October 14, 2011: France has, for the first time, sent troops to Afghanistan equipped with Felin (Fantassin a Equipements et Liaisons Integres, literally “infantryman with data-linked integrated equipment”, in plain English; "Future Infantry Soldier System"). In the last few years, the French Army has received over 5,000 Felin kits, with nearly 20,000 more on order. Some $1.5 billion was spent on development and manufacture of Felin kits, which will eventually equip all French infantry. For the troops in Afghanistan, a few items of Felin gear are being provided at a time, so they can get used to it. By next year, units will arrive in Afghanistan that have already received, and trained with, the gear back in France.
The first units received Felin last year, and all the infantry will be so equipped within four years. Several hundred evaluation kits were in use for over a year before the first regular infantry units received Felin. Russia, and several other countries, have checked out Felin, and liked what they saw. Russia wants to buy Felin, and some of its technology.
Frelin is not unique. France, like most other Western armies, has developed a new suite of equipment for its infantry in the past decade. It took more than a decade of development and testing before Felin was ready to go into production. Typical problems were the personal radio, whose development 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 other frequencies. A new frequency had to be adopted. The only downside on this, other than a deployment delay, was a shorter (by a few percent) range 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 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 26 kilograms (57 pounds). 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.
Meanwhile, Germany and the United States have been introducing Felin-type gear for their troops in Afghanistan over the last decade. Germany has had some of their troops actually test new gear in combat. Then, a year or two later, upgraded versions will also be sent off to Afghanistan.