ballistic armour produced by Adelaide company XTEK, whose Small Arms Protective Insert (SAPI) plates are currently being evaluated by Diggerworks.
The polyethylene plates produced using the company’s XTEK’s XTclave technology are significantly lighter than ceramic plates, are buoyant in water, and will protect against different threats.
“We’re always seeking to provide the best equipment at the lightest weight and that will apply from Tranche Two onwards, but as we are in the requirement-setting stage no specific system or platform has been decided,” commented COL Fogarty. “I’m not going to discuss threats or who gets what levels of protection other than the fact that any member of the ADF that goes in harm’s way will get the best protection we have within the Defence Force”.
One feasibility study being undertaken by Diggerworks involves the potential utility of a passive exoskeleton for dismounted close combatants with the intended purpose being to transfer the weight of soldiers’ carried equipment directly to the ground and reducing fatigue.
Role of DSTG
An initial partnership with the Canadian company Mawashi significantly informed the development of this type of system and Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) remain engaged with industry and academic partners to progress the development of mechanical load carriage devices.
As part of this effort, DSTG researchers, cognisant of some soldiers carrying more than 85 kilograms of mission-essential personal equipment, have developed a proof-of-concept three kilogram fully-passive exoskeleton. This uses Bowden cables to attach to a rigid backpack frame. The cables run down the back and legs to the base of the boot and transfer approximately two-thirds of the backpack load to the ground.
Due to its expense the SCE is not a one-for-one replacement for legacy equipment. Units receive the SCE on an ‘access not ownership’ methodology and troops receive the ensemble through the unit as opposed to an individual issue, although it’s planned that all soldiers will receive some basic field equipment suitable for their role and task.
Additionally, Army and CASG have developed the SCE Modernisation Plan which is using opportune funding to provide additional SCE to the ADF close combat community before Land 125 Phase 4 Tranche One completes this rollout.
Currently, around 35,000 sets of SCE in varying configurations have been delivered under this modernisation plan.
“We haven’t completed the requirements and done the costings for equipment moving forward but it’s certainly more expensive, so the access and ownership methodology is something we’re going to look at closely,” COL Fogarty stated.
Overall support for Land 125 Phase 4 is the responsibility of Paul Grant, Director of the Soldier Modernisation Systems Program Office in CASG’s Land Systems Division, who discloses that a tender to establish a prime vendor arrangement for the long-term supply of field equipment will be released in Quarter 3 of this year.
This will provide for a constant supply of field equipment from early in 2020 through to the completion of Tranche Three in 2031-32 via a performance-based contract, initially for five years.
“These larger, longer-term arrangements are a key part of the First Principles review in revising our supply engagement models, maximising the support we get from industry, and reduce CASG’s contractual management workload,” he explained to ADM. “The key is to develop an industry capability partner who is across the whole market in terms of what technology is out there and whom we can work with in terms of defining our requirements.”
As the name suggests, field equipment covers a broad range. Initial deliveries in 2020 will involve eight equipment types including an individual artificial illumination system (helmet torches), urban breaching system, parts of an individual sleeping system (sleeping mats), and individual emergency water purification.
Of the other capabilities involved in Tranche One, live instrumentation for large exercises will enhance Army’s current relocatable system used for collective training at Shoalwater Bay and other exercise areas.
Enhancing combat life jackets for amphibious operations seeks increased functionality to allow troops to operate equipment more effectively as they transition from the maritime to the land environment.
Finally, upgrading initial targetry seeks more lifelike targets for live firing.
“There have been some significant changes in the military shooting continuum, these are to better support the more advanced shooting practices which are being employed within the close combat community,” COL Fogarty said.
The anticipated cost of the three tranches has yet to be disclosed.
This article first appeared in the September 2018 edition of ADM.