A program that started with plans for Wi-Fi links on the battlefield, Bluetooth connections between soldiers and their rifles, and tablets strapped to the wrist of each combatant, has been streamlined to provide the required capabilities while preventing information overloads, data traffic jams and too much weight.
"Thanks to trials carried out in Lecce, southern Italy, over the course of this year, the Future Soldier program has been simplified and become more pragmatic," said Gen. Gaetano Zauner, the head of the Italian Army's general and financial planning department.
The initiative forms part of a wider program known as Forza NEC, which is charged with digitizing vehicles like the Italian VBM Freccia armored vehicle and giving command-and-control structures a net-centric dimension.
The Italian Army's Pinerolo brigade was picked to test the new technologies, while Selex is leading an Italian consortium of firms developing new kit, including Iveco, Oto Melara and Beretta.
A thermal camera to be carried by each platoon should be ready by 2016, as will new command posts Zauner said.
Soldiers program the performance of their cartridge into the sight, which then calculates trajectory and uses a laser range finder to indicate where to shoot.
"The soldier's load should be about 30 to 40 kilograms," said Zauner. "That is acceptable if you need to move fast."
After the exercise in Spain, which will be data-linked to Lecce, the Army will have an end-of-year review to make a final decision on what gets put into production.
Additionally, a Wi-Fi capability in the radio was to allow communication with a range of up to 100 meters, to reach other soldiers and vehicles.
"Thanks to testing, we have been able to see exactly what was needed to attain the capabilities we needed," said Zauner.
"Bandwidth in theater is not what you have in the lab," he said. "We were finding that packets of data were getting stuck in queues whether we were using the radio or satellite communications."
Zauner said that too much information risked slowing the soldier down. "We needed to filter information," he said.
Another crucial aspect was cost. "Today the radio we are putting on the Lince Army vehicle is almost the same price as the vehicle itself," he said.
Parliament did approve a new round of Freccia vehicle purchases months ago, but the funds have not been cleared by Italy's Industry Ministry.
"The Pinerolo will be a fully digitized brigade in two to three years," Zauner said.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.