ABOVE: HuntIR is used here for night observation by German ISAF units in Afghanistan. (AIM Infrarot-Module GmbH)
Night vision capability enables soldiers with individual and crew served weapons to see deep into the battlefield, increase surveillance and target acquisition range, and penetrate obscurants, day or night.
In current asymmetric and “three blocks”- warfare scenarios, long range threat detection and identification capability is essential for force protection and effective engagement as a premise for successful tactical and operational maneuvering.
Close in distance in urban terrain might be the most common, but not the only operational environment western forces are facing nowadays. In the early days of machine guns, most fighting happened in the trenches of World War I battlefields. But a crew-served weapon in a key position supporting offensive and defensive infantry operations directly or surveying open flanks often made and makes the difference between success and loss, and high or low casualties.
Maneuvering with pinpoint accuracy and efficiency at night as well as in daytime requires situational awareness, target classification and target identification capability. Cooled thermal imagers provide superior range performance and large field of view at night and in adverse weather conditions, with a compact design and sensitive detectors with high resolution together with large depth of focus. As part of the Soldier Modernization Program IdZ, the Federal Armed Forces of Germany implemented a cooled thermal sight for infantry weapons (WBG-HaWa-Inf) AIM HuntIR, compact and ergonomic with a well-balanced center of gravity providing a sensor performance comparable with 1st and 2nd generation armored vehicles’ gunner sights.
Besides dominating range performance, further key factors of sensor performance, especially for snipers, are high thermal and optical resolution separating armed and unarmed humans, observing target behavior up to intermediate distance facial recognition, discriminating the “immediate lethal body parts” as well as target effect recognition. This adds into account an enhanced need of situational awareness in accordance to the rules of engagement in peace enforcing and COIN operations: “Be sure before you pull the trigger!” The key enabler is resolution.
Night vision capability by thermal contrast also applies to compact uncooled thermal technology with low energy consumption. This is ideal for assault rifles, PDWs and other short and intermediate range infantry weapons. To match the engagement ranges of Crew Served Weapons (12.7mm HMG, 40mm AGL/GMG) as well as sniper and anti-material weapons, the low sensitivity of uncooled microbolometer detectors requires extremely large lenses. Keeping at the same time the distance capacity as a key factor of the survivability and combat effectiveness of heavy infantry weapons under nowadays combat environment is a challenge only cooled thermal technology can meet.
The other alternative – image intensifiers – gets to the edge of their technical possibilities in current combat areas with no artificial light sources even behind the horizon as where there is no light, there is no amplification. The same applies for shadows in rugged mountain areas enemies intend to hide during daytime.
For infantry sections and platoons on patrol, more distance capacity and situational awareness is indispensable for preemptive action or to blow a camouflaged ambush. This can be realized by an efficient mix of light intensifier and uncooled sight for individual small arms and cooled thermal sights for the section leader and its key weapon (light machine gun, designated marksman rifle). Furthermore, a cooled thermal imager with high thermal sensitivity and high depth of focus is an indispensable tool to pinpoint one’s own fire on the opponents due to their unsurpassed ability to visualize the trajectory of projectiles far beyond the standard range of individual small arms even without tracer (detectable up to 1,000m). This can also increase the distance capability of the whole platoon bringing a .308 caliber round at the edge of its predictable ballistic performance still on target.
Another feature bringing a projectile on target at the edge of ballistics and range (1,500m) is an automatic fire control. To ensure this with fast and accurate hit probability to multiple targets at various distances on different weapons like HK 40mm x 53 GMG, AI L96 (German designation G22) and Barrett M82 (Germ designation G82) the AIM HuntIR was extended with an eyesafe laser-rangefinder, 3 axis digital magnet compasses (DMC) generating automatically range, banking and elevation data for the integrated numeric ballistic calculator. The result was the AIM RangIR, – with same weight and same dimensions – handed over to the German forces at the end of 2010 as a fire control system for the Heckler & Koch 40mm x 53 Grenade Machine Gun simplifying target engagement to “push button, put reticle on target and pull the trigger.”
With a breakthrough in portable numeric computers, the real and detailed drag function of the projectile can be calculated at high supersonic, supersonic, transonic and subsonic speed. There is no need for approximation to G1 to G8, Rheinmetall or Siacci test projectile function anymore. Multiple zeroing on different distances can be put into account.
The real strength of RangIR reveals it enabling the gunner’s improvising with the unpredictable – wind – and still putting a surprising, precise and effective series of 40mm explosive rounds on target. This is accomplished by observing the first round trajectory up to effective engagement range using the thermal imager with the right thermal sensitivity in combination with the right field of view and the right depth of focus. At the edge of the trajectory the impact is predictable, so the correction for the following 40mm round can be done, while the first is still on its way.
Targets behind tremendously thick “QUALA”- walls of Afghanistan’s compounds- can be engaged with programmable Air- Burst Ammunition with their fragment effect. AIM is looking back on long years’ experience and designing fire control for air burst ammunition.
A C4I/ BMS capable RangIR with target cueing and target acquisition ability will be part of IdZ II – the German Soldier modernization program 2nd generation. The monocular of the RangIR targeting sight can be exchanged to a bi-ocular in the field without additional tools to be applied as a comfortable observation sight additionally enabling enduring surveillance tasks.
As AIM has the full depth of detector manufacturing, they are able to provide the latest detector technology with more and smaller pixels first. With this they are already looking into the next generation of thermal targeting sights reducing size, weight, battery consumption and price keeping the same performance as RangIR today or providing about 70% more performance by the same size as the RangIR today enabling even the long range interdiction sniper with a good probability to separate armed and unarmed targets at maximum distance of the gun coming closer to the ideal role of the sniper today: engaging the threatening target precisely by sparing the non-combatants the same time.