Head to toe: the latest advances in soldier clothing and equipment

Julian Turner 3 February 2020 (Last Updated July 30th, 2020 12:04)

The modern soldier has at their disposal an unprecedented amount of advanced kit designed to boost both lethality and survivability. Julian Turner takes a closer look at the latest in soldier systems from head to toe, including helmets, vision, body armour, clothing, and leading-edge smart devices.

Head to toe: the latest advances in soldier clothing and equipment
Credits: US Army Sgt. Cooper T. Cash, Task Force Patriot Public Affairs.

US Army Integrated Head Protection System

Part of the overall Soldier Protection System (body armour) being rolled out by the US Army, the new lightweight Integrated Head Protection System (IHPS) resembles a full-face motorcycle helmet, and allows users to add a visor, mandible and extra ‘applique’ layer for more blunt impact protection.

The helmet has four holes compared with five on the existing Enhanced Combat Helmet (ECH); two on each side for attaching the retention device, or head and chin strap, and one at the front for the night vision or optic mounting.

A Next Generation IHPS is already being tested and includes a new Universal Helmet Mount (UHM) that will hold the Enhanced Night Vision Goggles-Binocular. This will in turn connect to a soldier’s weapon using the Family of Weapon Sights-Individual and Rapid Target Acquisition capability.

Microsoft Integrated Visual Augmentation System

The Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) is an augmented-reality headset that overlays digital objects such as maps or video displays on top of the real world in front of warfighters.

The glass visor is capable of displaying location data – the wearer can confirm their position using a compass and locate members of the squad using an almost miniaturised blue force tracker – as well as 3D and thermal images, allowing soldiers see through smoke.

The IVAS system shows the reticle right through the visor, and the US Army also uses it to formulate ‘after-action’ reports summarising a soldier’s marksmanship and performance during a training exercise. The US Army is working on shrinking the current iteration of IVAS so its works with existing helmets.

Elbit Systems’ Dominator Suite

Designed to enhance the combat effectiveness and survivability of the dismounted soldier, this soldier-centric integrated system combines low-weight ergonomic design and is modular and scalable, meaning Dominator’s multiple components can be tailored to the needs of all soldier types, from commanders and team leaders to snipers and riflemen.

Available in light, basic and advanced suite configurations, DOMINATOR includes the PNR-1000 personal network radio, providing intra-platoon and special forces with simultaneous digital voice and data communications, and the Raptor all-in-one wearable computing unit, which is available in smartphone or tablet format, and provides soldiers with complete situational awareness.

Dominator also comes with a range of wearable devices, including SmartEye ballistic eyewear, Smart WristView – a compact, low-power, wrist-strapped C2 display – and the recently launched SmarTrack, a situational awareness system for dismounted forces in GPS denied environments.

Multi-terrain pattern combat clothing

Replacing the previous Combat 95 uniform, the British Army’s multi-terrain pattern (MTP) combat clothing is designed to blend with the range of environments such as woodland, jungle, compounds, crops, grassland and arid stone.

British soldiers deploying on operations are given a ‘black bag’ of kit containing antimicrobial underpants designed to be worn for days at a time; flame-resistant clothing for working inside vehicles, knee-length, waterproof, bacteria-zapping socks with antimicrobial properties similar to those found in medical dressings; sleeping systems; and Virtus body armour.

In addition, personal load carrying equipment holds everything a soldier needs to operate for 48 hours, including ammunition/weapon ancillaries, entrenching tool, bayonet, food and water (and a means to cook), protective and communications equipment.

Qioptiq Dragon S thermal weapons sight

The Qioptiq Dragon S (sniper) clip on thermal sight is a ruggedised, uncooled thermal imager that provides snipers with 24/7 surveillance and target engagement capability, even in poor visibility, total darkness, and through battlefield obscurants.

Capable of detecting a human-sized target at a range of approximately 3km, the Dragon S includes a hot-swappable battery system that allows the operator to constantly keep eyes on the target, and it can be adapted for use on a variety of weapons mounting to either a Picatinny or NATO rail.

Qioptiq’s Kite image-intensified weapons scope – available as a stand-alone scope or an inline optic to maintain accuracy during the day – allows users to detect a person at up to 2.5km distance in peak conditions. The Maxkite-1 version, meanwhile, is capable of detecting targets at up to 4.5km.

KARGU kamikaze drones

Turkey plans to deploy 30 upgraded STM KARGU (autonomous tactical multi-rotor attack UAV) kamikaze drones featuring enhanced ammo capacity and improved accuracy from early 2020.

Deployable and operable by a single person in both autonomous and manual modes, the KARGU system comprises a rotary wing attack drone, a ground control unit and UAV recharging station components. Used as part of a cooperative swarm, the quadcopters weigh less than 7kg and have the capacity to destroy an entire brigade and warship.

All KARGU drones possess artificial intelligence and facial recognition systems, have a range of 15km and can stay in the air for 30 minutes carrying various types of explosives, making them effective for asymmetric warfare and the fight against terrorism.

Ripsaw M5 robotic combat vehicle

Billed as the world’s first robotic combat vehicle, the unmanned, remotely operated Ripsaw M5 robotic combat vehicle (RCV) is deployable by plane, sling load air recoverable, offers 360° situational awareness, extreme mobility and manoeuvrability on rough terrain and through obstacles, concealed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and multi-mission capability, and armaments including a medium calibre cannon, and anti-tank and aircraft weaponry.

The RCV’s high modularity means it is suitable for several applications, while its open and flat architecture enables the integration of different payloads for multiple combat applications.

The Ripsaw M5 also has a mine-clearing line and mine plover. The improvised explosive device defeat roller attached to the tank is equipped with an agile counter mechanism to neutralise identified threats. The M5 RCV can also carry a FLIR SkyRaider unmanned aircraft system.