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SWIR Comes Out of the Shadows By Julian Nettlefold

Long seen by some as the Holy Grail in Night Vision Technology Short Wave Infrared or SWIR technology has remained a well kept secret with companies such as UTC Sensors Unlimited and Raptor Photonics loathe to share their secrets in public as the Western militaries wish to remain owners of this part of the military night vision spectrum

However, both companies opened up to BATTLESPACE at AUSA.

As it is such a new and largely unknown technology its worth giving an overview of SWIR and its capabilities as described by UTC Sensors Unlimited .

Using SWIR in Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Military and Security Systems

Responding to the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) has become the focus of U.S. Defense policy, and with that, the need for greater intelligence collection has moved upward in priority. And whereas past reconnaissance needs were more strategic in nature, today’s needs are highly tactical, demanding a high level of persistence and the ability, in many cases, to identify individual humans in the field of interest. Many approaches have been employed and proposed, but in recent years, the exceptional capabilities of short wave infrared (SWIR) technology have made SWIR the “Next Generation” of imaging technology for ground, airborne and space technology.

Several unique capabilities and characteristics of SWIR make it a valuable asset in the war against extremists:

  • Low Light/Night Vision Imaging: SWIR cameras from Sensors Unlimited can operate down to starlight conditions, receiving adequate illumination from the weak natural phenomena known as atmospheric nightglow. Nightglow is created by hydroxyl ion emissions in the short wave infrared portion of the spectrum. Read more about night vision imaging.
  • Recognition of Target: Whereas long and medium wavelength infrared sensors are able to spot targets based solely on their heat emissions, SWIR cameras and sensors see reflected light in the shorter wavelengths just beyond the visible range. As a result, the images are close representations of what is seen in the visible spectrum. Humans are very recognizable, with the typical difference being that all hair shows as white due to the lack of moisture in hair; conversely, skin shows darker, due to its high moisture content. It is said that long and medium wave sensors provide detection, while SWIR and visible sensors provide recognition. The beauty of SWIR is that recognition can be achieved covertly in darkness.
  • Eye-Safe Laser Illumination: Lasers operating in the SWIR portion of the spectrum are eye-safe, meaning these wavelengths of light will not easily penetrate the cornea of the human eye. Thus, illumination by lasers at the common 1550 nanometer wavelength may be used to safely illuminate humans and targets. Readmore about laser illumination.
  • Covert Illumination: In turn, eye-safe 1550 nm light is invisible to the human eye, BUT easily seen by SWIR cameras and sensors. An entire area may be lit with SWIR illumination that is totally invisible to the human eye, yet bright and clear to SWIR cameras. Similarly, a single target of interest might be illuminated by a focused laser beam for easy viewing or tracking. This is useful for designating specific targets for range finding, as well as other military-specific applications. Read more about covert illumination.SWIR cameras, sensors and imagers can play an important role in today’s ISR needs. Whether aboard Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), mounted on rooftops and street corners, integrated into small crawling robots, or fitted to Special Operations Command vehicles and weapons, SWIR offers our defenders a new weapon in the war on terror.

    Many SWIR camera capabilities are considered sensitive. If you would like to learn more about SWIR capabilities for the military, you can register at a special web site, www.swirconops.com. You must be a US Government employee or a USG contractor and be a US Citizen to access this site.

Shane Hazel, Business Development Manager for Force protection Hand Held SWIR Cameras gave the Editor an overview of the products on show at AUSA but was unable, given ITAR restrictions to allow any vision through the systems.

UTC has three current Warrior SWIR Products but as Shane Hazel said they are under constant development for their military customers which. to a greater extent, are Special Forces.

Warrior HWH

Modular Handheld Weapon Helmet (HWH) with target accuracy and enhanced situational awareness

The compact and modular Warrior HWH is a field-ready Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) viewer providing high resolution video during day and nighttime operations.

Warrior PRF Decoder Module

Laser Spot Tracking for Warrior HWH Handheld Viewer

The compact and modular Warrior Pulse Repetition Frequency (PRF) Decoder Module is a lightweight field ready laser marker/designator tracker. The module tracks and decodes NATO Band I/II coded laser energy during day and nighttime operations.

Warrior Illuminator

Covert lightweight field ready SWIR Laser Illumination

The compact Warrior Illuminator is a lightweight field ready Short Wave Infrared (SWIR) covert laser illuminator. It easily mounts into the hot shoe of the Canon 5D* camera and enhances and extends ID-quality SWIR imagery even in complete darkness.

We very much hope that UTC will be able to carry out a display of SWIR products at Battlespace Surveillance 2018 subject to permission form the US Government.

Raptor Photonics

John Craigie of Phoenix Engineering the US agent for Antrim, Northern Ireland based Raptor phonics gave the Editor an overview of the product line.

SWIR

 

OWL 1280 VIS-SWIR

OWL 1280 SWIR

Using a cooled 1280 x 1024 InGaAs sensor from SCD, the OWL 1280 offers visible extension from 0.4µm to 1.7µm to enable high sensitivity imaging. The 10µm x 10µm pixel pitch enables the highest resolution imaging. The camera will also offer 2 x 2 binning to become 640×512, 20um pitch for ultimate low light vision and high speed applications. It will offer less than 35 electrons readout noise combined with one of the lowest dark current readings on the market. The camera will offer ultra-high intrascene dynamic range of 70dB enabling simultaneous capture of bright & dark portions of a scene.

  • 10µm x 10µm pixel pitch
  • < 35 electrons readout noise
  • Digital output
  • On-board Automated Gain Control (AGC)

View OWL 1280 VIS-SWIR


OWL 640 ‘Mini’ VIS-SWIR

Raptor has now introduced the OWL 640 ‘Mini’, a TEC-less version of the successful OWL 640-CL camera. This SWaP (Size, weight and power) design is perfect for integration into small OEM and machine vision and scientific platforms.

  • TEC-less Visible SWIR
  • 15μm x 15μm pixel pitch
  • Ultra high intrascene dynamic range
  • Ultra compact, Rugged, No fan

View OWL 640 ‘Mini’ VIS-SWIR


OWL 320 High Speed VIS-SWIR

OWL 320 High-Speed VIS-SWIR camera

The OWL 320 High Speed VIS-SWIR is a world leading camera using InGaAs technology for near and short wave infrared imaging

  • VIS-SWIR technology
  • Frame rates of up to 346Hz
  • Easy control of camera parameters

View OWL 320 High Speed VIS-SWIR


OWL 320 High Speed SWIR

Owl 320 High Speed SWIR

The OWL SW1.7HS is a world leading camera using InGaAs technology for near and short wave infrared imaging.

  • SWIR technology
  • Optional Visible extention
  • Frame rates of up to 346Hz
  • Easy control of camera parameters

View OWL 320 High Speed SWIR


OWL 640 Analog VIS-SWIR

Owl 640 analog with lens

The OWL SW1.7 CL-640 is a rugged, high sensitivity digital VIS-SWIR camera. Using a 640 x 512 InGaAs sensor from SCD the OWL enables high sensitivity imaging from 0.4µm to 1.7µm.

  • VIS-SWIR technology
  • 15µm x 15µm pixel pitch
  • < 50 electrons readout noise
  • Analog output

View OWL 640 Analog VIS-SWIR


Ninox VIS-SWIR 640

Ninox SWIR 640

The Ninox-640 is a cooled, high sensitivity digital VIS-SWIR camera. Using a 640 x 512 InGaAs sensor from SCD the Ninox 640 enables high sensitivity imaging from 0.4µm to 1.7µm.

  • Non ITAR
  • 15µm x 15µm pixel pitch
  • < 50 electrons readout noise in high gain
  • Cooled to -20°C
  • Ultra high intrascene dynamic range – 70dB.
  • On-board Automated Gain Control (AGC)

View Ninox VIS-SWIR 640


OWL 640 VIS-SWIR Digital

owl 320

Using a 640 x 512 InGaAs sensor from SCD the OWL enables high sensitivity imaging from 0.4µm to 1.7µm. The 15µm x 15µm pixel pitch enables highest resolution VIS-SWIR image and with less than 50 electrons readout noise the OWL 640 enables the highest VIS-SWIR detection limit.

  • 15µm x 15µm pixel pitch
  • < 50 electrons readout noise
  • Digital output
  • On-board Automated Gain Control (AGC)

Raptor also produce the  Compact Handheld SWIR Monocular which comes with an integrated 1550nm laser illuminator (not detectable by GEN II or III monocular or NVG) for discrete covert night vision application. It is lightweight <750, pocket sized and developed to provide precise and accurate target acquisition during day and night operations.

Again we hope that Raptor will attend Battlespace Surveillance 2018 and we will certainly leave  speaker slot for a SWIR paper.

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