Modernising the world’s troops

Jon Lawson

Michele Windsor looks at the challenges of creating equipment for soldier modernisation programmes and how they can be overcome

Soldiers' uniforms and equipment have changed considerably since the First World War and governments have taken steps to modernise the soldier's kit.

During the First World War, a uniform shortage and freezing temperatures led civilians to knit garments for the front line.

However, concerns over colourful and quirky designs led the British Government to introduce official knitting patterns for British soldiers, restricting knitting to khaki wools and dictated patterns.

Since then, much has changed in the military, but there are still strict restrictions on the equipment that can be used.

After the end of the Cold War, many countries began to improve their soldiers' equipment through soldier modernisation programmes.

The main objectives of the soldier modernisation programmes are to improve the effectiveness, protection and communication of dismounted soldiers. It is therefore vital to improve on the earlier versions of equipment that soldiers used.

At the same time, this must be balanced by practical considerations such as the concept of SWaP (size, weight and power).

In particular, France’s Félin modernisation programme includes a portable computer and a voice and data radio, alongside new combat clothing and protection equipment. While all this equipment improves the communication and protection of the dismounted soldier, it can put excess strain onto the soldier.

The target weight for the Félin programme was for each soldier to carry a target weight of less than 25kg for all parts, weapons, ammunition, power supplies, food and water provisions. This meant that size and weight were increasingly important for all components.

Although adding more features to radios and portable computers enhances a soldier's ability to communicate, it also increases the demands on the power supply.

However, France’s Félin programme dictated that the soldier must have a 24–hour power supply.

For battery manufacturers, this creates a particular challenge and often means tackling the laws of physics to make the battery smaller, lighter yet more powerful.

Most soldier modernisation programmes now contain a central power supply to reduce the amount of batteries that soldiers carry. By using a conformal battery pack that conforms to a soldier’s body, manufacturers can reduce the space that the battery takes up in the soldier’s kit.

To increase the capacity and energy density of batteries, manufacturers are required to create new and innovative technologies.

Ultralife has developed the chemistry of the 5790 battery, which is a common radio battery format used in manpack radio, to give it an average weight of just 1300 grams, equating to 307 Wh/kg of energy density.

By using a combination of lithium carbon monofluoride and manganese dioxide chemistry, Ultralife’s UB00032 battery has twice the energy density of some competitors.

Therefore, when governments are considering the next step in their soldier modernisation programmes, it is important that they consider the size, weight and power of the battery they use to power the equipment.

After all, without a reliable, durable and long lasting power supply, the equipment they supply in the modernisation programmes would be useless and soldiers would be back to the days of knitted uniform.

Michele Windsor is global marketing manager for Accutronics and global battery manufacturer Ultralife Corporation