The Future Armoured Vehicles Situational Awareness 2017 conference is set for March 29-30 in London. In advance of the event, organizer SMi Group released interviews with European military leaders. Here they discuss opportunities and challenges in the emerging situational awareness landscape.

What are the key areas for development in situational awareness domain?

Martin Röder, project manager, IT department, PSM (Projekt System und Management GmbH), Germany: On military vehicles the commander has many important tasks. To assure he could fulfill the right activity in the right time it is extremely important to have a crew that assists him and an assisting vehicle-system. Our objective is to generate one unit getting all players together. Therefore, the information generation and information assignment on the one hand and the support on automated functions on the other hand are our main aims.

Col. Manuel Jesus De Hoyos Sanchez, head of 8x8 VCR programme, Spanish Army: Situational awareness is not about technologies themselves but about the capabilities they provide. The interaction with the operator needs to be carefully designed in order to reduce their cognitive load. The right balance between the amount of information provided by the systems and the useful information for the combatant in a situation of distress is also a very important factor.

Major Wouter Samson, Doctrine C4I, Manoeuvre Centre of Knowledge, Manoeuvre Centre of Excellence, Royal Netherlands Army: Being a user myself in the past and having been part of studies on this subject, I have seen information integration can be essential for vehicle crews. With this I mean information integration into the platform, vehicle, so the user can view all the information on one or two displays instead of multiple. The sensor information integration in to C2 systems and sensor information integration in to other sensors' information user interface. These all contribute to the awareness of the crew but also commanders that can better understand the situation and therefore make better funded decisions.

Who should be aware of what, how quickly, how reliably, for how long?

Röder: Every commander has to know everything about his team and the tactical situation they are in. There are the status of his vehicle, the condition of his crew, the tactical situation in near range and the position of his platoon members. The platoon leader has in addition to interact with his battalion. The battalion has to know the tactical situation on high-level range to deploy the platoons at its best. Real-time information is the most valuable …for all these purposes.

Samson: This is something that will require more studying since how we fight conflicts is changing. In a certain way total war is back, because attacks on civilian systems are back, for example cyberattacks. These changes also happen in the military environment, and it certainly is not always clear who the enemy is. So a tank commander might one moment want to know where an enemy tank is but the next what system is jamming his systems. So I think we will be confronted with new threats, but I want to warn for one thing that will certainly happen, commanders doing micromanagement and losing grip on the overview. We should really try to prevent this from happening. Commanders should make big decisions and not be a super platoon commander.

Major Ola Petter Odden, Norwegian Army Combat Lab, Norwegian Army Land Warfare Centre: The need for information and the ability/opportunity to absorb information varies greatly in different situation. During a battle day you might have long periods of relative calm where you can access a lot of information. But when in enemy contact, you only worry about your immediate surroundings and survival. So the system must be able to switch modes or something like that, to become useful across the specter of operations.

How can networking with dismounted infantry enhance vehicle situational awareness?

Röder: As two heads are better than one, the dismounted crew is a chance for getting terrain information in better time. Each [infantry soldier] has the information of position and status of the other platoon-members. The platoon-leader then too has the precondition to deploy every [soldier] most effective.

Sanchez: The dismounted infantry must be seen as a deployable "node" capable of acquiring and relaying very useful information because of their capability of reaching difficult spots where the vehicle cannot access to, so it enlarges the area covered. A reliable Common Operational Picture is a "must" in order to better exploit the assets deployed on the battleground. Nevertheless, this is also a challenge as many data sources make it more difficult for the dismounted soldiers and the vehicle crew alike to assess the situation. The right balance is key in getting the right approach.

Odden: Very often the combat vehicle will provide support for dismounted infantry. So knowing where they are, where they are going etc is key to achieve combined arms operations.

What are the challenges associated with the integration of C4i systems into existing platforms, and how can these be overcome?

Sanchez: There is a wide range of technical challenges that need to be overcome. First and foremost how to succeed in bringing together new technological systems with legacy systems, above all old radio systems with a low capacity of transmitting data in a context of high demand of information here and how to integrate them in an Open Architecture approach.

Samson: The problem we in the RNLA are facing with legacy systems are, analogue systems, no interoperability, stove pipe systems, no coordination on this subject from the Defense staff. It requires a coordination at defense staff level so all the systems for all branches are compatible. [It requires] that we think about how procure future systems, what threats we face and how we deal with them, and last but not least how we organize our own organization.

Odden: At one point the cost of integrating new C4I(SR) on a legacy platform outweighs the benefits: It may be very labor intensive because you must remove a lot of components to gain access, maybe weight increases and you must upgrade engine, gearbox and suspension, space issues may force you to remove something else (ammunition, a seat, etc). I think we sometimes hang on to old platforms way too long, even though vehicle platform cost is really not that high compared to system cost.