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DeconFUSING NIGHT VISION

DeconFUSING NIGHT VISION
By David Maxwell

The concept of fusing image intensification (I2) and thermal (infrared or IR) imagery to make the best of both mediums has been discussed in BATTLESPACE before. This feature aims to bring the reader up-to-date on some new products and concepts involving image fusion or ‘blending’ that have emerged since the subject was last addressed, covering some developments in night-vision goggles (NVGs) and weapon sights.

In the helmet-/head-mounted NVG arena, the United States and ITT Exelis have attained the series production goal with its AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced NVG, using optical-overlay techniques to attain the fusion of the two images. It has not been an easy task to make the size, weight, power and cost (SWaP-C) equation work out and the company continues the evolution.

At last year’s AUSA exhibition in Washington, DC, the company launched its ‘i-Aware’ family of imagery interface modules for night-vision (NV) devices. This module provides NV devices (including the AN/PSQ-20A Spiral-Enhanced NVG) with the capability to transmit and receive imagery as seen through the device on a colour display, plus the ability to display live video feeds (including down links from airborne sensors, where applicable) and geospatial intelligence information. This is not yet digital image fusion but it is data fusion and an important step forward.

As part of the ‘i-Aware’ family, the company has introduced its F6044 Series Tactical Mobility Night-Vision Goggle (TM-NVG), which incorporates the ‘i-Aware’ colour display as an integral element while delivering the same night-vision capability as the AN/PVS-14 (F6015) Monocular Night Vision Device (MNVD). It is designed for use by the individual soldier in a variety of ground-based night operations. At this year’s Eurosatory, the company demonstrated a binocular configuration for TM-NVG. This is said to cost some 40 per cent more than the original TMNVG unit but less expensive than using a pair of AN/PVS-14 MNVDs in binocular configuration.

Meanwhile, ITT Exelis continues to address the complexity of attaining digital fusion in a size and weight that is practical for NVGs, along with the likes of BAE Systems, DRS Technologies and L-3 Warrior Systems (which absorbed the L-3 EOS element of the company, formerly Northrop Grumman EOS and Litton before that). These developments have been covered in previous issues of BATTLESPACE. Perhaps one or all companies will have progress on display this year’s AUSA?

However, the AN/PSQ-20 was not the first NVG to demonstrate optical image fusion. At the Eurosatory exhibition in 2004, the Sensor Systems Division of The O’Gara Group demonstrated its AN/PVS-21 (Model 2733) Low-Profile Night-Vision Goggle (LPNVG) mounted with an Indigo Systems Omega (now the FLIR Systems ThermoVision Micron) thermal camera injecting a thermal image into the intensified image field-of-view (FoV).

Although the AN/PVS-21 was widely sold (albeit in modest quantities) to both the US military and federal agencies, plus international military special forces or ‘first responders’ of Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Taiwan, the UK and other undisclosed countries, it remains unclear whether the fusion element was involved in any of the deals.

However, the concept of super-imposing a thermal image over an existing I2 image is now well on the way to providing what might be called a ‘half-way-house solution’ to bringing together the benefits of I2 and IR imagery. The advance of uncooled thermal imagery materials and the reduction in array pixel pitch has allowed detectors to shrink to the size that can be accommodated into a clip-on unit that can be attached to in-service I2 NVGs, typically the AN/PVS-7 and AN/PVS-14 models.

This trend, hit the market at the IDEX exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February 2011. However, three months previously, in December 2010, Thales Angénieux had revealed its IR module addition to th

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