ENHANCING LETHALITY: Night Combat Capabilities
This article describes one example of a multisensor thermal binocular for sniper team use and some selected top modern night combat vision scopes for rifles. But first, as an example, here is some technical information for one state-of-the-art fused goggle system (FGS).
The L-3 Warrior Systems, Insight Operations’ Fusion Goggle–Enhanced (FGE) is a helmet-mounted, dual waveband goggle which is smaller and lighter than its FGS predecessors.
By incorporating the latest in technology developments, the FGE, compared to the FGS-PI, boasts over a 20% reduction in both size and weight. The FGE provides targeting and identification in all battlefield conditions and light levels. The FGE uses image intensification technology fused with thermal imagery, thereby bridging the gap in performance and capability for both of these sensors. The FGE is based upon the combat-proven Insight FGS and is compatible with aiming lasers in the 820–850nm range. The FGE has a dual waveband helmet-mounted goggle providing improved situational awareness, targeting and identification over standard night vision goggles. It incorporates two high-performance ETO (L3 electron tube operations) 18mm I2 tubes and an L-3 IRP 17µm FPA (focal plane array) fused into the right eye. The objective focus adjustment is from 18 inches to infinity. It’s fully qualified per MIL-STD-810E. When helmet-mounted, it’s adjustable for operator comfort. The FGE is compatible with a wireless pod and interoperable with mission computers, externally generated super video graphics array (SVGA) data and full-motion video receivers, etc. Its weight is 1.4lb (0.635kg) goggle only, excluding the helmet-mount hardware, power-plate hardware, cold-weather battery pack and power cable. There are two battery packs for use: a cold-weather battery pack (4) 1.5-volt AA batteries and a low-profile battery pack (4) 3-volt lithium CR123 batteries. The batteries’ operating life is approximately 8 hours of continuous operation.
The magnification is 1x and the field of view is: I2 FoV = 38o/LWIR (long wavelength infrared) FoV= 21.5o H x 16.1oV. The thermal is selectable for “White Hot”, “Black Hot” and “Outline” modes, with user adjustable I2 Gain and Thermal Brightness.
IEA MIL-Optics GmbH, the exclusive representative for L3 Warrior Systems in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria, claims that L3 Warrior Systems has one of the best Special Operation Forces’ fusion goggles in the world. USSOCOM use the Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggle (GPNVG) FGE and the ultra-lightweight Binocular Night Vision Device (BNVD) PVS-31 binocular goggle. But there are other manufacturers who have state-of-the-art night vision goggles such as Harris, Thales Group and Qioptiq.
Sniper Team Mission and Night Vision Equipment
A sniper team must perform its mission at difficult vision conditions and at darkness. Equipped with night vision devices like night vision goggles, the spotter’s thermal binocular and the sniper rifle’s “clip-on in-line” (COIL) thermal scope to the long range day scope, the team has the observation capability to locate and suppress hostile fire, deny enemy movement and demoralize the enemy with effective first-round kills at night.
Ultra-Lightweight Thermal Binocular Recon V
An example of a sniper team’s thermal binocular is FLIR’s Recon V. Recon V is a compact, rugged, lightweight, multisensor thermal binocular designed for 24/7 field operations that require enhanced imagery and long standoff range, night and day. The Recon V provides the sniper team the capability for long-range overwatch and assistance in making accurate and rapid decisions through the OODA process (Observe, Orient, Decide and Act). Its internal GPS, digital magnetic compass (DMC) and long-range laser rangefinder provide accurate range-to-target as well as precise target location. The 10x continuous zoom optic, MEMS-based electronic stabilization and high definition color video display combine to provide unmatched image quality and flexibility. The simplified user interface does away with multiple buttons and complicated multilayer menus and makes the Recon V easier to use than ever. The Recon V has detection ranges of up to 10km for vehicles and 5km for man-size targets. With ID ranges of up to 3km for vehicles and 1.3km for man-size targets, the Recon V can identify targets at the range of the sniper weapons.
COIL Thermal Scopes
COIL Thermal Scopes were developed for the US military forces to answer the need for a single weapon that could be used day or night without the need to re-zero. The COIL scope in front of the daytime optic turns the standard optical scope into a thermal scope. The practical part is that there is no need to re-zero the weapon at any time. As long as the daytime scope starts off on-target then the clip-on will be on-target. This is the most used technology. Utilizing thermal night vision technology coupled with uncooled sight and scope technology, a thermal weapon sight is a completely passive infrared weapon sighting system which allows users to identify the heat signatures of individuals or objects day or night and in rain, fog and smoke. No external flash infrared (IR illuminator) light source is required, and the unit may be used in complete darkness or broad daylight. When viewed through the scopes, heat-emitting objects such as humans and recently operated vehicles stand out dramatically against their surroundings, defeating camouflage and other methods of visual concealment.
FLIR ThermoSight® HISS-XLR
FLIR’s rugged and field-tested thermal sights are engineered for battlefield use and designed in partnership with field operators. The ThermoSight HISS-XLR thermal weapon sight’s high-resolution sensors give the shooter image details and clarity needed to tell friend from foe and put the first round on the right target. HISS-XLR offers extended long-range capabilities and target acquisition for sniper and reconnaissance missions with targets out to 2000m. ThermoSight HISS-XLR has a large format mid-wave thermal imaging and a high definition display with high resolution, sharp symbology and imagery. It’s compatible with standard scopes up to 25x. The hot-swap standard CR123A batteries keep the imager active without downtime. It has image/video recording and video output. The shock mitigation system permits use of .50 caliber bolt-action anti-material rifles. Optional accessories include integrated digital magnetic compass and pedant controls.
FLIR MilSight® S140-D ADUNS
The MilSight S140-D ADUNS (advanced dual-band universal night sight) is compatible with standard day scopes with optimum magnification 4x to 12x. The S140-D ADUNS is applicable for reconnaissance, covert operations, surveillance and specialty law enforcement. It’s a multiuse design that offers mission flexibility as a thermal weapon sight for target acquisition, mounted on a spotting scope for long-range reconnaissance, handheld as an observation device or used in other nighttime operations requiring night vision capabilities. It’s designed to mount on any MIL-STD-1913 rail interface forward of an existing scope, adding blended thermal and night vision capabilities to daytime target acquisition platforms. The sight uses adjustable blending of thermal image and intensified night vision to produce a high-quality image through total darkness, fog, smoke, dust and many other obscurants. Its multiuse design, small and lightweight size and simple operation make the MilSight S140-D ADUNS an ideal vision enhancement system for nighttime close-combat missions. The focus range is from 15m to infinity. The I2 FoV is 8.8°, and the IR FoV is 7.1° H x 5.3° V. The Shock Mitigation System is a standard feature. It interfaces command and control on camera and remote pendant. Thermal video is external. Weight (w/o batteries) is 4.5lb (2.25kg). Power requirement is 4 each AA Li (L91).
Detection, Recognition and Identification
Detection means that the viewer can see something that is different from the spectral field around it. In order to detect if an object is present or not, its critical dimensions need to be covered by 1.5 or more pixels.
Recognition means that the viewer can see whether something is a person or any other object. In order to recognize an object it needs to be subtended by at least 6 pixels across its critical dimension.
Identification means that the viewer can see sufficiently well to be able to identify the object as “friend or foe.” In order to do this the critical dimension of the object in question needs to be subtended by at least 12 pixels (Source: some definitions from FLIR Systems, Inc.).
Qioptiq’s DRAGON Family of Thermal Sights
The DRAGON family’s thermal weapon sights can be adapted for use on a variety of weapons mounting to a range of rails including a Picatinny/NATO rail. The DRAGON family’s thermal sights are designed specifically to meet target engagement and surveillance requirements for military customers and law enforcement agencies while providing high-performance capability within a lightweight, compact and rugged military-qualified design. The DRAGON family delivers a capability to detect man-size and vehicle targets 24 hours a day, even in poor visibility, in total darkness and through battlefield obscurants. According to Qioptiq, the DRAGON family utilizes the latest uncooled thermal cameras and optical technology to deliver world leading performance and reliability. They have exceptional boresight stability guaranteed through state-of-the-art optical design and lens mounting techniques. The thermal sights can be fitted with Qioptiq’s LO GLINT coating technology to reduce sunlight glint and reflection as an option.
DRAGON C (Compact) is an ultra-lightweight, multipurpose thermal weapon sight which is simple to use for the dismounted close-combat user. No focus control is required, and it can be integrated with a wide range of optical day sights in the range of x1—x 4 magnifications. DRAGON C is a compact sight with a multirole capability as a COIL thermal weapon sight or used handheld as a stand-alone thermal weapon sight for observation/surveillance. Its weight is only 375g (excluding bracket, batteries, eye guard).The FoV is 16o, and the magnification is x1, x2 (E-Zoom). The range performance detection of a man-size object is at 500m. The power source used is 2XAA Lithium batteries with a running time of ˜5 hours at 20oC continuously. The sight has also a Video Out, RS232 communications.
DRAGON-SR (Short Range) is a lightweight x3 magnification uncooled thermal weapon sight. The simple-to-use DRAGON-SR is a multipurpose thermal weapon/surveillance sight that provides all-round capability for dismounted and mounted close-combat users and law enforcement agencies. It can be adapted for use on a variety of short-range weapons mounting to Picatinny/NATO rail. It can also be used in a handheld role if required. DRAGON-SR’s weight is <730g (excluding accessories and batteries). The FoV is 8° HFOV, and the magnification is x3, x6 (electronic zoom). The range performance detection of a man-size object with x3 magnification is 2,300m, and with x6 magnification 2,390m. The power source used is 4 AA batteries with a running time of >8 hours at 23oC continuous operation (Lithium). DRAGON-SR is available with a choice of TI cameras including ITAR free. The sight has a Video Out, RS232 communications. Optional accessories include a Red Dot Close Quarter Battle sight (CQB sight), laser pointer, remote control and interface cables.
DRAGON-MR Thermal WEAPON Sight
DRAGON-MR thermal sight is a lightweight, compact and rugged military qualified weapon sight. It’s designed specifically to meet target engagement and surveillance requirements for military customers and law enforcement agencies. Controls have been designed for simplicity and positioned for ease of access. DRAGON-MR has a FoV of 5.9o HFOV and a magnification of x4, x8 (electronic zoom). The detection range of a man-size object with x4 magnification is 2,740m and with 8x magnification 3,120m. The weight (excluding batteries and weapon mount) is <810g. It’s powered with 4 x 1.5V AA batteries and has a battery life of >8 hours continuous operation at 23ºC—Lithium. DRAGON-MR has RS232 communications, Video out and can be used with external power source. Optional accessories are laser pointer and laser fire cable, CQB sight remote control and interface cable (external power, serial communications and video).
DRAGON-S (Sniper) COIL thermal sight is designed for use with a range of optical day scopes providing snipers and law enforcement agencies with high-performance systems in a lightweight, compact and rugged military qualified design. Detection range of a man-size object is 2,740m. DRAGON-S can be adapted for use on a variety of weapons mounting to a Picatinny/NATO rail. The controls have been designed for simplicity and are positioned for ease of access with Machine Man Interface (MMI) designed for ease of use across all roles. DRAGON-S’s magnification is x1 with a FoV of 5.9o HFOV. Its weight is <930g (excluding batteries and weapon mount). It’s powered with 4 x 1.5V AA batteries and has a battery life of >8 hours continuous operation at 23ºC—Lithium. The optional accessories are remote control, interface cable (external power, serial communications and video) and shrouds to interface with various day scopes. It is factory set to eliminate the need for zeroing when the COIL thermal sight is fitted and removed from in front of the day scope. A light-tight seal is provided between the clip-on thermal sight and the day scope.
There are some fusion scopes available on the market. As mentioned earlier, this technology now represents the new “normal” for low-light conditions with the significant tactical advantages by combining the detection capabilities of thermal imaging with the superior identification capabilities of image intensification. That technology enables operators to better identify targets of interest through smoke, fog, cloud and other obscurants.
SAKER Fused Weapon Sight
The SAKER Fused Weapon Sight from Qioptiq was launched for the first time formally at Eurosatory 2012 at a press presentation. SAKER Fused Weapon Sight provides the dismounted warrior with an enhanced capability to detect, recognize and identify (DRI) an object. SAKER combines I2 and uncooled thermal imaging sensors into a single-sight unit. Designed with low-power architecture, it’s a high-performance, in-line fused weapon sight combining image-intensified thermal imaging technologies to deliver enhanced 24-hour capability. The sight provides the user with the ability to rapidly DRI targets in all weather and battlefield conditions. SAKER is a fully qualified military-fused weapon sight designed specifically for short- and medium-range surveillance and target engagement. SAKER is perfect for Special Forces and in urban environments being lightweight at <890g (including SAKER Fused Weapon Sight, Picatinny-style rail grabber, 3 x 1.5v AA Lithium cells, lens cap and light security shroud) and providing detection and recognition at ranges beyond the effective range of an assault rifle. The FoV is 8.1o Thermal/10o I2. Battery life is >6.5-hour continuous operation, Blend Mode, >40-hour continuous operation, I2 Mode. Optional accessories are 6-function remote control, blended video output and daylight training filter.
The brand name “Dedal” was established in 1991 by a small group of young Russian engineers. The first model had success in the Russian market. The model range was extended. Due to the increasing expansion of Russian high-tech, science-intensive technologies, Dedal-NV has become a leading manufacturer of precision optics (ISO 9001-2015). Dedal has been supplying night vision and optical products to the European and North American commercial and law enforcement markets.
Deciding on the best and most suitable thermal scope of the above-described products depends on the customer’s specifications. However, FLIR’s MilSight S140-D ADUNS is not exportable due to ITAR regulation, and how it works is classified. It may be one of the best in its class.
Fielded thermal sights are using 1st and 2nd Gen IR-technologies as developed from the mid-70s. Meanwhile, a 3rd Gen of IR-detectors is getting fielded. The special feature of this 3rd Gen is to introduce color with fused I2 and thermal technology into IR-imaging similar to the color perception of the human eye in the visible range. The human has the ability to see in moonlight, but a colored object is easier to identify. Fused I2 and thermal technology are ideal for dusk to night, in heavy cloud coverage, in forest/jungle environments and inside buildings as well as well-lit nighttime urban settings. One can therefore conclude that Fused Weapon Sights offer the best reconnaissance and identification performance under all-weather conditions. Color-fused goggles and color-fused weapon sights coupled with “Future Soldier Systems,” are the future of night vision devices.