India's F-INSAS update: Survivability
Posted: 06/26/2012 12:00:00 AM EDT | 1
As we await the outcome of the first phase of India’s Futuristic Soldier As a System (F-INSAS) programme, in the first of a series of articles Defence IQ casts an eye over the new features set to revolutionize Indian infantry. First up: Survivability.
This is the ‘don’t be penetrated’ layer of the survivability onion. Other areas of the F-INSAS programme incorporate the ‘don’t be targeted’ and ‘don’t be hit’ sections, but when these two barriers are broken down the survivability aspect of a soldier’s kit becomes his first line of defence.
As with all survivability solutions, be they for man-worn equipment or military vehicles, the challenge in ensuring the maximum level of protection is achieved without compromising on weight and cost. Perhaps this trade-off is no more apparent than for the ‘body armour and individual equipment’ component of India’s F-INSAS soldier modernisation programme.
Under F-INSAS, the Indian government is seeking a tactical vest that will protect the legs, groin, neck and collar from ballistic projectiles. The exact level of protection required has not been specified but following most Indian requirements to date the vest will likely be at least covered under NIJ Level IIIA, which will protect the soldier from a 0.44 magnum round. The helmet will only need to be resistant to 9mm rounds, so the cost:weight:performance ratio here will be far less problematic than for the vest.
According to John Hegle, Senior Tech Director for the Assured Mobility Branch of the U.S. Army’s Manoeuvre Support Centre of Excellence, the optimal soldier assault load is equal to 30% of their body weight and the optimal marching load is 45%. With over half of U.S. Army soldiers suffering from long-term musculoskeletal injuries due to overloading, with a significant portion of that weight laying in the body armour, the Indian government must develop innovative survivability solutions that retain high ballistic performance at a significantly lower areal density than those currently on the market.
However, when you consider all the other capabilities the soldier of the future will need to have on his person – such as having solar panels to charge electrical equipment, the ability to resist the impact of a CBRN attack and storage for oxygen supplies – providing an adequate armour solution at an acceptable weight becomes difficult.
The F-INSAS programme is calling for a ceramic armour solution but increasingly the industry is having to develop new materials to combat the weight problem. Ceramic is around half the mass of steel, but what the military really needs now is something that’s at least half that again.
Although still many years in the lab, there are a number of R&D projects taking place that are seeking to achieve this weight saving. For example, scientists in America are currently looking into the mechanical properties of the mantis shrimps ‘fist’, which can destroy exoskeletons and resist over 50,000 high impact blows during the shrimp’s lifespan. It is thought the complex structure of the shrimp’s fist could reveal vital clues to improving the impact resistance of manmade materials, including ballistic fabrics for body armour. David Kisailus, assistant professor at the University of California’s Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, said that his aim with the research is to reduce the weight of body armour to a third of its current weight.
It is possible that the ballistic material used for the vest would ideally not only protect the soldier from bullets and shrapnel, but also disperse the impact of a gunshot or blast and then harness and transfer that energy for its own internal energy system. A number of these ‘smart’ materials, or e-textiles, are currently in development with militaries around the world including the British and U.S. Armies.
But with clothing it is not just ballistic integrity that needs to be considered for the soldier of the future, it is energy output, communications systems and CBRN protection too. In terms of the latter, the consideration of chemical warfare, though uncommon and not frequently prioritised by international defence ministries, is felt by some, including British Lt Gen (Rtd) Sir John Kiszely, to be at most risk of becoming the “hidden threat” given the increasing development of the IED and terrorism.
According to reports the jacket must also be “waterproof yet breathable” and is likely to incorporate mosquito repellent fabric considering the regional environment. In a world of mines, mortars and bullets, it is important to remember that the mosquito continues to kill hundreds of thousands per year.
As such, integrated medical sensors are being integrated into the soldier’s clothing to deal with all possible health hazards. These in-built real-time monitors will consist of a diagnostic suite enabled to measure vital signs such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, stress levels and even physical impact, essentially allowing medics and doctors to know immediately where injuries are located and what needs to be done to stabilise the troop. There is also a notion of lacing the fabric on uniforms with blood-clotting fibres, which in could in theory be tied in with the “onboard” sensors.
The medical sensor suite is likely to rank as one of the most costly features of the F-INSAS package and may require capability re-tailoring to meet the needs of both budget and practicality.
Some reports from the earliest released RFIs on the subject pointed to ARDE exploration of counter-IED boots, which would enhance the chances of lower limb protection in the event of a soldier stepping on a landmine. How effective such technology can be in live theatre remains either a mystery or guarded secret, but it is known that the most damaging of non-lethal IED injuries (i.e. those requiring amputation) result from impact to the heel. F-INSAS boots may answer this by adding heightened absorption material to the sole, but whether this lends itself too much to an increase of weight, or indeed interferes with the aforementioned boot-based power cell, may cause decision makers to opt instead for a mobility approach over one of bulky protection.
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