“By themselves, we have no deficiencies,” Captain Olivier Sylvain says as he points to an array of sensors on a PowerPoint slide. “We own the night.”

Among the list are a holographic sight for close engagement; night vision goggles for navigation and identification; a laser aiming device for engagement and handover; a Kite Sight for night time engagement; M22 binoculars for daytime engagement; a handheld thermal imager for all weather detection; and a thermal weapon sight for all weather engagements.

In total, the deputy director for STANO (Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Night Observation) projects rattles off nine devices with five different displays, requiring almost a dozen AA batteries.

And as he speaks, a colleague proceeds to load them onto the body of a volunteer from his audience at a Soldier System Technology Roadmap workshop in Montreal. With body armour, helmet and a rifle, the devices rendering the wearer almost immobile.

Soldiers may have the ability to see and acquire targets in a wide field of view under varying light conditions, with the ability to zero in on minute objects, but they are being weighed down by a growing mountain of gadgets attached to their vests, helmets and rifles, observes Sylvain, who recently return from a tour in Afghanistan as a technical advisor.

“We need less boxes,” he emphasizes.

That means integrating various sensor capabilities, he explains to the workshop of industry, academia and defence science professionals hosted by National Defence and Industry Canada.

For example, some sighting devices recently available on the market allow for an immediate transition between a wide field of view for rapid close range engagements and a magnified narrow field of view for accurate longer range engagements. Also appearing as usable products are helmet-mounted monoculars that fuse image intensification and thermal capabilities in the same lightweight package.

Whatever the nuances of asymmetrical warfare, Sun Tzu’s dictum of “know the enemy and know yourself ” still stands. Command may be the pivotal function in a battle space, but without “sense” little else is possible. For the individual soldier, that means greater situational awareness (SA). Sylvain believes that over the next decade, “the soldier should have access to the relevant SA of his zone of interest through a number of sensors, multi-layered, in-depth and of different types, without increasing weight, volume or cognitive load.”

That final point is critical. More important than reducing the number of sensor boxes strapped to the soldier is integrating the information provided by those sensors. “We are already at the level of sensor data saturation,” he admits. “We have more sensor data than we have smart brains to look at the data.” His challenge to industry: how can data be pre-screened before it is presented to the soldier?

Looking further ahead, he hopes sensors will solve some of the more visual challenges facing ground troops – seeing behind walls and into buildings with more detail than thermal imagers – explosive detection and automated scanning of crowds. “Those are the hard problems we need fixed in the next 10 to 15 years,” he acknowledges.

For the time being, though, he would like industry to address the most pressing problem: the 600-metre challenge. As a dismounted soldier goes through the STANO cycle – detect, recognize, identify, locate, track and engage – of potential targets, speed in all possible atmospheric conditions is essential. The priority, he says, is to enable the soldier to go through that cycle for targets within 600 meters with the least amount of devices, power and time. “Let’s fix the 600 metre challenge in the line of sight.”