Digital Future Force Emerges

September 2008
By Henry S. Kenyon

The goal of the French army’s Scorpion program is to create a more flexible, network-centric force that can operate in a variety of missions, from full combat to counterinsurgency
and humanitarian efforts.
Modernization initiative gains momentum as government lays out plans for network-centric ground forces.

The French army is in the first stages of a far-reaching transformation program to digitize its ground forces. The goal of the effort is to connect all echelons of the service into a single network, with emphasis on forces at the battalion level and below. Additional developments will include streamlined acquisition and logistics, a new family of lightweight, fuel-efficient combat vehicles and robotic reconnaissance and surveillance systems.

As envisioned by France’s procurement agency, the Délégation Générale pour l’Armement (DGA), the Synergie du Contact Renforcée par le Polyvalence et l’Infovalorisation (Scorpion) program will equip the army’s eight combined arms brigades by 2025. These 5,000- to 6,000-man units are a mix of infantry, armor, artillery and engineer regiments. DGA officials say that the program will allow commanders to blend each regiment’s capabilities to form combined task forces tailored for specific missions.

DGA officials explain that for the foreseeable future, the French military is expected to engage primarily in three types of operations: brief conventional wars; long-term peacekeeping and anti-insurgency operations such as those in Kosovo, Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast; and humanitarian relief operations.

The key goal of Scorpion is to digitize these tactical “contact forces,” explains Bruno Masnou, a key account leader at EADS Defence and Security Systems, Elancourt, France. He notes that to operate efficiently, these forces must be integrated into a global networking architecture. The DGA’s network-centric approach will differ from the stovepiped systems currently being phased out by the French army. “Scorpion is a vision of a consistent view for all contact programs: vehicles, electronics and the systems associated to make correct command and control decisions behind the communications system,” he says.

However, he warns that despite years of preparation, Scorpion is not yet a formal program. In fall 2007, the DGA solicited studies from EADS and other French firms with the goal of launching a transformational system that will avoid the issues encountered by previous development programs. EADS officials expect a competitive contract award to be announced by the end of this year or in early 2009.

Incorporating the French army’s inventory of aging equipment is another challenge facing the program. One of Scorpion’s goals is to introduce new systems and to link existing ones into a coherent network-centric architecture. Because army units are expected to participate in a range of operations, they will have to be flexible and networked to deal with rapidly changing threats, DGA officials say. A key part of Scorpion will be improving units’ situational awareness and combat capability. The program emphasizes networked systems, sensors and communications links to enhance ground forces. It will build on ongoing army efforts such as the Bulle Opérationnelle Aéroterrestre, the Maitrice d’Oeuvre d’Ensembles des SIC Terre or MOE
SIC Terre, and the Fantassin à Équipments et Liasons Intégrés (FELIN) future solider program to unify communications and data networks down to individual squads.

Situational awareness will be provided through the use of unmanned aerial and ground vehicles deployed at the platoon and company level. DGA officials note that enhanced situational awareness will help avoid blue-on-blue incidents and allow units to engage enemy forces at greater distances. Networking will allow vehicles to share data and permit them to engage targets from beyond line of sight. Described as comparable to the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems and the United Kingdom’s Future Rapid Effects System, Scorpion will include existing heavy armor and the newly introduced family of VBCI lightweight infantry fighting vehicles.

A variety of active and passive systems will provide vehicle self-protection. These defensive capabilities include hard kill active defenses against rocket-propelled grenades and antitank missiles, and electronic jamming to counter improvised explosive devices. One example of the active capabilities under consideration is the System Hard Kill (SHarK) demonstrator. Intended for use on heavy armor and infantry fighting vehicles, SHarK is designed to destroy incoming projectiles ranging from 155-millimeter artillery shells to missiles and armor-piercing tank shells. A radar system detects inbound munitions and destroys them 10 to 15 meters away from the vehicle by firing a series of shaped charges attached to the outside of the vehicle. DGA officials explain that the concussion from the charge, which is detonated with a laser system for high-speed interception, causes incoming shells to detonate or break up into small fragments.

The French military has been moving toward a fully network-centric capability over the past eight years, says Jean-Michel Orozco, vice president of EADS Defence and Communications Systems. Scorpion will incorporate command, control, communications, computers and intelligence (C4I) systems such as MOE SIC Terre. He adds that MOE SIC Terre is the French military’s first step to converge C4I capabilities and that Scorpion will build on this. Other systems also will link to MOE SIC Terre, connecting all echelons of the French army. “There is no contradiction between Scorpion on the one side and MOE SIC Terre. Scorpion is one step further for levels brigade and below,” he says.

Orozco notes that France has already invested a large amount of money to connect its echelons below and above brigade. “We’ve got a pretty good command and control chain covering the division level down to the soldier level. One thing that is lacking from my point of view, and this will probably be a key point for Scorpion, is better interfacing and interaction with sensor and effectors—weapons systems. This real-time interconnection, we don’t have it much yet,” he shares.

Perhaps the first priority for Scorpion will be to enlarge the command and control system horizontally across the army and to integrate the system onto weapons platforms, Orozco speculates. To achieve real-time collaboration, the system will have to provide effects that cannot be achieved without high levels of inter-activity and interconnectivity. He says that the French army did well in building a vertically integrated chain, and now it must be spread across weapons systems.

Another goal of Scorpion’s battlefield network is to link all army components from the brigade down to individual soldiers. Scorpion also will provide full interoperability with other services in the French military and with multinational forces such as NATO. It also will connect to higher echelons to provide commanders with improved decision making authority, more coordinated operations and improved freedom of action for combat units. The French army is expected to combine most of its different information and communications networks by 2012 under MOE SIC Terre. It will connect several programs managing systems at the division, brigade, regiment and platoon levels. The network will be protected against electronic and computer attacks and is designed to interoperate with multinational forces.

In addition, Scorpion will develop new procurement and modernization processes designed to control acquisition costs. According to DGA officials, the program will represent seven percent of the French government’s budget for military equipment from 2008 to 2020. Major investments are planned between 2013 and 2019.

One of the capabilities being developed for Scorpion will permit forces to engage targets from beyond line of sight via data feeds from reconnaissance platforms and other battlefield sensors.
Other key aspects of the program are improved logistics and increased battlefield mobility. For example, the VBCI is designed to use 25 percent less fuel than the AMX-10P vehicles it replaced, reducing operational fuel requirements. The program also pools and standardizes diagnostic and repair tools and related personnel and infrastructure.

Virtual embedded training will be built into Scorpion. This capability allows commanders and soldiers to train with scenarios directly displayed on their vehicle and command post monitors. DGA officials explain that the training system will eliminate the need for costly and cumbersome external simulators. As a part of Scorpion, the French Ministry of Defense will manage and test new developments with the Laboratoire Technico Opérationnel (LTO) battlelab and the TACTIC demonstrator.

The LTO battlelab allows the army to create operational scenarios and experimental concepts, then assess them through simulation. The evolution of Scorpion will rely on the results of these simulations, DGA officials say. The TACTIC demonstrator is an experimental tactical unit designed to provide an accurate representation of future combat land forces. It will enable the army to validate the feasibility of Scorpion concepts developed in the LTO. The system will implement new technologies linked by a real-time combat control and information systems. These capabilities are being introduced incrementally in a process that began in 2007 and that will run through 2012. In 2012, the TACTIC unit will face an opposing force designed to represent future threats to tactical close combat units.

In October 2009, French and German units will participate in the “Artist” exercise designed to test the interoperability between their C4I systems. The experiment will transmit data from unmanned aerial vehicles, unattended ground sensors and data systems between both forces.

On the business side of the program, the firms that have submitted their proposals are preparing for the government’s decision. To provide better industrial synergies for Scorpion, EADS formed a joint venture with Nexter Systems. Masnou notes that Nexter has considerable experience developing combat vehicles and vehicle command and control systems, and manages most of France’s military vehicle programs. EADS contributes its experience with C4I systems and tactical equipment such as Germany’s future infantry program. Masnou says that advanced soldier equipment such as FELIN is the lowest connectivity level for contact forces.

The EADS-led joint venture presented the DGA with its project ideas in late 2007. Orozco notes that throughout 2008, EADS was in discussions with the government about the applications and processes that will be used in Scorpion. He notes that the government will make a go-no-go decision along with industrial and other considerations by the end of the year.

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