Technology never stands still and no sooner is one challenge met, then another arrives. Sometimes it is a small step, sometimes a giant leap. As the year fades, Battlespace reviews some of the products from the electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) and night-vision arena that have emerged during 2016.
This year’s monsoon-soaked Farnborough air show in July produced several announcements, beginning with the new sensor turret unveiled by Elbit Systems of Israel. Known as SPECTRO XR, it is described by Elbit Systems as an “ultra long-range, day/night, multi-spectral electro-optical ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) system that provides 20-inch payload performance in a 15-inch payload”.
The heart of the system is a large multi-spectral imaging system that combines multiple cameras into one which, according to the company, allows it to “significantly improve performance without increasing size and weight”. Using a very high level of stabilisation, the gimbal can accommodate up to nine advanced digital sensors, including thermal imagers operating in the mid-wavelength infrared (MWIR), shortwave infrared (SWIR) and visible and near-infrared (VNIR) spectrums (incorporating image fusion), together with various laser adjuncts. Between them, users are promised “high performance in adverse weather conditions”.
The use of a modular design enables installation on a variety of platforms including: rotary and fixed-wing aircraft, aerostats, maritime and ground applications. A wide variety of command-and-control interfaces enable simple integration with various systems onboard the platform, such as mission computers, radar, data-links and helmet-mounted tracking systems. Inherent in the SPECTRO XR system are additional features such as GPS, DVR (digital video recording) and a moving map, which can provide a cost effective avionics upgrade with minimal space, weight and integration efforts.
FLIR Systems used Farnborough to launch the latest version of its Star SAFIRE 380 series of EO/IR turret – the Star SAFIRE 380-HLDc compact targeting system. Designed specifically for use on light rotary wing aircraft, the 380-HLDc is essentially the 380-HDc ‘surveillance’ model with a high-definition MWIR thermal imager and a 1080p EO camera (both featuring continuous optical zoom), with added laser payloads for the targeting mission. The laser options include Class 1 (eye-safe) or Class 1M laser rangefinder; a Class 4 laser designator, Class 4 laser illuminator and either a Class 3b or Class 4b laser pointer.
Other imagery options include a colour VNIR and SWIR cameras. The system is capable of image blending to create a suitable image for improved situational awareness. Being a single line-replaceable unit (LRU), the lightweight (32 kg) 380-HLDc employs the same physical mapping interface, cabling, and user interface of the 380 series, it can easily replace in-service models from the same range.
Earlier in the year, FLIR Systems used the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, Florida (23-26 May) to launch a lightweight, ground surveillance vehicle, known as LTV-X, aimed at the border security and force protection. It can be transported inside a V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for rapid deployment in support of urgent operational requirements.
The LTV-X is equipped with a mast-mounted TacFLIR 280-HD multispectral turret, featuring high-definition (HD) MWIR, SWIR and HD colour zoom imagers, plus a laser rangefinder, laser pointer and near-infrared (NIR) illuminator; together with a Ranger R6SS ground surveillance frequency-modulated continuous wave (FMCW) X-band radar on an extending mast.
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control (LMMFC) used Farnborough to promote its private-venture INFIRNO EO/IR sensor turret, shown mounted under the nose of the Polish-built UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. A mast-mounted INFIRNO had been successfully trialled on Patria AMV 8×8 wheeled armoured vehicle in 2015. In July 2016, a development turret installed on a UH-60 Black Hawk was test-flown on a series of trials that verified line-of-sight stability and image quality, logging more than eight hours of flight test.
INFIRNO is a 15 inch-diameter, gimballed turret mount which can accommodate nine plug-and-play line-replaceable units (LRUs) – the same number of sensors as a 20-inch diameter turret. It can accommodate seven payloads, including a baseline high definition (HD – 1,280 x 1,024 pixels) MWIR thermal imager; an HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixel) colour TV camera, operating in the visual infrared (VIR) spectrum with a x4 electronic zoom; an eye-safe laser rangefinder; and a laser designator.
Other sensors that can be fitted include a SWIR camera, a wide-angle TV camera, a low-light-level TV camera and a laser pointer. A See-Spot laser boresight alignment unit is incorporated as standard, as is a multi-target image and inertial target tracker.
One of the INFIRNO’s features is that it can be maintained or upgraded with removing the turret from the airframe, removing the need to replace entire systems and lowering life cycle costs.
Moving from sensors to displays, BAE Systems’ Electronic Systems introduced the latest enhancements of its Striker II Helmet-Mounted Display (HMD) advanced fighter pilot helmet, in the form of colour imagery and 3-D audio cueing, at Farnborough. It has also successfully completed the second phase of trials to integrate the HMD system’s technology with the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter, validating that the HMD can be readily used with existing aircraft, whether its electronics systems are analogue-based or digital.
According to Chris Colston, business development director for Advanced Displays at BAE Systems, on an aircraft configured for full-colour display, the pilot will be able to view coloured warning symbols and messages, replicate coloured head-down displays, display of colour sensor imagery, and offer coloured layering of multi-spectral/image fused sensors.
One of the major benefits of Striker II is the inclusion of an integral digital night-vision camera (DNVC) provided by Intevac of the US. As well as interfacing with existing avionics, DNVC removes the need for separate heavy night-vision goggles that increase pressure on the pilot’s head and neck so that aircraft manoeuvrability is no longer limited. The current Striker II configuration is now capable of use from +9 to -3 g[subs=ITALIC].
The proliferation of UAVs has brought forth some counters, one of which – the Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) – was shown at Farnborough. AUDS was developed by a team comprising Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics (who supplied the EO/IR element, Enterprise Control Systems and Liteye Systems, Inc.
The AUDS system brings together a consortium comprising Blighter Surveillance Systems (A400 Series Ku-band electronic-scanning air security radar), Chess Dynamics (Hawkeye stabilised electro-optic director with target tracking software), and a directional radio frequency (RF) inhibitor from Enterprise Control Systems. The Hawkeye uses a cooled MWIR IR sensor with a 640×512 array format and a Piranha 46 HR camera (using a colour HD 2.3 MP detector). Both imagers have a x30 optical zoom and x12 digital zoom with autofocus.
Said to be the world’s first fully integrated detect-track-disrupt-defeat counter-UAV system, the consortium claims that the AUDS can detect an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone six miles (10km) away using electronic scanning radar, track it using precision infrared and daylight cameras and specialist video tracking software before disrupting the flight using an inhibitor to block the radio signals that control it.
The AUDS system is designed for countering drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) in remote border areas, at key infrastructure sites such as airports, air fields, nuclear power stations, oil refineries or for protecting political, sporting or VIP events in urban areas. It can be operated from fixed locations and from mobile platforms.
The consortium reports “significant interest” in the AUDS system from the defence and commercial sectors since the production-ready system was launched in September 2015. In May 2016, the AUDS system was selected – through Liteye Systems – by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for evaluation at US airports as part of its Pathfinder Programme. This FAA research programme is designed to evaluate technologies that can be used to detect and identify unauthorised unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drone flights near airports.
The Association of the US Army (AUSA) conference/exhibition in October saw L-3 Wescam (part of the Integrated Sensor Systems sector within L-3’s Electronic Systems business unit) launch its MX-8 EO/IR turret (have delivered a sneak preview at Farnborough). The smallest turret in the range, MX-8 is the evolution of an earlier model (tentatively known as MX-7) spoken of at Farnborough 2014. It is designed to equip small tactical UAVs, aerostats and light aircraft operating in the ISTAR roles.
Weighing-in at 6.8 kg, with a clearance level of less than 100 mm, the fully digital MX-8 is capable of supporting up to four sensors simultaneously. The baseline configuration comprises a cooled MWIR thermal imager with a 640×480 array format; a colour CMOS lowlight camera, with continuous zoom, using a 1,280×720 array format; a Class I (eye-safe) diode-pumped laser rangefinder and a 150 mW Class IIIb laser illuminator, operating at 852 nm.
As is now the norm, MX-8 includes a full image processing suite that produces real-time image enhancement across all sensors is provided, together with all the geo-location capabilities of the company’s larger MX-Series systems.
Also at launched at AUSA, was the new F5032 Lightweight Night Vision Binocular (LNVB) from the Harris Corporation’s Night Vision and Communications business unit (formerly with Exelis) that offer “to increase a warfighter’s night and low-light capabilities, while helping to reduce eye fatigue on extended missions”.
Weighing less than 500 g and fitted with an F9800 fixed-gain 18 mm ANVIS-style image-intensification tube, the F5032 LNVB’s 25 cm, close-focus range capability allows users to conduct tasks on the battlefield that were previously not possible. The new binocular features fixed and adjustable diopter lenses – eliminating a soldier’s need to change static lenses for personal or mission specific requirements. This feature allows users to easily adjust their lenses during a mission to help reduce eye fatigue.
The new goggle includes an integrated infrared illuminator, reducing the need for the warfighter to carry a separate illuminator. Image intensifiers enable soldiers to operate in low- and no-light combat scenarios more effectively than ever before and can easily be replaced at the unit level. As of this writing, no sales have been reported.