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Thermal eyes: smaller and sharper.

With constant pressure on increased performance and size, weight and power (SWaP) consumption reduction to cope with the demanding battlefield requirements in terms of target detection, recognition and identification in all weathers and light conditions, the mid-wave (MW) and long-wave (LW) infrared thermal devices capabilities continue to evolve.

Some C-Ram systems have been fired in anger for a while, commencing with the Raytheon Gating gun-based Centurion in Irak, while others came slightly too late to be deployed like the Rheinmetall Mantis, based on the 35 mm Millenitun gun firing an adapted Ahead munition, which was nevertheless delivered to the German Air Force air defence regiment in late November 2012. In Italy, Oto Melara is now proposing the 20mm Porcupine system to the Italian Army. For the Draco 76 mm self-propelled system, on the other hand, is said to be developing a new ammunition in co-operation with an Israeli company.

Key parameters for both for the higher-performance cooled and the smaller uncooled systems include sensitivity, resolution and signal-to-noise ratios. Imaging developments in the short-wave infrared (SWIR) portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (between 0.9 and 1.7 micron) are moreover expected to be applied to a wide range of military sensing and imaging applications. Sensor fusion has become a predominant requirement for battlefield operations, leading to dual-sensor devices for dismounted operations. ITT Exelis' i-Aware Tactical Mobility Night Vision Goggles (TM NVG), which integrates an image intensifier with an uncooled thermal imager, as well as multiple electro-optical/IR systems payload for ground- and airborne-based applications provides a good example. In the case of small drones, these developments also allowed payloads to evolve from single to dual-sensor configurations, while electronics advances in on-board sensor data fusion enable soldier situational awareness to be improved by reducing the time required to identify targets.

The third and latest generation of infrared systems provide enhanced capabilities such as large number of pixels, higher frame rates, better thermal resolution, as well as multicolour functionality and other on-chip signal processing both for cooled and uncooled focal plane arrays (FPAs). In the third generation class of systems, three detector technologies are now being developed:

* Mercury Cadmium Telluride (MCT) also known as HgCdTe,

* Quantum-Well Infrared Photodetector (QWIP) and

* Antimonide based type-II SLSs (strained layer superlattices).

At present MCT is the most used semiconductor material for IR photodetectors and it is expected that the envelope of its capabilities will continue to expand because of its properties.

As QWIP photodetector technology is at an early stage of development, the relatively new type-II InAS/Galnsb (Indium Antimonide/Gallium Indium Antimonide) super lattice structure has potential to be an alternative to MCT in the long wavelength spectrum. At present VOx (vanadium oxide) microbolometer arrays are the most used technology for uncooled detectors, which are produced in larger volumes than all other infrared array technologies put together, and this trend is expected to increase in the near future for both military and civilian applications. In meantime developments in thermal cameras are continuing, as exemplified by DRS work on miniaturising LWIR-based cameras under the Darpa Advanced Wide-field-of-view Architecture for image Reconstruction and Exploitation (Aware) programme. The later has been launched to address what Darpa describes as the important need to increase field-of-view, resolution and day/night capability at reduced SWaP and cost. Developments in shot wave-based thermal imagers provide additional support for battlefield operations. Short-wave infrared provides several advantages, including operations down to starlight conditions, receiving adequate illumination from the weak natural phenomena known as atmospheric nightglow, presentation of images that closely represent what is seen in the visible spectrum, covert target recognition in darkness, camouflage negation and the ability to image beacons and lasers used with night vision goggles.


Flir Systems provides a variety of camera modules and cores for integration into larger systems. Flies long wave sensor portfolio has recently expanded with arrival of the Quark and the Tau 2 uncooled cores. Available in 640x512 or 336x256 resolution focal plane array/digital video display formats with a 17- micron pixel pitch, the Quark uncooled VOx Microbolometer core is reported as the world's smallest. Measuring a mere 17x22x22 mm, weighting between 18.3 and 28.8 grams (depending on applied lens) and consuming less than one watt, it is reported an unrivalled option for small drones. The very compact size allowed Sky-Watch in Denmark to replace a single-payload with a dual-payload version in its 1.5 kg Huginn X1 drone, which is capable of operating a Quark 640 thermal and normal cameras simultaneously. Aerovironment is continuing to upgrade hundreds of its Ravens with Quark-based Mantis gimbals. Startup firm Trillium launched a new Quark-based gimbal that is 6.35cm and 227grams.

The new-generation Tau 2 family of uncooled thermal imagers comes with enhanced electronics and in three formats (Tau 640x512 , 336x256 and 324x256) and two pixel pitches (17[micro]m for the 640/336 and 25[micro]m for the 324) for different applications including remote-control vehicles, like the Canadian vertilift Draganfly X6, Lockheed Martin's Desert Hawk III and Aerovironment's Pumas. Zhe Tau has been employed in hundreds of unattended ground systems for situational awareness by companies including NGC Xetron, L-3 Nova Engineering and Digital Force Technologies.

Among medium-wave cooled camera cores, Flir provides the Photon HRC, one of the smallest available 640x512 format core. Based on a 15-micron, InSb array, it weighs less than 454 grams, permitting a range of applications. In the same band, Flir provides the smallest and lightest OEM's Neutrino 640x512 InSb 15-micron camera, together with [micro]Core-275Z and Min-Core HRC families of extremely compact MCT 640x512 based detectors with continuous optical zoom lens, which eliminates the need for multiple lenses, advanced image processing and multiple fields-of-view optics. The [micro]Core-275Z baseline model is claimed to offer man and vehicle detection, recognition and identification at respectively 9.2, 2.9, 1.2 and 15.5,6 and 3.3 km. To complete spectrum coverage, Flir has the Tau camera, which incorporates 640x512 or 320x240 Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs) 25-micron pixel pitch focal plane array, both weighting only 130 grams with M24 lens mount making ideal for small vehicles and battery-powered viewers.


Raytheon, also a world leader in thermal cooled and uncooled imagers, provides a comprehensive range of products for space, naval, airborne, ground and dismounted applications. Raytheon offers an extensive range of airborne multi-sensors suites integrating medium- and long-wave thermal cooled cameras for normally operated and remote-controlled platforms.

Its Uncooled detector technology, on the other hand, is mainly devoted to land applications, with rugged and extremely light PhantomIRxr bioculars and thermal weapon sights for engagement of targets equally in day or night, smoke or fog. Tracked and wheeled vehicles equipped with Raytheon's DVE provide 24-hour manoeuvring capability, including full vehicle mobility in fog and haze. Raytheon offers uncooled VOx Microbolometer long-wave focal plane array in both 320x240 and 640x480 format with 25 micron pixel pitch, while in the SWIR spectrum band, it offers uncooled 640x512, 1280x1024 and 1920x512 formats with 20-micron pixel pitch cores.

* L3

At AUVSI, L3 Cincinnati Electronics unveiled its new NightWarrior liCam 640 Medium-wave system, one of the smallest cooled thermal imagers, according to the company. Based on 15-micron pitch, 640 x 512 focal plane array and High Operating Temperature (HOT) technologies, this engine runs at higher temperatures that InSb-based products, delivering superior imaging quality compared to systems based on uncooled imagers. Weighing and consuming respectively less than 500 grams and six watts, the Night Warrior 640 is about the size of a Cull battery, which allows it to be added to systems that previously could only use uncooled systems. L-3 CE engineers designed the NightWarrior 640 for easy integration into a variety of applications, from hand-held to remote-control weapon stations. L3 CE is looking into different options of optics, including a medium 250mm-capable lens, adding 7.6-10 cm.


At the same exhibition, BAE Systems unveiled what it says is one the smallest multi-spectral camera available--weighing just 144 g--for small drones. The company also provided the system with on-board processing for sensors data fusion in order to improve soldier situational awareness by reducing the time required to identify targets. The innovative sensor blends low-light-level camera covering from full daylight down to starlight, with long-wave infrared uncooled thermal (supplied by BAE Systems for weapon sights) image in a single display, thanks to a new Digitally Fused Sensor System (DFSS), allowing soldiers to intuitively assess a scene using a remote-control vehicle in time-critical conditions. With sensor fusion, soldiers don't need to switch back and forth between the daytime and infrared cameras, according to BAE Systems. The multispectral sensors package was shown on Air Robot AR-100B quad-rotor drone, The system adjusts its own settings to each mission's environmental conditions, so operating forces don't need to choose between a daylight or an infrared sensor before launch. BAE Systems is investigating the use of a camera providing full-colour starlight, in addition to laser designation and uncooled imaging. The system is being tested by the US Special Operations Command. A longer range capability, to provide digitally fused pictures at ranges approaching 3500 metres, is being investigated.


UTC Aerospace Systems--Sensors Unlimited offers a complete line of products for image sensing in the SWIR band. Last April, Sensors Unlimited presented new generation Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs) SWIR camera designed for reduced SWaP and high sensitivity which features a 640x512 pixel image sensor with 12.5-micron pixel pitch, utilizing company's proprietary image enhancement algorithms.

Weighing less than 55 grams and consuming under two watts, this camera provides real-time daylight to low-light imaging for persistent surveillance, laser detection and penetration through fog, haze and smoke. In April 2012, Sensors Unlimited introduced a new GA640C-15A 'Cubic Inch' uncooled camera, featuring a 640x512-pixel resolution with a 15-micron pitch. Weighing a mere 26 grams sans lens and consuming only 1.5W, it is an ideal candidate for integration in dismounted soldier solutions. Both short- and long-wave thermal cameras are used by sister company Cloud Cap Technology to populate its Tase family of low-cost micro gimbal turrets, including the Tase 150 for small drones.


Leading manufacturer of uncooled VOx microbolometer and cooled MCT-based cameras and OEM cores, DRS Technologies was first to market uncooled 17m pixel imagers and more recently 1211m cooled MCT imagers, being core supplier for US Army and various drone manufacturers. Designed to be light (30 grams), low power (750 mW) and ultra-compact, the Tamarisk 320 uses 320x240 VOx microbolometer with 17 pixel-pitch, Long-Wave (LWIR) uncooled technology, being offered as complete camera or as configurable module with lens options and frame rate. In February 2013, DRS Technologies launched the 640x480 version of the Tamarisk TI, that provides superior performance while maintaining small size (46x40x31 mm without optics), low weight (<60 grams) and power consumption (<1.5 W). The Tamarisk family applications include vehicles, dismounted soldiers and drones, with the 640 being used on the Falcon drone.



Sofradir is one of the world leaders in Mercury Cadmium Telluride applied technologies. With the acquisition of facilities and technology developments in InSb from Sagem, QW IP and InGaAs from Thales through an agreement signed last December, Sofradir has rein forced its leading market position in Europe and around the world as the supplier of a complete range of cooled and uncooled technologies and products, the latter though its Ulis subsidiary.

Base in France, the group offers a new InGaAs-based 640x512, 15-micron pixel (42x30x9mm) SW uncooled detector called Snake. It offers high sensitivity and resolution, being well-adapted to a large range of applications such as hand-held and vehicle-based night vision, surveillance and airborne gimbals.

The QWIP-based 384x288, 25 micron pixel LWIR is a very compact photodetector well-suited to applications in vehicle-mounted systems such as the Thies Catherine-XP TI, while the long-wave Scorpio is the latest addition to the widely used 640x512 format 15-micron pixel family, providing high sensitivity high resolution and long-range ground-based applications.

Sofradir's infrared detector production covers a full range of well-proven applications, including the MBDA Storm Shadow/SCALP EG missile, the Thales Damocles targeting and Navflir navigation pods, the Males Sophie hand-held and Catherine thermal imagers, and the Sagem Iris and Sada II (for American armoured vehicles).

The company is working on new detectors with the aim of introducing innovation, added performance and compactness. These new offerings involve e-APD (avalanche photodiode), dual band, very low noise equivalent temperature difference (NETD) focal plane arrays and other emerging applications. A major thrust at Sofradir is to further reduce the size of pixel pitch, thereby increasing the number of pixels per detector as well as keeping the global size of the system constant: a 101am pitch has thus already been demonstrated. Sofradir is also looking into increased operating temperatures, up to 150K, in order to offer more reliable cooled arrays, smaller and lighter products to build SWaP systems.


Cassidian Optronics provides cooled and uncooled thermal imagers part of the Attica family (Advanced Thermal imagers with Two-dimensional IR CMOS Array), employing state-of-the-art technology for MW and LW cores. These can be deployed on tripod and vehicles for reconnaissance duties while the uncooled UCM (Un-Cooled Module) miniature LWIR thermal camera will be preferred for handheld devices. Cassidian Optronics offers a range of applications, including the Goshawk-II HD/HDT airborne observation systems.


Equally owned by Diehl BGT Defence and Rheinmetall, Aim Infrarot-Module (Aim) company provides core and modules to cover the whole 1 -15[micro]m spectral range based on MCT and Type II-superlattice (InAs/GaSb) infrared technology detectors. Today Aim offers HiPIR-640 MCI-based MWIR or LW IR 3rd Gen 640x512 formats, 15-micron pixel pitch arrays, with MWIR detectors operating at temperatures exceeding 120K. In Aim's portfolio is the [micro]CAM-640 cooled MWIR MCT-based and uncooled LWIR microbolometer thermal imagers for the German armed forces' Luna and Aladin drones, in addition to the HuntIR/RangIR thermal targeting sight for the German army. Dual-colour MWIR/MWIR IDCAs based on Type II superlattice technology provide breakthrough solutions for missile warning systems, while dual band 640x512 MWIR/LWIR IDCA are under development to power next-generation camera.


Thermoteknix Systems in Britain offers the Miricle family of focal plane arrays with shutterless XTI technology. This includes the ultra-compact uncooled 110KS model devoid of moving parts (being devoid of shutter), while Belgium-based Xenics Infrared Solutions introduces a family of high-resolution cameras based on the so-called 'Xenics Cores'. Built on a modular, common SWIR and MWIR FGA platform, the Xenics SWIR XSW-640 and LWIR XTM-640 camera modules respectively weigh and consume less than 100 grams and two watts. They can be easily combined, with respective images to be overlaid and fused to a spectral composite with increased content under all weather and light conditions.


To cope with national and international market needs, Aselsan developed a family of payload for both large and small drones, with two-axis gimbal stabilisation configuration, containing a laser pointer and a single sensor--either a day zoom colour camera or a night uncooled infrared camera. The latter types were displayed at IDEF 2013 on fixed-wing minidrones and ARI-1T rotary-wing air vehicles.

The armed forces, and later export requirements, pushed the Israeli industrial establishment to develop a national capability in the sector. Opgal Optronic Industries is equally owned by Rafael and Elbit Systems, and offers a wide range of ultra-compact, low-power thermal imaging engines that serve as the core to OEM and its thermal vision systems. With support for both VOx and ASi Microbolometer detectors, Opgal's thermal cores are ideal for dismounted, ground and airborne applications. Also equally owned by Elbit Systems and Rafael, SemiConductor Devices (SCD) develops and manufactures a full spectrum of infrared detectors, mastering InSb, MCT and VOx technologies and is the largest supplier of InSb 2D arrays worldwide.


Controp, a specialized company equally owned by Rafael and drone manufacturer Aeronautics, is one of world leading light drone payload manufacturers, although it also caters to other ground, aerial and naval platforms. The smallest member of its Stamp family, the M-Stamp weighs just 1.2kg with a daytime zoom camera and an uncooled thermal camera, is well-suited for drones like the Elbit Skylark-I and the future Aeronautics' Orbiter and other Bluebird Aero Systems products.

Last June, Controp presented the three-sensor T-stamp housing day and night observation cameras and a laser pointer, in a fully gyro stabilized package weighing less than three kilos. The thermal camera is available in either cooled or uncooled form, yet both options have the unique optical zoom lens, like most of Controp's thermal cameras. The company also provides the FOX family of cameras with x22, x36, x55 zoom lens, which incorporate 3rd generation medium-wave 320x258 or 640x512-pixel focal plane arrays, as well as uncooled longwave microbolometer focal plane array detectors, with the proprietary continuous optical zoom lens.

Caption: Recent developments in thermal imagers in terms of performances, size and power consumption offer unprecedented capabilities in terms of support not only to battlefield but also homeland and commercial operations, such as shown by this image taken with FLIR Systems equipment. (FUR Systems)

Caption: Sofradir's QWIP-based 384x288, 25 micron pixel LWIR is a very compact photodetector and thus well suited for vehicle-mounted systems such as the Thales Catherine-XP Ti, but here in its tripod-mounted version. (Thales)

Caption: Available in 640x512 or 336x256 resolution focal plane array/digital video display formats with 17-micron pixel pitch, Flir Systems' Quark uncooled VOx Microbolometer core is believed to be the smallest in the world. (FLIR Systems)

Caption: The new generation of Flir Systems Tau 2 family of LWIR uncooled imagers comes with enhanced electronics and in different formats and pixel pitches for different applications including small drones, like the Canadian Dragon fly X6 and the Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk IB seen here. (Lockheed Martin)

Caption: BAE Systems' innovative sensor blends low-light-level camera covering from full daylight down to starlight situations, with long-wave infrared uncooled thermal (supplied by BAE Systems for weapon sights) image in a single display, thanks to the new Digitally Fused Sensor System (DFSS). (BAE Systems)

Caption: UTC Sensors Unlimited's SWIR and LWIR thermal cameras are used by sister company Cloud Cap Technology to populate the Tose family of low-cost micro gimbal turrets, including the Tose 150 for small drones. (UTC Cloud Cap Technology)

Caption: The smallest of the low-cost micro gimbal turrets family provided by UTC Cloud Cap Technology includes the 900-gram Tose 150 that offers full motion ED and 640x480 LWIR imager with onboard miniaturized GPS/INS and interface. (UTC Cloud Cap Technology)

Caption: With the acquisition of facilities and technology developments in InSb from Sagem, QWIP and In GaAs from Thales though an agreement signed last December, Sofradir reinforced its leading market position not only in Europe but also at global level. Here depicted is the Scorpio LW detector, the latest member of the 640-x512 format 15 micron pixel family. (Sofradir)

Caption: The smaller member of the Controp Stamp family, the M-STAMP weighs just 1.2kg with a daytime zoomed camera and a uncooled thermal camera. It is well suited for light drones such as Elbit Systems' Skylark-I and the Aeronautics Orbiter seen here. (Con trap)

Caption: Sofradir's sensors are used for a wide range of well-proven applications that include the MBDA Storm Shadow/Scalp EG missile, the Thales Damocles targeting and Navflir navigation pods, the Catherine and Iris cameras and the Thales Sophie family of handheld systems seen here. (Thales)

Caption: Controp recently unveiled its treble-sensor T-Stamp, which houses a day camera, a night observation imager and a laser pointer in a fully stabilised ensemble weighing less than 3kg. The thermal camera is available in either cooled or uncooled form, yet both options feature the company's unique Continuous Optical Zoom lens. (Controp)
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Title Annotation:Mini Infrared Cameras
Author:Peruzzi, Luca
Publication:Armada International
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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