Home' Defence Technology Review : DTR SEP 2016 Contents 39
DEFENCE TECHNOLOGY REVIEW | ISSUE 24 | SEP 2016
As commercial night vision technology expands, military-grade technology
must continue to evolve and improve. Whichever force can see light that its
rivals can’t will have the advantage. Tobias Naegele reports.
Do you see what I see?
consumer explosion. Night vision adaptors sell for US$110 to $300
(AUD$145 to $395) and the Danish firm Lumigon’s T3 smart
phone includes a built-in night 4-megapixel camera with dual
infra-red (IR) flash. The camera can be used as a view finder or
to capture still images. At about US$800 (AUD$1,050), it’s only
slightly more expensive than a high-end smart phone. At the
same time, new entrants in military-grade night-vision devices
are emerging across Asia.
Digital night vision weapon sights are also maturing, thanks to
complementary metal-oxide semi-conductor (CMOS) chips that
combine efficient light sensitivity with low-power consumption.
Low-power digital sensors aren’t effective in no-light scenarios,
but in low-light situations (down to a quarter moon) the newest
technologies are increasingly capable. The US Army recently
purchased the CMOS Night Observation Device (CNOD),
for example. The system, which is built around CMOS chip
technology and the result of a partnership between Photonis
Technologies and Rochester Precision Optics (RPO), has a
spectral range from 500 nanometers (nm) to 1080nm, and can
detect targets beyond 750m.
Market Research projected in May that the world’s industrial
night vision surveillance market will grow by a compound annual
rate of 26.5 per cent through 2024, when it will top US$175
million (AUD$230 million).
MILITARIES SEEK AN ADVANTAGE
Yet Western militaries are not about to surrender their
night-time advantage. Far from it, they’re investing in new
technologies, fused IR and thermal image systems and continued
miniaturisation in an effort to make night vision goggles smaller,
lighter and more durable.
The limitations of digital technology at the lowest light levels
has military customers clamouring for the best of both worlds –
that is, the low-level light performance of image intensification
tubes and the low-power performance of newer digital
For example, the US Army fielded 24,000 units in the first two
phases of its Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (ENVG) program.
Beginning in 2009, the Army began acquiring some 9,000 ENVG-I
units and, a few years later, 15,000 ENVG-II devices from Exelis,
which in 2015 was acquired by Harris Corp. Officially designated
the AN/PSQ-20A, the devices are monocular, helmet-mounted
units that combine third-generation image-intensifier tubes
with a thermal IR sensor, or microbolometer. Combining both
THE ENEMY IS GETTING MORE SOPHISTICATED.
IN THE IMMEDIATE aftermath of 9/11, allied forces in
Afghanistan and later in Iraq overwhelmed the opposition
with technological and professional sophistication: they had
superior situational awareness because they owned the skies and
they owned the night. Today, 15 years later, the allies still own
the skies. But the night is becoming a more dangerous place to
Night vision was still a specialty item in the armed forces then;
today, it’s everywhere – including in the hands of the enemy. The
Taliban now boasts a commando force in Afghanistan called
‘Red Group’, which reportedly employs night vision technology
to advantage against the Western-trained Afghan Army and
National Police. While it’s impossible to say how much night
vision technology has aided the Taliban resurgence, it’s safe to say
ABOVE: Western armies, including Australia’s, continue to seek
out technological superiority in night vision capability. Image: ADF
it’s helping. The Associated Press reports that Taliban forces have
inflicted about 20 per cent more casualties year-to-date versus the
same time a year ago.
Whether the Taliban’s Red Group bought its night vision gear
on the open market, captured it in raids or acquired it through
black markets or subterfuge from Afghan forces isn’t clear.
And it may not make a difference. Night vision is no longer the
exclusive technological domain of military and law enforcement
ninjas; today, it’s a rapidly expanding commercial technology.
Hunters and security managers are interested, of course, but
affordable night vision may well be on the verge of a mainstream
technologies in one goggle eases the transition when soldiers move
from low light, to no light to bright-light situations, an essential
capability when moving in and out of buildings in urban terrain.
Now the US Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors
Directorate is pushing a new system. Testing is underway on
the ENVG-III, built by BAE Systems, which also integrates the
Army’s Family of Weapons Sight - Individual. The combination
enables soldiers to aim their weapon without having to remove
their night vision gear, speeding up time to engage and allowing
soldiers to fire accurately without first raising their weapon and
to engage targets from a greater distance. BAE and Army officials
expect to field the new technology in 2017.
A French team of Bertin Technologies (part of the CNIM
group) and Photonis have combined to create the all-digital
FusionSight, a compact monocular night vision device that
combines a colour low-light sensor with a digital thermal image
sensor. Designed for special forces, surveillance, camouflage and
threat detection applications, the new technology gives users a
choice between thermal or colour views, as well as a combined,
Looking further out, a group of scientists from the University
of Sydney’s School of Physics published new research in May
this year that, if proven further, could dramatically improve the
quality and reduce the cost of night vision devices. Published in
the scientific journal Optica, researchers found that by etching
ABOVE: FusionSight night vision monocular. Image: A. Dalivoust
NIGHT VISION IS NO
LONGER THE EXCLUSIVE
OF MILITARY AND LAW
TODAY, IT’S A RAPIDLY
CMOS Night Observation Device
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