Excellent technical vision of Western armored vehicles
The new machine of the British Army Ajax will be equipped with the latest optical systems with day and night capabilities.
Many armies of the world today seek to increase the capabilities of their main combat tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, either through the modernization of the existing fleet, or the acquisition of completely new vehicles. The unpredictable geopolitical situation and the likelihood of engaging in an armed conflict with a well-equipped enemy make us again pay special attention to optics for armored vehicles.
Since the military of the whole world is striving to acquire new or modernize the existing main battle tanks (MBT) and infantry fighting vehicles (BMP), one of the key requirements is the presence of modern optics and aiming systems in them. Advanced optics allow the vehicle commander and gunner to detect, recognize and identify the enemy at extended ranges, which gives them a tactical advantage on the battlefield. Sighting systems, being the brains of weapons, must meet modern requirements in order to guarantee a high probability of hitting them from the first shot at such increased ranges.
In Europe, several countries are in the process of purchasing new cars and modernizing the existing fleet, seeking to postpone obsolescence and fill the lack of opportunities. The UK is engaged in updating its fleet by purchasing a new family of armored combat vehicles (BBM) under the general designation Ajax, manufactured by General Dynamics UK (GDUK), and, in addition, it is upgrading the outdated Warrior BMP and Challenger II MBT as part of the relevant projects to extend the deadlines service.
In accordance with the contract, GDUK will supply the British Army's Ajax 589 vehicles, including the 245 reconnaissance variant, 93 reconnaissance support, 112 combat control vehicles, 50 repair, 38 evacuation reconnaissance and 51 engineering reconnaissance. The reconnaissance option, deployed for surveillance, reconnaissance and information gathering, will be equipped with a turret with an 40-mm gun and an advanced, stabilized, panoramic sighting system.
Modern optical systems have computing power to perform tasks such as target detection, target tracking and integrated image processing.
Thales was selected in 2011 for the delivery of the Orion system as the main target of the new Ajax machine. It allows the commander to have a panoramic view of the 360 ° and to observe and fire in motion during the day or night. The sight can receive long-wave (LWIR) or medium-wave (MWIR) thermal cameras, as well as wide-angle long-range cameras, while providing high-resolution images from all sensors.
Additional features of the Orion sighting system include an automatic detection and tracking system, plus a laser range finder and target designator. The sighting system DNGS T3 also manufactured by Thales can be used to activate the so-called search and shock capabilities. The two-axis stabilized gunner's sight allows you to detect and capture targets day and night using a color camera or LWIR and MWIR thermal imagers.
The aim complex Orion is installed on a new British Ajax vehicle.
According to Richard French, head of the department of optical-electronic systems and rocket electronics at Thales UK, the Orion and DNGS T3 sighting systems differ from existing systems because they have independent stabilization along two axes. He said that they also have “significant computational power, allowing them to perform tasks such as target detection, tracking and integrated image processing, as well as the Generic Vehicle Architecture interface (common (standard) architecture for vehicles) for connecting to the carrier platform” .
Last year, Thales received a contract worth 60 million dollars for the supply of 245 DNGS T3 sights for the Ajax serial program. According to French, the company will also supply a driver’s vision system for round-the-clock driving, an all-situation situational awareness system and smoke grenade launchers. Thales will also supply the Antares hemispherical review system for Jaguar and Griffon armored vehicles, which are part of the modernization program of the French Scorpion army.
Another supplier of optical systems for the Ajax program was Kent Periscopes, which in March 2016 received a contract worth 9 million pounds for the supply of prism surveillance devices and an additional commander's sight. This additional sight, designated Saber, can be equipped with either a thermal imaging channel or a brightness enhancement channel.
Saber Auxiliary Scope Mounted on Ajax Armored Vehicle
Mark Batchelor, director of business development at Kent Periscopes, said that his company supplies components specially designed for the Ajax program. “There are several of our products on the machine except periscopes, and we also supply a backup sight.”
Modernization of optics and weapons control systems are also an important component of the program to extend the life of the Challenger tank, according to which the service life of the honored MBT of the British Army will be extended to at least 2035 year. A spokesman for the British Department of Defense said that surveillance, detection and acquisition and weapon control systems "are priorities in this project." The consortium, led by BAE Systems, offers a thermal imaging channel upgrade for the gunner's sight, located above the main cannon, and the commander's main sight for getting round-the-clock search and percussion capabilities.
At the show
Along with the new Ajax tracked vehicle, in recent years, several new and upgraded vehicles with modern aiming and surveillance systems have entered the European market. Many companies have used the Eurosatory exhibition in Paris this year to showcase their latest models. The CIO consortium, formed by Iveco and Leonardo, presented a Centauro II 8x8 self-propelled artillery mount, armed with a third-generation 120-mm cannon (barrel length 45 caliber), which will be purchased by the Italian army and is currently undergoing qualification tests.
The Centauro II ACS has a LOTHAR (Land Optronic Thermal Aiming Resource) gunner-sight developed by Leonardo. For effective detection, aiming and tracking of targets from a spot or in motion, the LOTHAR sighting system may include proprietary thermal imagers such as LWIR or MWIR, a high-resolution color CCD camera, eye-safe laser range finder and a day-time optical channel. Leonardo will also supply its Attila D. panoramic commanding sight.
Sight arrow-gunner LOTHAR (Land Optronic Thermal Aiming Resource) developed by Leonardo
A Leonardo spokesperson said that the Centauro II armored vehicle includes the Tilde B thermal imager in the LOTHAR sighting system, based on the LW Hawk detector with a matrix in the focal plane, while in the Attila D sight, the Erica FF detector is based on the MW Hawk detector with a matrix in the focal plane. According to the company, the imager Erica FF can detect armored vehicles at a distance of 20 km and identify them at distances slightly less than 5 km.
At Eurosatory 2016, another new development machine from the German company Rheinmetall, called Lynx (lynx), was introduced. This tracked platform will be available in two versions, Lynx KF31 and Lynx KF41. It is equipped with a Lance tower of the same manufacturer, armed with an 30-mm or 35-mm cannon and a digital fire control system. The tower has two stabilized opto-electronic sighting systems SEOSS (Stabilized EO Sight System) also from Rheinmetall, one for the gunner, forward, and the second with a panoramic view for the commander.
Optical electronic sighting system SEOSS developed by the German company Rheinmetall
According to the company Rheinmetall, the new Lynx armored vehicle can operate in search and impact mode, as well as in the mode of simultaneous and independent search of targets by the commander and gunner at distances up to 3 km. The two-axis stabilized SEOSS includes a third-generation thermal imager, an optional high-resolution CCD camera, a laser rangefinder and integrated fire control and stabilization electronics. Situational awareness system allows you to automatically detect and capture targets, thereby increasing the search and impact capabilities of the Lynx armored vehicle.
Another new vehicle of German origin, featuring advanced optics and targeting systems, is the Puma BMP, which will replace the outdated Marder BMP in the German army. The Puma armored vehicle, manufactured by a joint venture between Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, is equipped with an optoelectronic sighting system for the gunner and a panoramic day / night complex with a PERI RTWL laser rangefinder for the commander, both manufactured by Airbus Defense & Space (DS) Optronics.
“PERI RTWL is the latest optical periscope system developed by Airbus DS Optronics for the Puma BMP, as well as for the tank commander Leopard 2,” said Wolfgang Gais, Business Development Director. “This advanced periscope has excellent optical performance combined with the latest technology in optoelectronics.”
This periscope is equipped with a third-generation ATTICA thermal imaging camera and a CCD camera, as well as a laser rangefinder for the implementation of a search and impact mode. Guyz explained that the new fiber-optic gyroscopes increase the mean time between failures and reduce the azimuth of the system. The image from the thermal imager can also be transmitted directly to the commander's sight.
The ATTICA thermal imaging camera is available from the 2010 of the year, replacing the first-generation WBG-X thermal imager, which was built before the 2000 of the year. Airbus DS Optronics can also offer an ATTICA-GL thermal imaging camera specifically designed to extend the life of the MBT, such as the Leopard 2. Another ATTICA variant under the designation ATTICA-GM was created as a retrofit solution designed to extend the life of BMPs such as Marder.
In Germany, the ATTICA thermal imager is installed as standard in the sighting system of the commander PERI R17 A3, and, moreover, standardly in the gunner / commander sights of Leopard 2, which are in service with Canada and Denmark. Guys noted that “Leopard 2 tanks that were upgraded in this way can reconnoiter, identify and mark targets at substantially greater distances and even with limited visibility. With better quality images comes a clearer mastery of the setting. ”
Optics or number?
As modern ground-based machines are becoming increasingly digitized and more and more opto-electronic systems (with advanced day / night capabilities) are being installed to solve vital problems, including aiming and improving the situation, many representatives of industry are wondering about whether optical direct vision systems, such as periscopes, are appropriate now.
“Those who want to switch to optoelectronics and say that direct vision optics are outdated did not end up in a critical situation when the source of electrical power in the car fails,” said Danny Schonning, executive director of Optex Systems, a company specializing in the manufacture of periscopes and various Optical solutions for the US and foreign customers.
“It doesn't matter how brilliantly designed or intelligently assembled electronics, but it fails,” he explained. “Optics of direct vision gives the soldier confidence, he knows what to do ... This is an access point to the outside world, and the more effective we are in providing this data from the outside world to the user, the more informed the soldier will be.”
This view was supported by Mr. Batchelor from the British company Kent Periscopes. “If you ask users, they always want to have a real perspective on the outside world. They want to see an unambiguous picture, otherwise it’s like living in a house without windows - you can go crazy - as a result, the members of the crew have a fit of indisposition ”.
According to Mr. French from Thales, traditional optics, such as periscopes, have a lower profile over armor and better protection, but take up valuable space in the tower. He explained: “Optoelectronic systems are easier to integrate, especially when upgrading existing systems. They may have sensors with a greater range, since they are less limited by the characteristics of the lenses. However, it is more difficult to protect them from damage and their visibility over armor is significantly higher. ”
For Airbus DS Optronics, this is a multi-year dispute that still needs to be fully resolved. The decision in favor of a system, direct vision or digital, is often determined by the choice between reliability and cost - in varying proportions. Of course, customer requirements also have a significant impact.
“In general, many commanders, both tanks and submarines, prefer to rely on their own eyes than on a digital picture on the screen. In the end, it’s a matter of personal preference, ”said Wolfgang Weiss.
Several manufacturers, including Kent Periscopes and Optex Systems, being loyal supporters of direct vision systems, expanded their scope of activity and engaged in digital optics to meet customer requirements. Kent Periscopes offers a periscope with an embedded image, that is, it gives a classic direct optical image, but combines it with digital images from cameras installed along the perimeter of the machine. “When installing it, the crew gets a big advantage. Now, images from different perspectives, from cameras installed along the perimeter of the car, are added to the traditional image through the combined prism. ”
The countries of North and South Americas are also striving to upgrade the optics of their armored vehicles. In the United States, a program is being implemented to modernize the BMD Bradley fleet and the Abrams MBT by installing infrared third-generation 3GEN FLIR front-view infrared systems. In March 2016, the US Army issued a contract to Raytheon and DRS Technologies for the development and pre-production phase of 3GEN FLIR systems.
The third-generation infrared front viewing system 3GEN FLIR was developed by Raytheon and DRS Technologies
The two companies will supply common components (known as B-Kits) that will integrate with vehicle sights and enhance reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition capabilities. According to the PEO IEW & S (PEO Intelligence, Electronic Warfare & Sensors) Office of Implementation of Sensor and Electronic Warfare Programs, this will allow Bradley or Abrams operators to detect and identify enemy targets with increased clarity and "significantly longer ranges."
Common components will include a high-resolution dual-band thermal imager (MWIR / LWIR), a cryogenic cooling system / Dewar vessel, optics and electronics needed to convert thermal radiation into video images. In accordance with the original contract, 96 sets of B-Kits will be purchased, and if all options are fulfilled, then the total value of the contract will be approximately 154 million dollars.
This technology will be integrated into the independent thermal imager of the commander of the Abrams tank (CITV) and the main gunner-sight sight (GPS), as well as into the sight of the commander and gunner Bradley BMP.
“At the moment, the Abrams tank and the Bradley BMP are combat platforms slated for the 3GEN FLIR upgrade,” explained Lt. Col. Scott Madore, head of ground sensors at the PEO IEW & S program office. "But since the 3GEN FLIR program is a horizontal technology integration work, there are good prospects in the future to integrate 3GEN FLIR technology into other platforms."
According to Madore, the army plans to conduct a preliminary analysis of the project “around the fall of this year,” and a critical analysis of the project in the spring of 2017. A decision on full-scale production is planned to be taken in 2024, after which the production and deployment of new systems will immediately begin.
When asked about the specific ranges of the new 3GEN FLIR system compared to the previous system of the second generation, the army responded that the disclosure of these data is not possible. However, Madore explained that the modernization associated with the installation of 3GEN FLIR systems "will allow us to ensure superiority over our rivals for many years, and also allow our soldiers to detect, recognize and identify enemy targets outside the range of its projectiles."
A similar program for the modernization of the optics of combat vehicles is also carried out by the US Marine Corps (USCM) at its M1A1 MBT. In 2014, the United States KMP issued a contract to Raytheon for the development, production and supply of a promising target complex of the Abrams tank under the designation (AIDATS Abrams Integrated Display and Targeting System).
Prospective sighting system AIDATS Abrams tank
The system, which includes a thermal sight module (TSM) and a DSM (day sight module) thermal sight module, is designed to give the crew of the M1A1 tank — especially the tank commander — an increased level of control and increased identification range, so that it corresponds to the effective range of the 12,7-mm machine gun installed in the commander's stabilized combat module.
The TSM module uses an uncooled video transducer array with narrow optical and wide visual fields. The DSM module includes a high-resolution color CMOS camera with two optical fields of view that coincide with the fields of view of the TSM module. “A wide field of view of the TSM and DSM modules increases the level of control of the situation of the commander,” said Michael Kreiner, project manager for AIDATS in the Systems Development Command at the USCM. - The narrow field of view of the TSM and DSM modules significantly increases the ability of the tank commander to recognize and identify targets at extended ranges. The DSM color camera replaces the existing black and white camera, which allows the commander to distinguish targets based on color information. "
Krainer said that AIDATS is now in the final stages of the pre-production phase and in the autumn 2016 is scheduled to enter the initial production phase. Current plans provide for the launch of the 2017 system in the summer.
AIDATS will complement the basic optical systems of the Marine Corps M1A1 tanks, which are contained in the main GPS gunner's sight. GPS has direct vision optics for the shooter and also includes a second-generation front-view IR system based on the Standard Advanced Dewar Assembly II. The commander of the tank M1A1 can see the image from the GPS sight through a special channel.
Among the manufacturers and users of optical-electronic systems, disputes about whether combat vehicles should completely switch to digital numbers and move away from direct vision optics, such as periscopes, do not abate. On the photo is a stabilized panoramic commander sight PERI RTWL of the German BMP Puma.
In Brazil, the modernization of the existing M113 BTR fleet is in full swing, where many new technologies will be introduced, including optics. As part of the contract with the American company BAE Systems Combat Vehicles, the M113B machines of the Brazilian army are being upgraded at Brazilian capacities to the standard M113A2 Mk1 (M113BR). Some components are preserved, for example, a hull, ramp hatches, and other components, such as engines, transmissions and cooling systems, are deeply modernized or replaced completely.
One of the stages of modernization is to replace the existing M17 periscopes and the driver’s night vision device AN / VVS-2 with a single day / night periscope. On older versions of the M113, the driver had to install the AN / VVS-2 device every time after sunset in order to be able to drive the car at night. The new day / night periscope can be used around the clock, the driver does not need to install it, its function has been reduced to switching between day and night cameras.
“The AN / VVS-2 night vision device uses 25-mm tubes, whose scope of use is expanding and the cost is decreasing,” said Danny Shonning, executive director of Optex Systems, which supplies a new periscope for Brazilian cars. “Instead of rearranging an existing device that was installed at night, we provided day and night capabilities combined in one device and replaced the simple M17 driver periscope.”
The system has two cameras in one common periscope housing and a display with a diameter of 16,5 cm. It is installed just at the place where the output viewing mirror of the M17 periscope was usually located. We can replace existing periscopes by car in five minutes, ”explained Schonning.
As for the future development of optical systems, manufacturers are constantly adding new elements and functions to their products, as well as defying the laws of physics. According to Schonning, the introduction of thermal imaging technology is one of the key trends in the market for optical systems. "Every 12 months, we slightly increase the resolution of our thermal imagers, and for the same price, well, or we can reduce the price, while maintaining the same resolution of the device."
Increasing the resolution of the sensor in combination with a decrease in the size of the pixels makes the device smaller and improves the characteristics, said French. - Increased sensitivity and resolution of uncooled thermal imagers. Now Thales can offer a hardened, uncooled thermal imager that can identify a standard NATO target over a distance of more than two kilometers. ”
Processor technology continues to evolve under the influence of the consumer market, especially for devices that combine microprocessors and programmable logic blocks and that "cause great interest in the market of military optoelectronics." Such manufacturers, such as Thales, take for military use all the best and advanced on the market of mobile devices and cars. Thales, represented by its subsidiary Sofradir, pays great attention to reducing the step size of imagers and developing “hot” detectors with less power consumption.
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