BEATING ‘THE BAD GUYS’ AT NIGHT
By David Maxwell
In an operational area, where contact with “the bad guys” is a likely event, the very process of moving from ‘A’ to ‘B’ by night is fraught with danger. It is not surprising that in the campaigns waged in Afghanistan and Iraq, night-vision for the soldier, whether on foot or riding in an MRAP (Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected) vehicle has become a paramount requirement.
Provision of night-vision goggles (NVGs) for the foot soldier and driver’s vision enhancer (DVE) equipment for the vehicle-mounted soldier has, thus, become the subject of many urgent orders over the last six years. This equipment is in a state of rapid evolution, so BATTLESPACE makes no apology for re-visiting the subject.
Up until very recently, NVGs using image-intensification (II) technology have been – and remain – predominant. However, where there is minimal ambient light, the pre-requisite of the II tube, performance has been, to say the least, marginal. However, the advent, in April 2008, of the AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced NVG (ENVG) into US Army service finally brought the benefits of thermal imaging (TI) technology to the individual soldier’s NVGs on the battlefield.
As has been related previously in these pages, following an evaluation between competing products from Northrop Grumman Electro-Optic Systems (formerly Litton and, since April 2008, acquired by L-3 Communications) and ITT Night Vision, in July 2004, the Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier awarded ITT a contract for 75 AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced NVG systems. A further contract was awarded in April 2005, for an unspecified number of Optical ENVGs.
Issued to US Special Operations Command (first unit equipped in April 2008) and the 10th Mountain Division (from March 2009), production of ENVG is now well under way. The AN/PSQ-20 uses optical image-fusion, which combines an II image (providing clear target identification) with an overlay of a long-wave infrared (LWIR) thermal image (providing improved target detection), allowing for improved mobility and situational awareness.
In a system weighing 2 lb, including the battery pack and its four AA-size batteries, ENVG is capable of recognising man-sized targets with an 80% probability at 150m and a 50% probability at 300m. Further technical details remain classified.
For the time being, the AN/PSQ-20 will remain a US Army-only asset. However, during the recent (October 2009) Association of the US Army (AUSA) exhibition in Washington, DC, it emerged that ITT already has plans to produce a more affordable and exportable Super ENVG.
Aimed at those US allies considered trust-worthy enough to share the technology, ITT intends Super ENVG to be more affordable than the AN/PSQ-20 (from which it has evolved). By using ‘standard’ 18mm-diameter II tubes and other design engineering changes to ease production in higher volumes, the company hopes to attain production rates some three or four times higher than at present. US governmental approval will, of course, be required before the system could be sold abroad and only after US forces had received “sufficient quantities” themselves.
However, it will be some time before the ENVG, in whatever configuration, matches the production numbers of the US Army’s current ‘standard’ – the AN/PVS-14 Monocular Night Vision Device. ITT Night Vision has already produced well in excess of 300,000 and L-3 EOS are currently marketing a subtley-improved version of this product as their Model 914A. The same goes for the previous market-leader, the AN/PVS-7 series of NVGs, produced in several variants by both ITT and L-3 EOS.
Since leaving the Northrop Grumman fold, L-3 EOS has undergone something of a make-over in its approach to the marketplace, emphasising the exportability of its products, albeit restrained by the generation of II tube that can be supplied with the goggles. In addition to the Model 914A, the main products being marketed by L-3 EOS include th