By Ann Roosevelt
ITT Corp.’s [ITT] Night Vision is working on the future of night vision using new wavelengths and developing digital fusion core technology and considering new markets, according to company officials.
"Our plan is to take that into a lot of different areas where we’ve never been before," Mike Alvis, vice president, business development for ITT Night Vision, told Defense Daily in an interview.
For example, developing digital core technology that would digitally fuse image intensification–the green image in the goggle–with thermal infrared. While this improves what the soldier sees through the goggle, it also would allow exporting and importing images and information from the tactical network, he said.
"The most challenging thing to do is to mount any new technology into a goggle onto a helmet that needs to be supported by the neck," Alvis said.
Looking at the potential list of night vision opportunities, the size, weight and power requirements broaden.
"Rather than being a goggle-provider, we feel that if we can master this for the goggle, then we certainly could take the allowances and go into weapons sights, and then, of course, on aerial platforms…and we’re looking to go into the driver viewer market with a fused solution," he said.
ITT has provided tubes for this market and for cameras used on aerial platforms, but the Army decided some years ago to use thermal capabilities for the driver’s viewer. Using thermal, drivers can’t see ditches or potholes in the road because the temperature is generally the same.
"If we can give them both, they enhance peripheral vision and see ditches," Alvis said. "And [it] will be the same technology we’ll put in goggles and aerial platforms."
Since the Army’s Future Combat System now concentrates on the infantry, a digital, fused, goggle with the ability to send and receive images and data would fit with the network envisioned to tie soldiers to platforms, systems and battle command. However, this is not envisioned to come immediately.
ENVG-Digital (ENGV-D) is a program of record, an active program sought within Program Executive Office-Soldier.
At the moment, ITT is in low rate production on the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle-Overlay (ENGV-O), in which image intensification and thermal are overlaid in the goggle.
"ENVG-Overlay was the first attempt to implement sensor fusion on the head," Don Morello, director of U.S. Military Marketing for ITT Night Vision, said. "It’s also the first foray into letting that goggle import and export."
The first step is to import information. There is an Army requirement to interface with the thermal weapons sight, Morello said. Theoretically, it’s possible to take the output of one system–a weapons sight–and display it within the goggle. That’s the first step into interconnectivity where the digital goggle aims.
"The Army ultimately wants to give the soldier…if that soldier has the ability to connect with the net, however that’s defined…for importing and exporting images and data," Morello said.
The Army is putting some targets out for industry to try and hit or come under, such as a device that weighs less or equal to two pounds. Coming in under the target becomes a discriminating factor in competition, he said.
The challenges are enormous. Size, weight and power are vital, and the unit must provide at least the same performance the current night vision goggle does.
Another area ITT is exploring, short wave infrared (SWIR), is earlier in the development cycle. In February, the Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate awarded ITT a contract for engineering and initial prototypes of head-mounted systems to combine image intensification, SWIR and long-wave infrared imagery. SWIR technology operates at wavelengths between visible/near infrared and long-wave infrared.
"We’re beginning to find that more potential enemies are buying and acquiring night vision," Morello said. Someone using an image intensification device can see someone else using an I2 device. SWIR uses a different band that cannot be acquired by traditional night vision.
"We’re taking a swing at it," Alvis said. "We’ll know within a year whether we think this has a head-mounted solution."
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is working on SWIR. The issue is to develop a sensor that responds to that particular area of night sky energy with a signal, and then make that signal visible as something you can see. A sensor was developed, and the concept was proven. However, that sensor is huge and uses a lot of power, ITT officials said.