Asymmetric conflict, combined with urban terrain and appropriate warfare rules, has increased the need for both direct and indirect fire precision. Accuracy is determined by all links in the chain of destruction and the first link is undoubtedly the identification and capture of the target.
Initially, portable target designation systems, capable of capturing a target and sending its coordinates to the executive system, were available only to special forces or special targets reconnaissance calculations. Now this is far from the case, conventional units are equipped with manual chain reconnaissance devices, the most advanced armies deploy these devices down to platoon level. Typically, such systems have day and night channels, a GPS positioning system, a magnetic compass with digital display and an eye-safe laser rangefinder. Additional features and tools can be added, such as video recording, photography, laser designator, and an astronomical compass in case of GPS signal failure.
The dismounted units undoubtedly attach great importance to the weight of all components of their equipment without exception, and therefore the manufacturers are making considerable efforts to reduce it. In observation, detection and target designation devices, the thermal or night channel is one of the key subsystems. Today, there are two main options available - cooled and uncooled arrays of sensitive elements or microbolometers operating in the mid-wave infrared region of the spectrum (3-5 μm) and in the long-wavelength infrared region of the spectrum (8-14 μm), respectively. The range of action is definitely higher for cooled sensors, which, however, need a heavy cooling device with high power consumption and a few minutes to cool down, whereas uncooled matrices do not have this problem, they are activated in just a few seconds.
In Europe, one of the key players in this area is Lynred, formed in mid-2019 through the merger of Sofradir and its subsidiary ULIS. The company has made significant progress in reducing the size of both cooled and uncooled dies. According to Lynred, "the transition to a new generation is currently underway, with cooled dies with 15 µm pitch and uncooled dies with 17 µm pitch being replaced by new dies with a smaller pitch, 10 µm and 12 µm, respectively." This allows, at the same resolution, to reduce the size of the matrix and, as a result, to reduce the weight of one of the heaviest components of a handheld target reconnaissance device - the lens. The optical glass lenses used in the lens, as well as the frame they fit into, are relatively heavy. The lens diameter is determined by the focal length, as well as by the size of the sensor, the larger the latter, the larger the image field that the lens must create, and the larger the lens size. In addition, one should not forget that sooner or later the laws of physics will get in the way of decreasing the step. According to Lynred, the pitch of 12 μm achieved in LWIR (near [long wave] IR) sensors may be the smallest, but in MWIR sensors (mid [medium wave] IR), a decrease to 5-6 μm. Obviously, the same is true for SWIR type sensors (far [short-wave] IR spectrum) operating in the 0,7-2,5 µm range, which, however, are not yet used in products of the class of devices considered in this article.
In addition to reducing the size of matrices in cooled sensors, we are seeing another direction of development. Raising the operating temperature of the sensors reduces energy consumption as well as cooling times with a positive effect on availability. High Operating Temperature (HOT) matrices use new technologies that require higher temperatures than 80-90 ° Kelvin for standard sensors. Lynred offers a low power mercury cadmium telluride sensor that operates at 110 ° K, which saves more than 10% energy, while FLIR has developed a Type 2 Superlattice (T2SL) solution that operates at 120 ° K. However, it is already clear that typical HOT sensors will have to operate at temperatures from 130 to 160 ° K; technologies are being developed to achieve this.
Significantly, lower power consumption can result in smaller battery sizes, as the power source is another “heavy” component in a handheld optoelectronic system. Specialty lithium-ion batteries have a higher specific energy, which allows them to be lighter and lighter than standard commercial batteries. However, some customers prefer the second solution, usually based on AA-size elements available anywhere in the world. In the past two years, the specific energy of lithium-ion cells has increased by 25%, from 200 to 255 Wh / kg. However, according to leading battery manufacturers, this technology is close to depleting its potential. New solutions are being developed, for example, lithium-sulfur modules providing about 400 Wh / kg. However, to take full advantage of this new technology, there are a number of hurdles to overcome, such as degradation at low temperatures, low (double-digit) charge cycles, and manufacturing problems for these batteries. In this case, do not forget about another important factor - cost. As beautiful and wonderful as a particular model is, its high cost can become an obstacle to deployment in the military.
The market for surveillance, reconnaissance and target designation systems is constantly evolving, following in the wake of customers' needs: there is an intense struggle with weight, resolution is increasing, their functionality is expanding, various subsystems are added, for example, long-range laser pointers. Although the need for sighting systems is growing around the world, Asia is considered one of the most promising markets, where large investments will be made in the next 3-5 years in the modernization of soldiers' equipment. This article is not intended to replace a complete catalog, it only describes the latest products in this area, to facilitate comparison, the main data are summarized in tables.
Safran Electronics & Defense and its Swiss subsidiary Safran-Vectronix AG offer several systems with cooled and uncooled sensors. Safran has developed the JIM product line, the top product of which is the JIM HR chilled unit, while the uncooled unit is designated JIM UC. Sagem designers have also created a lightweight and compact, easy-to-use JIM Compact system. A modular long-range system that easily integrates into a digital architecture hit the market in 2016. The device, the matrix of which takes 3 minutes to cool, has a detection range of a person and a vehicle of more than 7 km and 10 km, respectively. Night and day color TV channels have the same field of view, wide 13,5 ° and narrow 4,5 °. The third channel is based on a low-light camera with a wide 6,2 ° field of view and a narrow 4,5 ° field of view. The device has a built-in laser rangefinder with a range of 12 km. The JIM Compact device is equipped with continuous electronic magnification 1x-4x, image stabilization modes, multi-mode image alignment, as well as “laser spot observation” (the ability to observe a laser spot with a thermal imaging camera when the target is illuminated with a laser designator). Compared to previous systems, its weight and volume have been reduced by at least 40%, this result is also achieved by reducing the weight of the battery in half while maintaining the operating time. Recently, another optional mode has been added, called TELD (Tireur d'Elite Longue Distance - long range sniper). TELD, developed in collaboration with the French command of the special operations forces, measures the distance to the target and according to the firing table based on the type weapons and ammunition calculates the amendments, displaying them on the display. According to Safran, the TELD device increases the probability of hitting a moving target on the first shot from 20% to 90% (results for 10 shots fired by trainee snipers at a target moving at 8 km / h from a distance of 400 meters). An existing JIM Compact can be easily retrofitted with TELD via software upgrade. In addition to the ability to capture and store photos and videos, the JIM Compact has analog and digital video output and can optionally be equipped with wireless Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
The Moskito, developed by Safran-Vectronix AG, is arguably the smallest and lightest device for 5/3 surveillance and positioning. It boasts a 5x daytime optical channel and a 10x nighttime channel based on the Photonis XR-6 image intensifier, and its laser rangefinder can measure distances up to 6,25 km. In order to achieve a higher level system, Vectronix replaced the brightness amplification channel with an uncooled thermal channel, giving birth to the Moskito TI instrument. It features a 12x daylight optical channel and a CMOS low-light channel, both with a 1 ° field of view, while the thermal channel has a XNUMX ° field of view. A GPS receiver as well as an eye-safe Class XNUMX laser pointer are optional.
The JIM Compact system is in service with 12 NATO countries, the last order for it came from Denmark in October 2019. Two months later, the Swiss army signed a contract for the supply of over 1000 JIM Compact and Moskito TI multifunctional systems.
Thales has developed a complete line of handheld sighting systems called the Sophie, ranging from the cooled Sophie-XF / VGA to the uncooled Sophie MR. The newest system in the Sophie Ultima family was shown at Eurosatory 2018. The aim of the development was to reduce weight, increase range, readiness for joint combat operations, improved modularity and scalability. The four-in-one system is based on a cooled MWIR range sensor and weighs close to uncooled systems. The detection range is 12 and 8 km for a person and a machine, respectively, and the recognition and identification ranges are 4,5 km and 8,5 km and 2,3 and 4,5 km. Cooling time has been reduced to just 3 minutes, almost half the time of previous systems. The thermal imaging channel has an optical magnification giving a continuous field of view from 20 ° to 2 °. In addition to the typical daytime color TV channel, one of two new key elements is the integration of an optical channel with a 7x35 lens and a 26 ° field of view, which provides the best picture in terms of color and lighting; thermal fusion mode is also available. As for the color TV channel, it allows recording video images from the thermal imaging channel, it is also possible to record on a removable micro-SD card. The eye-safe laser rangefinder has a maximum range of 8 km. Sophie Ultima is equipped with GPS system with civil access code C / A (Coarse Acquisition) and NMEA protocol for connection with other systems. Also available are USB2, Bluetooth, WiFi, Ethernet and RS232 interfaces. The Sophie Ultima is equipped with Image Stabilization, Autofocus and Ultra High Resolution modes. The device has a high level of modularity and can accept additional plug-and-play items. On the left side of the device, you can install such modules as, for example, a SWIR camera, a laser pointer, an astrocompass, a telecamera with a zoom, a communication module of the LTE (Long-Term Evolution) standard, allowing you to adapt the system to the task ahead.
No announcements have been made for this new product since the day it was shown, but according to information obtained at Eurosatory 2018, Thales was supposed to deliver or is close to delivering the first systems to the French Directorate of Armaments. The company has begun developing a new system from the Sophie line, another manual targeting system is planned to be called Sophie Optima. It will be equipped with an uncooled 1280x1024 microbolometer with a dual field of view of 10 ° or 20 °, operating in the range of 8-12 microns. Abandoning the continuous magnification and cooling machine will further reduce the weight, although, of course, the detection and identification ranges will decrease.
The British company Thermoteknix has developed the TiCAM 1000C targeting and positioning eyepiece. Based on the same design, the company also ships the TiCAM 1000B without the daytime CCD color channel. All systems comply with the MIL-STD standard and are classified as military export systems. The company employs approximately 25 engineers who are responsible for all electronics, software and mechanical design. Its products use a variety of uncooled long-wave infrared sensors as well as its own patented shutterless technology. Production of the TiCAM 1000C began in 2018 and since then Thermoteknix has achieved significant commercial success in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, although exact customer information is not available at this time. Both TiCAM 1000B and C models are equipped with a visible or “invisible” laser marker, a video and photo recorder, and a standard 75 mm lens with an 8,3 ° x 6,2 ° field of view with a range of 2900 meters at night. An alternative 60mm lens with a 10,4 ° x 7,8 ° field of view and a 2350 meter human detection distance can be installed, reducing weight by about 100 grams. A lens with a diameter of 100 mm is also available, the detection distance of a person in this case is increased to 3900 meters, and the field of view is reduced to 6,2 ° x 4,7 °. The TiCAM 1000C can be integrated with optional triangulation and projectile drop location modes for fire control and artillery support, as well as pre-planning. In addition to direct front-end support for battle management software, Thermoteknix has developed its own ConnectIR Android application that allows images from TiCAM thermal and daytime cameras and target location data to be transferred to connected cellular, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth devices. This application allows users to exchange data without the cost or complexity inherent in a fully deployed battle management system or communications infrastructure. According to available information, the British company intended to showcase its successful TiCAM line, as well as other additional accessories to it at Eurosatory 2020, but the coronavirus prevented.
The Finnish company Senop, part of the Patria Group, has two uncooled monocular targeting systems named Lisa and Lilly in its portfolio. The first has two daytime channels, one based on a color CCD camera with a 2,9 ° x 2,3 ° field of view, and the second optical one with 4,6x magnification provides an optimal daytime image; thermal imaging channel with a field of view of 6,2 ° x 3,8 ° features digital zoom. The Class 1 laser rangefinder has a range of 6 km, which corresponds to the maximum detection range of vehicles, while a human detection range is 3 km. The Lisa is equipped with a USB connector, video output, RS232 connector and Bluetooth wireless protocol. The Lilly model is lighter and smaller, has an optical daytime channel with a magnification of 5x and a field of view of 8,0 ° x 5,9 °, the same characteristics as the thermal imaging channel. Thanks to the translucent prism, the optical image is split into two, one sees the user's eye, and its copy is a high-resolution daytime camera used to capture video and photos. With one direct vision optical channel, no energy is required. It is possible to combine images of two daytime channels, live and television. The range of the laser rangefinder is the same as that of the Lisa; however, an optional rangefinder with a range of 15 km is offered. The detection ranges are somewhat reduced and amount to 5 km and 2 km, respectively. The Lilly system is equipped with an eye-safe laser pointer and communicates over the same channels as the Lisa with the addition of Ethernet and WLAN.
The German company Jenoptik has developed a multifunctional thermal imager Nixus Bird, which, in addition to the uncooled night channel, has a direct view optical channel with a magnification of 7x and an optical aperture of 40 mm. The original system boasts a night channel with an 11 ° x 8 ° field of view, which can detect vehicles at a distance of 5 km. In the mid-2010s, the company decided to begin production of a long-range variant, after which the Nyxus Bird device became available in MR and LR variants. The latter has a lens with a longer focal length and a narrower field of view of 7 ° x 5 °, which can detect vehicles at a distance of more than 7 km.
One of the latest additions to the hand-held designator category has arrived in Turkey. Transvaro has unveiled the Engerek 8, which uses a 640x512 MWIR FPA cooled detector, FLIR's latest development based on T2SL technology with 15 μm pitch. 15x optical zoom allows continuous adjustment of the field of view from 2,04 ° x 1,63 ° to 20,16 ° x 16,9 °, 8x electronic zoom is also available. The daytime channel is based on a 1920x1080 color camera with a 30x magnification, its field of view varies from 2,84 ° x 2,27 ° to 27,86 ° x 22,44 °. Transvaro claims a detection range of over 8,5 km for growth targets and 21 km for typical NATO standard targets measuring 2,3x2,3 meters and corresponding identification ranges of 1,4 and 3,5 km. The laser rangefinder has a range of over 10 km for NATO standard targets. The built-in internal memory of the Engerek 8 system allows you to record up to 4 hours of video in MP4 / AVI formats, as well as photos in jpg format.
The Israeli company Elbit Systems offers one refrigerated and one uncooled system. The first of them, Coral-CR, is equipped with a thermal imaging channel with continuous magnification and a field of view from 2,5 ° x 2 ° to 12,5 ° x 10 °, the day channel has a wide field of view of 10 °, and a narrow one - 2,5 °. The detection range of living targets is 5 km and 11 km of vehicles. The significantly lighter Mini Coral features a 6 ° x 4,5 ° fixed lens for day and night channels and a 2,5 km laser rangefinder; the detection ranges of the device are 4,8 km for cars and 3 km for people. Both systems are equipped with a day / night blending mode.
Although the US military is close to getting the Leonardo DRS's new Joint Effects Targeting System (JETS) for special forces, numerous companies are not idle, periodically introducing new manual surveillance and reconnaissance systems. The US Marine Corps recently signed two contracts with Northrop Grumman and Elbit Systems of America to develop prototypes for the Next Generation Handheld Targeting System. BAE Systems has developed the HAMMER (Handheld Azimuth Measuring, Marking, Electro-optic imaging & Ranging) device, which includes an astronomical compass for accurate positioning even in the absence of a signal GPS.
The latest developments from FLIR are the cooled Recon V and the uncooled Recon V Ultra Lite. The thermal imaging channel has a magnification of 10x and a changing field of view from 20 ° x 15 ° to 2 ° x 1,5 °, the Recon V model has a built-in electronic stabilization system. Not all the characteristics of the device are available, although the range of the laser rangefinder is 10 km. The Recon V is hot swappable, meaning batteries can be changed without shutting down the system. Internal memory can store up to 1000 images. The Recon V Ultra Lite model is based on the latest 640x480 FPA matrix with a pitch of 12 microns of its own design and, as a result, the system is compact and relatively lightweight, while the daytime channel has a resolution of 5 megapixels. Super-wide 12,2 ° x 6,9 ° field of view, 6 ° x 3,3 ° wide field of view and 4,5 ° x 1,6 ° narrow field of view are available in thermal imaging channel, 6 ° x 3,3 ° field of view and 3 ° x 1,7 ° are available in the day channel. The range of a laser rangefinder operating at a wavelength of 850 nm exceeds 10 km. The Recon V Ultra Lite has built-in digital video output, as well as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC wireless connectivity.