Significant night vision advances over the next several years may filter into programs, such as the Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-35 and the U.S. Army Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) headset, Raanan Horowitz, president and CEO of Elbit Systems of America, a subsidiary of Israel’s Elbit Systems [ESLT], said on Apr. 20.

While Elbit America’s plant in Roanoke, Va., has a niche position as a supplier of high-end Generation III image intensifier tubes and systems, Elbit is also investing in follow-on Generation IV low-light sensors.

“We look to revolutionize that [night vision] field in the next couple of years again, as those generations go up,” Horowitz said in an interview at Elbit America’s office in Arlington, Va. The company is headquartered in Fort Worth.

In addition to such expected advances, Elbit America has been supplying Ukraine with night vision equipment to help repel Russia’s assault.

“Some of the users [of night vision] around the world have been using Russian-made image intensifer tubes,” Horowitz said. “Now with all the pressure not to buy from Russia, we’re seeing increased demand from people that used to buy from Russia or China coming back to us.”

The U.S. has strict “Figure of Merit” (FOM) regulations on the performance levels of image intensifiers that the U.S. may export to various countries. U.S. military forces may receive image intensifers with the highest FOM.

Elbit’s Roanoke plant has operated since 1959 under several owners, including ITT Night Vision, Excelis, and for four years under Harris Corp. before being sold to Elbit in 2019 as a result of the merger of L3 Technologies and Harris Corp. to form L3Harris [LHX].

Elbit is to start production of the F-35’s panoramic cockpit display for the F-35 by the end of this year and has delivered more than 1,000 F-35 helmet mounted displays (HMD), which are evolving under a modular design to incorporate better night vision, Horowitz said.

In 2017, Elbit won a contract for the F-35’s new panoramic cockpit display, formerly built by L3.

“We’ve evolved and improved the [HMD] system,” Horowitz said on Apr. 20, adding that its acquisition cost has fallen sharply and is no longer a $400,000 system. Elbit and Collins Aerospace [RTX] build the F-35 HMD.

“We’ve improved the night vision capability, some of the display capability, and we’re investing in the next iteration to incorporate some new capabilities,” he said.

The Generation IV low-light sensors will move “from the traditional design of fiber optic streams, invented 50 years ago, into solid state solutions,” which will permit digital night vision sensors, Horowitz said.

Such advances may eventually aid the Army’s struggling IVAS program. Last month, Congress withheld nearly $350 million for IVAS until the completion of initial operational test and evaluation and until the service briefs lawmakers on program progress (Defense Daily, March 14).

Microsoft [MSFT] is the contractor for IVAS.

“One of the drawbacks of IVAS right now is it doesn’t have a good night vision sensor,” Horowitz said. “The sensors they’re using are not able to be even close to where the image intensifiers are. ENVG-B [Enhanced Night Vision Goggle–Binocular], another one of our products, is much better at night than anything IVAS can provide.”

Under an Other Transaction Authority agreement worth up to $440 million, Elbit has received two orders from the Army for ENVG-B production through February 2023.

In addition, Horowitz said that Elbit is under contract with Army Night Vision Labs “to take the technology we’re developing in Roanoke and adopt it to use in IVAS.”

“As we succeed, we’ll be able to provide an equivalent night vision capability,” he said.

To move Generation IV low-light into IVAS is likely not imminent, however.

“I don’t think it’s soon. I think it’s gonna take a couple of years,” Horowitz said. “There’s a lot of investment in digital sensors, in CMOS and all that, but none of them have really shown that you can get where you need to get.”

The Army has invested in the digital Electron Bombarded Active Pixel Sensors (EBAPS) from California-based Intevac, Inc. for low-light level detection.

For its part, Elbit is the largest buyer of EBAPS, as the company has bought some 5,000 EBAPS for use on the F-35, each of which has two EBAPS, Horowitz said.

IVAS night vision “is still not at the level of the analog image intensifiers, but I think through what we’re doing in Roanoke, it’s gonna take a couple–three years, and we’ll get there,” he said.