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Sighting and targeting.

Numerous soldier modernisation programmes included integrated optronic sights for their assault weapons. Some nations, particularly the United States and Germany, have apparently changed their minds and retreated from integration to modularity, as their soldiers (either during trials downrange or incountry operational evaluations) made it clear that they did not want a single piece of equipment that included all functionalities, mainly for weight reasons. They only want the right stuff.

The 2010 Prague Future Soldiers conference saw the first public appearance of the new German IdZ II modular system, where the former Carl Zeiss Optronics Videovisier was replaced by a ZO 4 x 30 with a reflex sight on top and an NVS600 clip-on intensifier for night use, both are produced by the same company and seen in the above Armada subtitle picture. Other nations have maintained the integrated approach, and some systems are (or are becoming) available on the market, with the developing companies offering them either for other programmes or as stand-alone solutions.

For the French Felin programme, Sagem had developed three different sights, two of them for assault rifles and one for sniper rifles. The French Army eventually went for two complementary day/night sights (one with image intensification and the other with thermal imagery), thus providing its soldiers with two different types of night sensors that improve situational awareness as well as shooting capabilities.

These sights are now known as the Sword TD, they weigh approximately 1.5 kg, and can either function on their own batteries with a three-hour endurance, or on the soldier system's main power source. Modularity is the word, with a monocular colour 800 x 600 oled display on the back while the daylight TV channel has a 1024 x 768 pixels CCD and two channels, with wide (7.6[degrees]) and narrow (2.5[degrees]) fields of view.

The light intensification version features a 1280 x 1024-pixel sensor with 8[degrees] and 5[degrees] fields of view, and is capable of detecting a soldier at two km, while the thermal imaging version has a 384 x 288-pixel sensor, with 9.4[degrees] and 4.7[degrees] fields of view offering soldier detection capability at a range of over six kilometres. Images can be sent via Bluetooth to a remote display, providing see-/shoot-around-the-corner capability as well as image rebroadcasting. The Sword TDs are powered by AA or dedicated batteries for an endurance of about 4.5 hours.

In Italy, Selex Galileo developed the Aspis, which includes a day TV channel for high-definition observation and detection (its CCD sensor can see even in dim light), an uncooled thermal camera and a red dot sight for close quarters combat. Both day and night images can be viewed on a helmet-mounted display and thereby offer a see-/shoot-around-the-corner capability.

With a weight of 1.15 kg including batteries, the Aspis also incorporates visible and infrared laser pointers. Following extensive tests carried out in February and October 2010, the Italian Army asked the industry to optimise the system by reducing weight and making a series of ergonomic changes. Trimming will only result from further optimisation, but also from the removal of the laser pointers, which thus become accessories, and a Picatinny rail has been added over the Aspis. The new version of the system will be tested in the 2011 operational evaluation exercises that should take place in spring.

In Spain, Indra has developed the sight for the Comfut national soldier modernisation programme, which is partly integrated and partly modular. The basic sight includes an eye display, a daylight TV channel, a laser rangefinder, a magnetic compass and a tilt indicator. A display comes on top. Night vision systems in the form of a thermal sight or an intensification device can be added. The Comfut wireless system provides a link with the overall system, allowing the soldier to see the images on his helmet display.

Indra has delivered the 36 planned prototypes to the Spanish Army, but in the meantime the company continued to develop its product for potential foreign markets, and the latest version now features an interface with the Indra C4I system. The basic module has a weight of about 1.2 kg sans thermal imager.

Another optronic item normally found in soldier modernisation programmes is acquiring a growing importance in the light of current missions: the day/night binocular that integrates a full target location suite. Indeed, while calling in air or artillery fire support remains a specialised role, the need to precisely locate friendly, neutral and enemy positions to allow a safe and speedy targeting process has become a more widespread business in the current non-linear battlefield. It is thus expected that such an item will become standard equipment at platoon/squad level.

The French Felin, for example, uses Sagem's Jim, LR (Long Range), of which over 4500 have been ordered to date, including some 2500 by Nato nations. The French company recently received a further order from France for 1175 multifunctional binoculars of an improved type known as Jim LR NG (New Generation) - or Jim LR 2. This latest version maintains all the features of its predecessor (cooled thermal imager, visible colour channel, laser pointer, laser rangefinder, digital magnetic compass, GPS receiver, with digital zoom, stabilisation and photo and video recording functions), but adds infrared/visible spectrum fusion, while the laser pointer output has been increased to provide greater range. Sagem has also developed a touch-screen tablet PC in A4 format to use the Jim LR in remote mode.

The Italian Soldato Futuro programme equipment list includes a multifunction day/night hand-held target locator developed by Selex Galileo known as the Linx. For all-weather observation, detection and recognition through smoke, fog, haze and dusty battlefield obscurants as well as for night observation a 320 x 240 uncooled 8-12 urn, fixed 8.8[degrees] x 6.6[degrees] field of view sensor is available, while the daytime colour camera provides 2.7[degrees]x 2[degrees] and 8.8[degrees]x 6.6[degrees] fields of view. The reticule is electronically programmable. A 2.5-km maximum range laser rangefinder, a GPS and a digital magnetic compass are included. Moving man detection range is given as 1.3 km in thermal mode and 2.3 km in TV sensor mode with wide field of view.

The Linx weighs 2.35 kg including AA batteries. It can take snapshots of the scene and send them wirelessly together with target data through the Soldato Futuro's C2 system. The Linx design configuration has been frozen and the system is ready for production, and low-rate production units have already been delivered to the Italian Army. The first tranche of the Italian programme will include over 300 such systems. As for export, Selex Galileo is expecting orders from Asian countries to be soon finalised, but in the meantime a contract was signed with a country in North Africa for a derated version.

Flir has developed the Recon III, also known as the B2-MS, which includes a medium-wave infrared 640 x 480 InSb sensor with continuous zoom between 10[degrees]x 8[degrees] and 2.5[degrees]x 1.8[degrees] fields of view, and a long-wave 320 x 240 Vox microbolometer with a wide field of view of 15[degrees] x 11.3[degrees]. A monochrome low-light-level CCD camera with a 794 x 494-pixel resolution with similar fields of view as the medium-wave sensor can be added, also with a x4 continuous zoom.

For target acquisition a GPS, a digital magnetic compass with 0.3[degrees] accuracy, an 830-nm Class 3B laser pointer operating at two different power outputs (65 and 200 mW) and a detachable five-kilometre laser rangefinder can be added. The viewing screen allows a split image mode, which permits one to see the same scene through two different sensors and thereby increase situational awareness. The unit can store up to 1000 jpeg images, which can then be downloaded via a USB port, while a series of video output connectors are also available, and with RS232 or 422 interfaces being present for remote control. This model is in use in the American special operations units and has obtained its first international success in Saudi Arabia.

American special forces have also acquired 50 TLS 40 binoculars from Carl Zeiss Optronics. This system is based on 7 x 42 optical binoculars in which the company has integrated a single-pulse Class 1 eyesafe rangefinder with a 20 km range, a digital compass with an accuracy of 0.6[degrees] in azimuth and 0.2[degrees] in elevation (between [+ or -] 45[degrees]) and a twelve-channel GPS receiver with integrated antenna, although it can also be interfaced with a series of external satnav systems.

The aiming reticule can be illuminated in low light conditions, while range, bearing, elevation and own and target GPS locations are projected in the lower part of the frame. The TLS 40 also features a 1.3-megapixel digital colour camera, the memory of which can store over 180 low-resolution or 35 high-resolution pictures (ten seconds of voice recording is available for each picture to provide 'voice captions'). NTSC and Pal outputs are available, as is an external interface for target information transmission to C2 systems.

Designed specifically for artillery observers, the TLS 40 features a fire correction mode, as well as a mode that computes the distance between two objects on the battlefield. Powered by three CR123 Lithium batteries, which ensure over 2000 measurements, the Carl Zeiss system has a weight of less than two kilograms.

The US Army uses two categories of locating systems, the Laser Target Locating System (LTLS) and the Laser Target Locating Module (LTLM). The Vectron-ix Vector 21 and Northrop Grumman Mark VII are the two LTLS variants while the LTLM systems are the updated version of the Northrop Grumman product, the Mark VIIE, which besides the direct view day optics includes an embedded GPS, an un-cooled thermal sight, and a more user-friendly and flexible graphical user interface.

The BAE Systems LTLM, developed together with Vectronix, features a direct-view optic which provides a day recognition range of over 4.2 km, an uncooled infrared module with a night recognition range greater than 900 meters, a rangefinder with a five km range, a digital magnetic compass and a GPS receiver, for a total weight of 2.5 kg with batteries - two sets of batteries provide 24 hours of mission endurance. The US Army filed an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity five-year contract for the LTLM in August 2009 which included both systems.

Vectronix of Switzerland, part of Sagem, has a wide range of day and day/night target acquisition devices in its portfolio. The Vector family clearly is the flagship in this discipline, while the Moskito is one of the best sellers, being as it is among the most compact and lightweight systems of its category. In less than 1.2 kg and within 185 x 130 x 75 mm that system provides day binocular with a x5 magnification and 6[degrees] field of view, a x3 image intensification channel, a four-kilometre range Class 1 rangefinder and a digital compass with a [+ or -]10 mil azimuth and [+ or -]3 mil elevation accuracy In service in many countries, including Germany, the Moskito was selected for the British Fist modern soldier programme.

The Sophie MF is the Thales multifunctional binocular thermal camera which includes all the features needed for targeting purposes. It features a 754 x 576 cooled camera with two fields of view (8[degrees] x 6[degrees] wide and 3.2[degrees] x 2.4[degrees] narrow), which can be further narrowed thanks to a x2 electronic zoom. It incorporates a ten km range monopulse rangefinder, an eyesafe laser pointer, a digital compass with 0.5[degrees] azimuth and 0.2[degrees] elevation accuracy, an integrated GPS receiver and a 3.7[degrees] x 2.8[degrees] field of view colour camera.

The Stirling system requires five minutes to cool down the sensor, which provides a human-sized target detection range of more than five kilometres and an identification range of two. Batteries provide autonomy of over four hours. Thales also provided the British Forces with J-Tas Mk I and Mk II, the main difference between the two lies in the day channel, which in the Mk I is provided by a colour CCD camera, but by a direct optical channel in the lighter Mk II (3.6 kg versus the more than four kilos of the Mk I).

With their uncooled thermal imager, ten-kilometre rangefinder. a digital compass and a satnav receiver these units are good for artillery fire control duties. The Mk I, delivered in 2007, allows one to relay photos taken by the day and night channels while the Mk II, delivered in 2009, only captures thermal images.

Elbit's Coral CR, known as the Amit in Israel services, is the target acquisition variant of the Coral thermal imaging camera family, which has scored 5000-unit sales in numerous foreign armed forces including Canada, Spain, Greece, the US Marine Corps and other Nato and non-Nato undisclosed nations.

The CR leverages the family's cooled 640 x 512 InSb focal plane array sensor and daylight CCD sensor, and splashes 12.5[degrees] x 10[degrees] or 2.5[degrees] x 2[degrees] field of view day or night images on the binocular colour oled display, and a x4 digital zoom is available. A Class 1 Erbium Glass rangefinder, an integral GPS and a 0.7[degrees] azimuth and elevation accuracy digital magnetic compass which rounds up the Coral CR's list of components.

Detection of a human target is given as five kilometres with recognition at two, while ranges for a vehicle respectively stand at eleven and four kilometres. Complete with rechargeable batteries the system weighs in at 3.4 kg and allows realtime target data transmission of co-ordinates to external devices as well as target image and data storage memory.

However, a new and lighter system is entering service with the IDF. Known as the Mars (Armon in Israeli service), it tips the scales at less than two kilos with its batteries and maintains the same functionalities as its forebear but at shorter ranges. The thermal sensor is a 384 x 288 Vox microbolometer (therefore uncooled) offering two 18[degrees] x 13.5[degrees] and 6[degrees] x 4.5[degrees] fields of view, while the day colour CCD camera offers 12[degrees] x 10[degrees] and 3[degrees] x 2.5[degrees]. It includes a real-time Mpeg-4 recorder, can operate on batteries for two hours and offers man-sized target detection and recognition ranges of two and 0.5 kilometres respectively (three and one kilometres for vehicle-sized targets). The IDF plans to issue the Armon at company/platoon commander level to enable them to direct artillery and air fire support.

ITL's catalogue of wares includes a long range multifunctional acquisition thermal sight known as the Explorer. The Israeli device has a thermal channel based on a 320 x 256 InSb cooled focal plane array and comes either with a continuous 25.6[degrees] x 20.5[degrees] to 1.9[degrees] x 1.5[degrees] field of view, or a three field of view configuration with the same figures as the zoom's two extremes plus an 8[degrees] x 6.4[degrees] intermediate step. The 1280 x 1024 C-mos day channel, for its part, boasts 3.5[degrees] x 2.8[degrees] and 1.8[degrees] x 1.4[degrees] fields of view. The unit comes with a 15-kilometre rangefinder, a digital compass (with azimuth and elevation accuracies of 1[degrees] and an elevation range of [+ or -] 60[degrees]) and a twelve-channel GPS with internal antenna, but a 65-mW laser pointer can be added as option. Weighing less than 3.2 kilos, the Explorer can operate for four hours on a rechargeable Lilon battery pack. Also from ITL, the lightweight Cobra day target acquisition binocular features a x6 magnification with a 6[degrees] field of view and a 16-segment alphanumerical display. Its laser rangefinder will pick targets at a maximum range of 2.5 km, while its digital compass provides an accuracy of one degree in azimuth and elevation, the latter arc being of [+ or -]40[degrees] and a clinometer comes in as an option. The Cobra is powered by two CR123 lithium batteries and has an overall weight of about one kilogram.

RELATED ARTICLE: Microbolometer vs. Cooled Thermal Imaging

The principal drawback of thermal imagers is their need to be cooled. Why? Well, simply because their indium antimonide matrix sensor substrate otherwise finds it difficult to discriminate the very small differences in temperature waves it receives (it is those temperature differences that eventually build up the image) and also because ambient temperatures would affect the system and cause blurring (like snow on a television). This is why their substrate needs to be cooled, usually through the use of nitrogen bottles that feed an ad hoc circuit to help every sensor surface 'mind their own business' rather than affecting their neighbours. Typical cooling time prior to use is around ten minutes.

Less sensitive than their cooled counterparts, microbolometers use an array of pixel-sized sensors the conductivity of which varies with the source of heat they receive. Each pixel consists of a detecting sheet (usually amorphous silicon or vanadium oxyde, although a range of other substances are being investigated for higher sensitivity). These films being translucent, they are placed over a mirror which reflects the wave received back up into the sensor to increase effectiveness. Their advantage is smaller size, lower power consumption and instantaneous operation from switching on.
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Publication:Armada International
Date:Apr 1, 2011
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