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Thermal-imaging systems for land forces: getting cooler; Portability and resoluton of infrared-based sights will only get better.

Thermal imagers have soundly taken over the market for armored-vehicle night vision, at least in the US, where even trucks are now being equipped with thermal driving viewers. The limitations of image intensifiers became apparent in the first Gulf War, when their effectiveness was degraded by battlefield obscurants and cloudy nights. Where the additional weight and expense of thermal imagers has long been justified, as on expensive vehicle platforms, infrared (IR) systems have already entered their second generation. On the other hand, many European countries are still procuring cheaper image-intensification driving viewers, even for tanks. Only in June 2004 was Thales chosen to provide the first volume-production uncooled thermal driver's viewer for the UK, for the British Army Future Command & Liaison Vehicle (FCLV), and it is not due to enter service until 2007.

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Today's US market for vehicle thermal imagers is simple: there are two major second-generation systems, one low-resolution (uncooled) and one high-resolution (cooled). Raytheon (then Texas Instruments) developed the low-resolution, uncooled AN/VAS-5 Driver's Vision Enhancer (DVE), which has supplanted the Hughes AN/VAS-3 Driver's Thermal Viewer (DTV) as the US Army's future driver's viewer. The DVE initially entered production for the M2/M3A2 ODS Bradley upgrade (1,433 vehicles) and will now be the Army's primary system for many years to come. With major production currently planned even for trucks, we forecast more than 25,000 systems will be produced over the next 10 years.

However, although the full-rate DVE production contract was awarded to Raytheon TI Systems as long ago as 1997, reliability problems have greatly slowed initial production rates, and numbers will only really ramp up in the next few years. In 2003 the Army solicited the first seriously big DVE procurement, planned for FY04-07, for as many as 19,188 systems. In April 2004, DRS Optronics was awarded a second-source DVE production contract. Army procurement funding will more than double from FY05 to FY06, and this will be split between Raytheon and DRS.

The other second-generation system is Raytheon's Horizontal Technology Integration Second-Generation FLIR (HTI SGF). It has been designed to do just what it is doing: provide the common high-resolution, long-range, cooled, forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensor for all major surveillance and targeting buys through this decade. It was originally produced for three major applications: M1A2 Abrams upgrades (1,100+ vehicles), M2/M3A3 Bradley upgrades (1,602 vehicles), and the Long Range Advanced Scout Surveillance System (LRAS3) (650 systems), but new platforms are still being added, including Marine Corps M1A1s and some versions of the Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV).

HTI SGF development was originally split between Texas Instruments and Hughes, and low-rate, initial production (LRIP) contracts were awarded to both companies in March 1997. After Raytheon acquired both these producers, Raytheon did not see its dominance challenged until January 1999, when a contract to DRS (a divestment spin-off from Raytheon) opened today's split production. Continuing procurement for thousands of platforms will result in funding of more than $2 billion over the next 10 years. However, an uncooled "B-Kit" focal-plane array (FPA) is already planned by the Army, and it will take over from current cooled systems sometime after the middle of the decade (see below).

For M1A2 upgrades, the HTI SGF is replacing the first-generation Gunner's Primary Sight Thermal Imaging Sight (TIS), originally on all M1s, and is adding a new Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer (CITV), a ring-mount for which has been built into all M1A1 turrets (early M1A2s were built with first-generation CITVs). For M2/M3A3 Bradley upgrades, the new gunner's Improved Bradley Acquisition Subsystem (IBAS) and the Commander's Independent Viewer (CIV) include the HTI SGF. An additional HTI SGF application is the man-portable LRAS3. After FY04, the LRAS3 is also getting a Laser Designation Module (LDM) upgrade, which will also see service on the Stryker Fire Support Vehicle and the M707 Knight.

IR on Foot

The market for non-vehicle thermal imagers had also been simple, but the coming of uncooled systems has shaken things up. The only new system planned for individual and light crew-served weapons, from M16s to machine guns and sniper rifles, had been versions of Raytheon's cooled AN/PAS-13 Thermal Weapon Sight (TWS). The TWS was a relatively light-weight thermoelectrically cooled thermal imager designed to replace earlier image-intensification sights, such as the AN/PVS-4 and AN/TVS-5. But development problems--and a weight which seemed impossible to reduce much below 4 lbs--led the Army to seek an alternative.

The Army initially funded Sanders (now part of BAE Systems) to develop an uncooled Lightweight Thermal Weapon Sight (LTWS), with the second phase beginning in May 2000. Then, Raytheon decided the best way to reduce weight was also to develop an uncooled sight, and the W1000 LTWS was born (first tested in 2001). DRS Technologies, as well as FLIR Systems, Inc., was also offering thermal imagers for light weapons by late 2003.

Much as for the DVE, despite LRIP of the TWS by Raytheon in the 1990s, continuing problems prevented full-rate production. With uncooled systems developing quickly for the past few years, there was suddenly an open playing field for individual and crew-served weapons, which threatened to end Raytheon's dominance. And the market is big: the Army upped its fielding plans to five TWSs per infantry squad, versus the earlier three per squad. The Army acquired at least 15,000 TVS-5 crew-served image-intensification sights and more than 65,000 PVS-4 sights. Eventually these all may be replaced.

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In March 2003, TWS production finally looked to be ramping up but not at the rates expected. Only 4,000 sights were ordered from Raytheon in an addon to the earlier Thermal Omnibus 1 contract (1,387 light TWSs and 2,444 medium and heavy TWSs).

Then, in March 2004, the first big US Army contracts were finally awarded--to BAE Systems and DRS Optronics. BAE Systems won a base contract for 11,700 uncooled TWS II sights ($111 million), with options for 28,000 systems (more than $250 million). DRS also won TWS II production, although all these uncooled sights are still in development and testing until the end of FY05. They will have a new Vox (vanadium oxide), uncooled, focal-plane array. BAE Systems' lightest TWS II sights are already down to less than 2 lbs, in weight, for M4 carbines and M16 rifles, considerably lighter than Raytheon's TWS. Medium and heavy uncooled TWS II sights--weighing less than 3 and 4 lbs., respectively--are also included in BAE Systems' contract.

But Raytheon has not been forced out--yet. Immediate needs in Iraq have caused the US Army to request massive production increases from Raytheon for the older TWS, funded by $128 million in procurement monies in FY04 (and dropping back to $52 million in FY05). According to COL John Norwood, Army program manager for soldier equipment. "Thermal weapon sights are being fielded as quickly as they are delivered, to support the needs of US forces."

Raytheon has recently received three TWS awards, worth over $165 million. Raytheon sources in May 2004 claimed the Army asked for doubled production rates, from 400 per month to more than 1,000 systems per month. A total of 9.956 new TWSs are now funded. Edith Lincoln, TWS program manager at Raytheon, also said Raytheon is developing a third-generation, uncooled TWS, similar to the TWS contracted to BAE Systems and DRS. With its reputation and continued production of the TWS, Teal Group Corp. (Fairfax, VA) has no doubt that Raytheon will continue to share weapon-sight production, even if its monopoly will be broken.

The only other major US ground thermal programs are Raytheon's cooled Improved Target Acquisition System (ITAS) and Raytheon's Javelin Command Launch Unit (CLU). The ITAS is the follow-on, second-generation, thermal-imaging night sight developed to replace the AN/TAS-4(V) thermal imager for the TOW anti-tank missile. The ITAS is not part of the Army's Horizontal Technology Integration (HTI) Second Generation FLIR program. The Javelin CLU is an expensive and sophisticated new FLIR fire-control unit for the lightweight lavelin anti-tank missile.

The ITAS was initially developed for 753 HMMWVs for rapid-deployment light-infantry divisions. It was also chosen by Canada for its LAV Ills, and by the Army for early ATGM (TOW) Interim Armored Vehicles (IAVs). However, the ITAS is now being supplanted by other new-generation systems.

The Javelin is in production for the US Army, and several recent Foreign Military Sales contracts bode well for its future. It has so far proven extremely effective, if extremely expensive. In fact, it is probably seeing more use in Iraq today as a reconnaissance and surveillance sight than as a targeting tool. We forecast about 4,500 CLUs will be bought in the next ten years.

Future Soldier Systems

The US-led war in Afghanistan again demonstrated--on television, in living color--how much the nature of military conflict for the major powers has changed since the end of the Cold War (although the Russians could have told us this a decade ago from their experiences in Chechnya). During Operation Anaconda, the US relied on fighting units composed of small numbers of professional career soldiers, equipped with high-tech communications, electronics, and vision systems. The sheer number of soldiers on the field of battle had much less effect on success or failure than even in Chechnya. Instead, more is being asked of each combatant.

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Future soldier programs, although originally planned to continue traditional forms of open-field warfare, provide new technologies to greatly increase the effectiveness of each soldier, especially when networked into small- and medium-sized infantry units, and especially in urban or other non-traditional terrain. These small units will gain much of their new force from heavy support by precision munitions from now-expected total air superiority, as well as from future ground programs (manned and robotic) such as the Future Combat System (FCS).

Because future soldiers won't simply have more or bigger guns in their hands (although they will have these also), communications; networking; wearable computers; and 24-hour vision, surveillance, and targeting abilities will be vital. What this means for the night-vision market is a smaller number of more capable, fully digital, network-centric systems. Instead of hundreds of thousands of cheap night-vision goggles (NVGs), armies will purchase tens of thousands (or thousands or hundreds; for smaller armies) of digital, fused thermal/image-intensification sensors/CCD|charge-coupled device| systems, which can be networked into the real infantry firepower of the future, supporting arms.

The Army's ambitious Land Warrior digital-soldier program began development in 1996 but has suffered numerous problems and delays, due to everything from software problems to overweight equipment. Then, in February 2003, General Dynamics finally won the prime contractor award, under a contract that could be worth almost $800 million. The Army currently plans initial production in December 2005 (slipped from December 2003 in late 2003), which could hold. There have already been many delays, but continuing operations in Iraq demand a system like Land Warrior, and the Army must do something soon. If Iraq quiets down, however, further delays could occur.

Land Warrior will probably include two thermal imagers, for the Weapon Subsystem (with a weapon-mounted thermal sight--currently TWS, but probably TWS II) and for the Helmet Subsystem (currently to include an image-intensification NVG system, but probably upgraded to a fused imaging-infrared/IR system in the near future). Land Warrior is ultimately intended for use by all five types of infantry; Ranger, Airborne, Air Assault, Light, and Mechanized.

There is also already a next-generation system in development, the US Army's Future Force Warrior (FFW) soldier-enhancement program, budgeted for $250 million over the next seven years. The FFW has been called "Land Warrior Block III," but it is intended as a ground-up (head-to-toe) new program, not an evolutionary development of current systems. The FFW may never be produced in its currently planned form, although it does have a theoretical fielding date of 2010, but it will develop many of the technologies that will see service with Land Warrior and other future soldier programs.

Beyond the science-fiction-seeming future soldier systems, ordinary Gls will also soon be getting personal thermal imagers. The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (ENVG) will be a helmet-mounted, passive device for the individual soldier that incorporates image intensification and long-wave infrared sensors for night operations. The ENVG will be designed for use in conjunction with rifle-mounted aiming lights and is the planned successor for the AN/PVS-7 NVG and the AN/PVS-14 Monocular Night Vision Device (MNVD). The ENVG will be fielded to infantry troops, military police, traffic controllers, surveillance units, and any force likely to engage in urban combat.

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The ENVG combines traditional image-intensification technology with an uncooled, thermal sensor. Image intensification amplifies non-visible particles of light to a level of brightness that the human eye can detect. An infrared imager senses temperature differences, and warmer items appear brighter on a display. The fusion of both technologies will result in NVGs that merge the strengths of image intensification--a clear, sharp, green-tinted picture--with infrared's ability to see under most environmental conditions. Green is the color that the human eye sees most easily.

The Army had been evaluating three ENVG prototypes, developed by ITT Industries; Northrop Grumman; and Insight Technology, Inc. Northrop Grumman's offer is a fully digital, fused system, and while it performed well in tests in late 2003, it is probably too early in development to satisfy the Army today. Instead, ITT and Insight are both offering "optical overlay" systems. Aligning image-intensified and thermal images at all ranges is difficult, but this will probably be the initial ENVG technology. Complete goggles will weigh less than 2 lbs.

In July 2004, ITT was awarded an ENVG development contract, to deliver a fully working unit that meets Army specifications by late 2005. Working prototypes are due by mid-2006, and a production contract could follow. However, this is not an exclusive development contract, and Insight Technology is still competing.

While today's image-intensification goggles cost about $2,500 a piece, the ENVG will cost at least $10,000, probably more initially, and the thermal sensor component will comprise more half the cost. With the Army Acquisition Objective (AAO) for the ENVG program estimated between 125,000 to 150,000 systems, the ENVG could be a multibillion-dollar, uncooled, thermal program.

Uncooled Imagers Dominate

Although costos of cooled thermal imagers will continue to drop, as will size and weight, uncooled thermal-imaging technology is already a strong competitor for a large portion of the market: light-weight sights for individual weapons and NVGs. Uncooled TWS II (Thermal Weapon Sight) systems will now take over the lion's share of the cooled AN/PAS-13 TWS procurement. TWS production will soon concentrate only on longer-range crew-served weapons (replacing the AN/TVS-5), where the additional range and resolution of a cooled sight is important, and even this application will be replaced eventually with uncooled sights.

There is no technical reason why thermal imagers need to be cooled at all in order to obtain high resolution. Currently, FPA temperatures are indirectly related to resolution, but if uncooled technology continues to develop at its current rate, it will soon reach the point where cooled sights will be bumped up again, for use only on vehicles. Following that, and not too far in the future, cooled sights could be superceded entirely for ground applications.

Teal Group Corp. forecasts an end to cooled thermal imagers for ground applications for the US, somewhere near the end of the decade. Remember, all drivers' viewers are already being replaced by uncooled imagers (Raytheon's AN/VAS-5 DVE). Personal weapons will soon be getting tens of thousands of uncooled TWS Ils, something not foreseen even a few years ago. Land Warrior will probably pick an uncooled imager for production. Tank main guns will not be far behind, as their ballistic ranges will not increase at the same rate as sensor ranges. Only long-range anti-tank missiles may retain their cooled sights (such as our forecast for Javelin CLUs, primarily for international customers). When range and resolution of uncooled sensors increase only a few fold more, the additional expense, weight, and complexity (maintainability) of cooled imagers will become unnecessary.

In terms of the market, Raytheon is losing its dominance of ground thermal imaging. Following the acquisitions of Hughes and Texas Instruments and the divestments to DRS Technologies, Raytheon and DRS had the ground-thermal-imager market all to themselves, with Raytheon very much the senior partner. But this will change in the next few years with the end of the cooled HTI Second Generation FLIR already in sight.

The big awards to BAE Systems and DRS for the TWS II in March 2004 signalled that Raytheon has some catching up to do to compete in the new uncooled market. Teal Group Corp. has no doubt that catch up they will, but at least for now, they will be playing "new recruit" for soldier systems. If Raytheon also loses an open competition for the uncooled vehicle HTI SGF, with full-rate production already planned by the Army for the end of FY08, Raytheon could wind up with only a small share of the market by 2013. Whoever produces winning uncooled imagers will become the new market leader.
Vehicle Thermal-Imager Production Value (FY04$ in Millions)

              2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012  2013

AN/VAS-5 DVE
  (uncooled)   18    26    28    38    38    40    38    28    28    28
HTI SGF
  (cooled)    180   210   220   160   110    70    26    24    26    22
HTI SGF
  (uncooled)    0     0     0     6    30   110   125   120   150   150

Source: Teal Group

Non-Vehicle Thermal-Imager Production Value (FY04$ in Millions)

                        2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011

AN/PAS-13 TWS (cooled)  156   80    12     11     7     0     0     0
TWS II (uncooled)         0    0    20    112   168   162   160   160
ENVG (uncooled)           0    0     4     34    98   124   124   130
TOW ITAS (cooled)        68   52    12      0     0     0     0     0

                        2012  2013

AN/PAS-13 TWS (cooled)     0     0
TWS II (uncooled)        160   160
ENVG (uncooled)          130   130
TOW ITAS (cooled)          0     0

Source: Teal Group

Cooled vs. Uncooled Thermal-Imager Production Value (FY04$ in Millions)

          2004  2005  2006  2007  2008  2009  2010  2011  2012  2013

Uncooled    18    26    52   190   334   436   447   438   468   468
Cooled     453   392   285   210   138    91    47    45    47    43

Source: Teal Group


David L. Rookwell

Teal Group

Dr. David L. Rockwell is the senior electronics analyst for Teal Group Corp., a provider of aerospace and defense competitive intelligence based in Fairfax, VA (drockwell@tealgroup.com).
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Author:Rockwell, David L.
Publication:Journal of Electronic Defense
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2004
Words:3076
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