OWNING THE NIGHT CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS 24 HOUR CHALLENGES
By Yvonne Headington
18 Nov 09. The OTN Conference which took place at the National Shooting Centre, Bisley, UK, from 10 -11 November, delivered a frank and incisive discussion on current battlefield night vision requirements and technologies. MoD Requirements and Available Technologies from Industry were addressed in separate sessions on successive days. Conference Chairman Peter Varnish commented that: “The Conference was exceptionally well attended by senior Officers such that a highly interactive discussion took place between the user, suppliers and researchers”.
Brigadier Carew Wilks (Head of Individual Capability Group, Defence Equipment & Support) gave the Key Note address for the first session, identifying two revolutionary technologies that had impacted Infantry operations: command, control, communications, computers & intelligence (C4I) for all soldiers and “the ability to fight the 24 hour battle”. Once the preserve of Special Forces, these capabilities are now available to the wider Army. For the future, the MoD would be looking to equipment weight and bulk reductions and further technical improvements, in particular: fusing Image Intensification (II) and Thermal Imaging (TI), enhanced or ‘digital’ II and the integration of Surveillance and Target Acquisition (STA) capabilities with C4I. This would lead to the fully networked soldier.
An Operational perspective was provided by Captain Jim Slaughter who was the Fire Support Team Commander for 3 Commando Brigade Reconnaissance Force during OP HERRICK 9. Both intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance (ISR) and night vision assets are employed for key tasks, such as counter-IED (improvised explosive device) operations and long-distance vehicle patrols. However there are a number of issues with night vision equipment, including the lack of zoom function and depth perception. (The Taliban, for instance, typically lay IED at night – at the same time as farmers till the soil.) There is also the problem of battery life and the burden of having to carry a variety of sights for different weapon mountings. The question of ‘bulk’ was also raised by WO1 Mark McDonnell during an overview of equipment available to the Forward Air Controller (FAC). The FAC role is not stand-alone and the soldier is required to carry kit for other tasks.
The ‘weight’ theme was continued by Brigadier Richard Dennis OBE (Director Infantry) who pointed out that a junior commander typically carries upwards of 70kg of kit. The soldier will always ask: “What shall I leave behind?” Any additional night vision equipment needs to be “very good” in order to persuade the soldier to carry it. A single-power source capable of feeding a suit of equipment would be desirable in order to reduce the burden of carrying some 45-55 batteries of seven types. As Brigadier Dennis noted “the AA battery is the soldier’s friend”. At the moment the dismounted Infantry has a set of equipment that is mutually incompatible. The soldier should be treated as “a system” with a proper place within the C4I network. This would provide a focus for scientists and budget planners alike.
Colonel Peter Eadie from HQ Joint Helicopter Command addressed capability enhancements for the aviator, covering: surveillance, targeting and pilotage (flying from A to B). The current Chinook Night Enhancement Package had proved to be an “ergonomic nightmare” which should be considerably improved under Project Julius. The Project is intended to bring the Chinook fleet up to a common standard and incorporates the Thales glass cockpit with a digital moving map, a Digital Night Vision Goggle (DNVG) display and a forward-looking infrared (FLIR) turret. Future equipment “innovations” include helmet-mounted displays for all round vision, tactile situational awareness and merged imagery (synthetic aperture radar (SAR) with FLIR and II to produce a virtual display).
The Key Note Addres