November 25, 2009:
The French Army has ordered production of 22,588 Felin ((Fantassin a Equipements et Liaisons Integres, literally infantryman with data-linked integrated equipment, in plain English; "Future Infantry Soldier System") kits. The army is spending $1.5 billion on development and manufacture of Felin kits, which will equip all the infantry. The first units will receive Felin next year, and all the infantry will be so equipped within six years. Several hundred evaluation kits have been in use for over a year.
France, like most other Western armies, has developed a new suite of equipment for its infantry. They call it Felin. After more than a decade of development and testing, it's ready to go into production, but a key component, the personal radio, was stalled for a bit because the government mistakenly sold the frequency for this radio (802-862 Megahertz) when they auctioned off a number of frequencies.
There are several hundred of the radios being used for field tests, using the auctioned frequency. But more than 32,000 radios (for infantry and combat vehicle crews) to be manufactured in the next six years, will first need changes in the basic design to accommodate a higher frequency. The only downside on this, other than a deployment delay, will be a shorter range (a few percent less) for the radio in forests and urban environments. The current range is 1,000 meters in the open, 600 in forests and urban areas, and a hundred indoors. Felin was supposed to enter service this year, but will be delayed until next year, or perhaps later.
Felin consists of 150 items, 73 of them part of the basic equipment. Typically, an infantryman will carry 70 Felin items (including weapon, ammo, food and water), weighing about 57 pounds (26 kilograms). The weight of the Felin gear is well designed for troops on the move. It is well distributed, and this was done with soldiers, maneuvering during combat, in mind. This includes the protective armor.
Soldiers can carry up to eleven electronic items. The helmet contains 13 items (goggles, digital camera, ballistic visor, night vision equipment, commo items and so on). Water is now carried in a camelback container, which U.S. troops and hikers have been using for years. One thing the infantry miss is the close fitting, and more stylish combat uniforms they currently have. The Felin combat uniform is baggier, to accommodate the many new items of equipment. While much of the gear is evolutionary, the complete package looks pretty radical, when seen next to a pre-Felin soldier dressed for combat.