ITT Exelis i-Aware – NextGen NIGHT VISION FOR NEW WARFIGHTER NEEDS
By David Smith – Vice President, Program Management for ITT Exelis Geospatial Systems, Night Vision and Imaging
Warfighter Needs for Evolved Night Vision
For over 50 years, U.S. and international militaries have relied on night vision technology to “own the night.” Traditional image intensified (I2) goggles – known for their green imagery – enable warfighters to operate effectively in dark environments and detect enemy combatants and other threats. The core of this night vision capability is the image intensifier sensor which amplifies ambient light and produces the green nighttime image. While this sensor continues to serve as the foundation of night vision technology, today’s warfighter, operating across the networked battlefield and on increasingly complex and collaborative missions, requires enhanced situational awareness and increased capabilities.
Central to this new reality is the need to access and share timely and relevant, tactical intelligence. Simply put, armed forces need night vision goggles to do more than see in the dark. Users also need real-time access to critical intelligence and imagery. This capability can inform the warfighter about what dangers lie beyond a hill, who is staked out in a compound or what event is taking place in a nearby area of interest. Access to this kind of information extends the users operational perspective and informs decisive action.
Sensor Fusion: Making the Invisible Visible
Previously, the night imaging systems available to soldiers consisted of image intensification (I2) devices (like the AN/PVS-14) and/or a thermal imaging (IR) device. The AN/PVS-14 provides a proven night vision capability with exceptional size, weight and power (SWaP) benefits due to the low power, high resolution I2 sensor. Thermal monoculars and weapon sights provide the soldier with a means to detect enemy combatants at longer ranges and while concealed by foliage or camouflage. While each system plays a critical role on missions, carrying two devices adds weight and inefficiency to the already heavy load that soldiers carry in the field. Additionally, multiple systems translate to increased logistical and maintenance costs for acquisition organizations.
To solve these problems, ITT Exelis developed the first Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (ENVG) for the U.S. Army. The ENVG is the first goggle to optically overlay two spectral capabilities, I2 (which operates in the near infrared band) and IR (long wave thermal), into one compact system. Fusing both I2 and IR technologies provides the soldier improved mobility and situational awareness, target identification and improved target detection, particularly in challenging conditions such as smoke or fog – all in one system. It also enables soldiers to spot the heat signatures of enemy combatants camouflaged amongst dense foliage.
The ENVG comes with three different modes – full thermal, overlay and outline. Full thermal mode provides the full capability of both the I2 and IR sensors and is useful for mobility and situational awareness in all environments. Full thermal mode provides the capability to use the full thermal image and discern smaller variations in temperature which can be useful performing tasks such as scanning roadsides for disturbed earth (potentially due to IED activity) or examining a breached room for evidence of a recent human presence. The second mode is overlay, which optically overlays only IR information that is above a predefined threshold. This mode is useful for scanning a tree line, dense foliage or an urban scene to quickly detect objects that are in the range of human body temperature or warmer. The final mode outlines hot objects in the scene indicating a thermal signature, while simultaneously permitting the region inside the outline to be viewed using the high resolution I2 channel. This mode allows the user to “see through” the t