Phoenix II battlefield trials promote digitization of French army

The Phoenix II demonstration program had some ambitious goals to meet the French army's upcoming needs, such as developing new operational capabilities and advanced digital integration. We take a quick trip to the Mourmelon military camp to look at initial feedback from these trials.

Sagem had already conducted the Phoenix I battlefield trials for the French army in 2007 and 2008. The aim at this point was simply to test the digitization of communications between infantry soldiers, coordination of optronic sensors, tactical communications requirements, and updates on enemy positions. According to chief engineer Willy Lamal, Phoenix contract manager for French defense procurement agency DGA, "Through Phoenix II, conducted from May 5 to 27 at the Mourmelon military base, we were able to take a further step forward in exchanging tactical information and enhancing its value, an objective we dubbed 'infovalorisation'."

Sagem and Thales were co-prime contractors for the Phoenix II demonstration, including coordination, planning and operation of the trials. A temporary consortium was also set up for these trials, including Cassidian, MBDA, Nexter Systems and three small defense businesses, Novadem, Eca and Aerophile.

Making innovative use of existing systems

The resources deployed for Phoenix II included a typical command post for a joint services tactical sub-group (SGTIA), a Felin-equipped infantry unit with its vehicles, DRAC and Dragonfly drones, a Cobra reconnaissance robot (the latter two controlled from the Felin tactical tablet), a squad of AMX 10 RC reconnaissance armored vehicles, two combat helicopters and various support equipment.

Different scenarios were studied, based on a totally integrated digital battlefield architecture, from soldiers to command post at the tactical battlegroup level. "The Phoenix program enabled us to quickly define new operational concepts based on digital systems that are either being procured or under test," said Willy Lamal. "The manufacturers involved demonstrated the effectiveness of their solutions. These solutions were assessed by the DGA, while also enabling troops to discover their operation in the field and compare them to current systems."

Phoenix covered three main points, starting with the ability of warfighters in vehicles to understand the tactical situation. This understanding largely depends on the ability to track the position of friendly forces ("Blue Force Tracking") or enemy forces ("Red Force Tracking"), and to transmit warnings. The Phoenix II demonstration therefore used several realistic engagement scenarios, including convoy protection, zone reconnaissance, reactions to ambushes and deployment of reinforcements for a friendly force attacked by asymmetrical threats. The integration of combat aircraft in the exercise also helped validate information exchanges with air and land (artillery) support. The second point examined was increasing the robustness of tactical communications by introducing relays (combat vehicle or captive balloon) to extend the range and applicability of specific software. The last point studied was combat continuity via the automated exchange of information between mounted and dismounted units. This continuity was made possible by interfacing the PR4G tactical network with the platoon level RIF network in the Felin system.

For the first time, Phoenix integrated vehicle-mounted versions of the RIF in VAB armored vehicles to ensure mounted-dismounted continuity for Felin combat units. Phone and data transmissions (messages, images, video) included simultaneous geolocation via the RIF for each dismounted soldier, for Blue Force Tracking accessible to everybody connected to the SGTIA.

Towards international collaboration?

After these trials, it is now time to step back and analyze results. The French army and defense procurement agency DGA will have to define the most advantageous paths forward in the months ahead, areas where industry will have to move to the next level. Until now, Phoenix has been a purely national battlefield trial program, although with the presence of observers from the U.S. Army's Defense Export and Cooperation bureau. A similar joint demonstration program, in conjunction with Italy and the United Kingdom, could be proposed to the DGA in the future.

Phoenix II, battlefield trials, coordination of optronic sensors, digitization battlefield

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