From the very beginning of combat use tanks their main vulnerability was a limited crew review, which was used with great effect by calculating all types of anti-tank weapons, from artillery to ATGMs and RPGs, not to mention hand grenade throwers and Molotov cocktails during World War II. It is on a limited overview of the terrain that the method of anti-tank ambushes is based ("I see, the enemy does not see"), which works without fail in any military conflicts.
The tank designers tried to solve the problem of “blindness” of the tank in various ways. Initially, in the hull and turret of the tank, at different angles, survey hatches equipped with armored hulls and sight slits equipped with armored valves were cut. During the First World War, in the event of a tank getting under intense rifle-and-machine-gun fire, the lids and flaps were closed, completely or partially losing sight of the tank, or they used iron masks to protect the face from lead splashes of bullets crashing on the edges of the sighting gaps.
The tanks of the Second World War were equipped with more sophisticated surveillance devices, which allowed to conduct a survey even with intensive shelling of armored vehicles from automatic rifle weapons, guns and mortars with the use of high-explosive ordnance. The sighting gaps were equipped with bulletproof glass, fixed and movable periscope observation devices (so-called panoramas) were mounted on the roof of the tower and the hull, shifting down the observer’s head relative to the line of observation / fire of the enemy. To ensure circular observation, an additional commander's turret was mounted on the roof of the tower with perimeter-shaped reticle. Towards the end of the war, they began to install electron-optical night-vision devices operating in the near-infrared range of the optical spectrum, under the condition of illuminating the terrain with an IR illuminator.
Despite these decisions, the visibility of the tank crew remained low, not satisfying the complicated conditions of warfare, especially in the urban environment, with the expansion of the range and direction of attack of potential threats and the small field of view of each of the observation devices. Therefore, the most effective method of observing the battlefield was a review from the half-open tower hatch. For the commander conducting the observation, there was a small choice - either to use observation devices, risking to burn in the tank along with the rest of the crew from the shot of an unsung grenade launcher or anti-tank gun, or to conduct a circular review from the open hatch, trying to protect it with a lid and risking its own life during the shelling small arms, but at the same time timely parrying threats with maneuver and fire from a tank.
In the post-war period, in the field of tank observation devices, there was a rejection of the reticle and a transition only to periscope observation devices. At the same time, rotating periscopes (panoramic observation devices) significantly increased their size in order to expand the field of view. In addition, rotating periscopes received an electric remote drive, a stabilized field of view and a variable magnification of the image. Separate optical observation devices had members of the crew of the tank, each weapon unit was equipped with a specialized sight. Optical channels were duplicated by television and infrared. All this led to a significant increase in the number, size, weight and cost of surveillance devices.
Numerous and large-size optical tips of surveillance devices themselves became vulnerable to small arms and artillery fire. There is a known case of an attempt to evacuate a wounded man from the neutral zone during the Second Chechen War, when all the optics of an infantry fighting vehicle were completely incapacitated for two minutes under enemy sniper fire. The performance of the combat mission was disrupted, the vehicle was retracted by the driver into the blind.
In order to reduce the vulnerability of surveillance devices, it was proposed to combine them into compact universal modules protected by armored corps and equipped with multichannel electronic means of review — high-definition color video cameras and infrared infrared imagers. In addition to a significant reduction in the dimensions of the external head of the observation devices, this made it possible for the first time to resolve the issue of circular view not only in the horizontal plane, but also in the vertical one, which is especially important in a situation of increasing threats of tank attacks from the upper hemisphere. The electronic image format allows you to broadcast a picture on any of the monitors of tank crew members, as well as optimize the placement of surveillance devices and the crew as a whole - respectively on the tower (the most visible place) and in the case (the most protected place).
An example of such a solution is the integrated device panorama – sight – rangefinder COAPS of the Israeli firm Elbit Systems. The device is a platform stabilized in two planes and having ballistic protection against bullets and small fragments. The dimensions of the eyepieces of electronic cameras are an order of magnitude smaller than the dimensions of optical observation devices. The equipment with variable magnification includes a HDTV format video camera, a thermal imager and a laser range finder. Drives provide horizontal rotation of 360 degrees and swing from -20 to + 60 degrees vertically.
However, even this approach can be considered obsolete, since when using an integrated device at each particular point in time, the choice of the direction of viewing / determining the range / aiming is made only by one of the crew members, as a rule, the tank commander. The gunner at the same time forced to do a standard sight, coupled with a gun and having a small field of view. In addition, the combination in one device of all observation channels increases the risk of complete loss of visibility with direct artillery shells or large fragments hit it.
The principal solution combining multispectral observation devices, independence of the field of view of all crew members and redundancy of observation channels was proposed by Rheinmetall in the form of the Situational Awareness System (SAS) optoelectronic system installed at the corners of the tower of an experienced MBT Revolution tank. Each of the four units of the system consists of three fixed cameras operating in the visible and infrared ranges of the optical spectrum. Each of the cameras has a viewing angle of 60 degrees, partially overlapping the field of view of adjacent cameras. A specialized processor of computer equipment, also part of the system, synthesizes a circular panorama, any segment of which in the necessary electronic approximation can be transmitted individually to each of the crew members.
For the future, it was proposed to replace single-lens cameras with limited visibility with faceted cameras with a viewing angle of 180 degrees. The reduced size of the chambers will ensure multiple redundancy of surveillance devices and the possibility of quick replacement in case of failure with the help of mechanized packs located under the cameras. In December 2012, the Japanese company Toshiba presented a similar video camera, designed on the principle of the eye of an insect. The camera module is a cube, each edge of which has a length of 10 mm. The size of the central photosensitive matrix is 5 x 7 mm. Above the matrix is a spherical array of 500 000 microlenses, the diameter of each of which is 0,03 mm. During the shooting of the lens forms a separate image. The processor then assembles this mosaic together, measures the distance to objects in a frame, calculates the difference between 500 000 images and forms a single picture.
Instead of panel displays, promising crew workplaces are equipped with devices projecting an image onto the translucent glass of helmet-mounted visors of the type aviation systems, for example, the French production Thales TopSight Helmet HMDS, which are used as part of the equipment of the MiG-29K / KUB carrier-based fighters of the Russian Navy. In addition to the synthesized picture of the environment, the aiming mark, the parameters of the tank equipment operation and tactical information in symbols are displayed on the screen. An infrared emitter / receiver built into the helmet controls the movement of a person's pupils and accordingly moves the reticle across the screen, allowing it to instantly aim at the target, followed by manual pressing of the target lock key.
This method of organizing the review of the tank was called "transparent armor." It is further developed by moving from expensive aviation to low-cost commercial systems such as the Moverio-BT-100 augmented reality glasses, developed by Epson, Japan, and offered at retail for US $ 700. Approaching the projected image directly to the eyes allows using the entire natural field of view (viewed by a person without turning the head) as a spatial segment in 120 degrees, which is equivalent to a view from the open hatch of the tower practiced during the Second World War.
At present, there has been a transition to the preferential use of observation channels in the thermal part of the optical spectrum in opto-electronic devices of tanks regardless of the time of day. This is due both to the lack of need for an external source of illumination (the Sun, a searchlight) and high thermal radiation power of gun barrels, engines and exhaust systems of military equipment, and to much better atmospheric transparency on 12-14 μm waves in adverse weather conditions (rain, fog, snow) and in the presence of suspended solids in the air (smoke, dust, soot, soot, artificial aerosol). The diagram shows the dependence of the attenuation of thermal radiation of bodies heated to temperatures of 36 degrees Celsius, depending on the intensity of rainfall. The correction factor for fog and snow is two, for suspended solids - three.
The transition to observation in the thermal range of the optical spectrum allows you to remotely detect not only potential targets, but also traces on the ground, inevitably left on the soil surface as they move or erect shielding barriers from natural materials that differ in their thermal signature from the previously formed background of the terrain. In this regard, the capabilities of the advancing units to detect anti-ambush ambusions in advance are approaching them, even with the use of various capes masking the thermal radiation of targets, which practically compares the chances of the attacking and defending sides in terms of visual control of the surrounding space.
The presence of promising observation devices of computer equipment with a high-performance graphics processor makes it possible to programmatically implement the method of restoring the environmental background visible by the human eye when the image is used in the thermal range of the optical spectrum, or, conversely, contrast the minefields in the area bearing capacity, areas of defense points and structures, urban development with different thickness of walls and ceilings etc.
The huge flow of visual information coming in the “transparent armor” mode, no doubt exceeds the capabilities of the tank crew to process it, even in the case of a multiple increase in its number. In this regard, promising systems for automatic target recognition come to the fore, based on thermal image samples stored in various projections of people, ATGM launchers, artillery guns, armored vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles and tanks, using the method of accelerated scanning with maximum electronic image magnification , without human intervention, they identify and accompany dangerous targets, visualizing them on crew displays for a decision on their destruction.
One of the first examples of such a system is Desert Owl, developed by Australian company Sentinent Pty Ltd with the participation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA). During field tests, the system demonstrated the ability to detect soldiers by thermal radiation at a distance of 4 km, military equipment at a distance of 12 km. The system is able to memorize and subsequently compare old and new images of the same locality and thereby detect any suspicious changes - for example, a pile of stones on the side of the road or a fresh rump on the roadway, in which a land mine can be hidden. At the same time, a tank or other vehicle equipped with a Desert Owl system can move at speeds up to 60 km / h.
As the next logical step in the development of automatic observation systems, detection and tracking of targets, we can predict their direct interaction with auxiliary armament of a tank such as a large-caliber machine gun or an automatic grenade launcher. Numerous small-sized targets on the battlefield, primarily those submitted by grenade launchers and ATGM calculations, can be identified and destroyed in a preventive manner without the participation of the tank commander and gunner, who can fully concentrate on using the main artillery weapons for the respective targets - tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and anti-tank calculations. enemy guns.
This possibility, combined with the rapid development of active protection systems for armored vehicles, allows us to take a fresh look at the feasibility of building combat vehicles to support Terminator-type tanks, as well as on the mandatory infantry escort of tanks in most types of offensive operations. Changes in the tactics of the use of tank troops, in turn, will allow them to return the mobility of the early 40-s of the last century until the moment of the appearance of portable reactive anti-tank weapons.