The original version of this project was to improve dismounted soldiers’ day and night vision capabilities when operating under adverse conditions - such as in jungle and open conditions – and to detect hostile forces by using a range of complementary and mainly electro-optical equipment. The products adopted for NINOX included soldier-carried Image Intensified devices, thermal imagers and microwave radars, the latter two tripod or vehicle mounted. NINOX also included unmanned perimeter surveillance equipment.

3rd Oct 2011


 Night Fighting Equipment (NFE) Replacement.

Byline: Frederick Haddock / Canberra

The original version of this project was to improve dismounted soldiers’ day and night vision capabilities when operating under adverse conditions - such as in jungle and open conditions – and to detect hostile forces by using a range of complementary and mainly electro-optical equipment. The products adopted for NINOX included soldier-carried Image Intensified devices, thermal imagers and microwave radars, the latter two tripod or vehicle mounted. NINOX also included unmanned perimeter surveillance equipment.
The program was introduced during the period when many countries were beginning to battle with the problem of improving soldiers’ survivability in the field, through the addition of new sensors without extra weight. Apart from that NINOX was confronted with the simple fact that NFE technology was leapfrogging its application.
The Australian LAND 125, Integrated Soldier System (ISS), the British Future Infantry Soldier Technology (FIST) and the US Army’s Future Force Warrior (FFW) are part of a larger Future Combat Systems (FSC) projects are typical examples of the adoption of NFE. Other capable nations such as Germany and France have similar approaches. To date, none of the three programs mentioned have reached maturity and they use a multi-phased methodology that allows for technology insertion. For example, the US Army’s FSC has been forecast to reach product maturity with its “Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System”, only in 2032.
In assessing the needs of the NINOX NFE Replacement, LAND 125 needs to consider :
• Night Vision system performance is significantly affected by the operational environment in which it is used. In a tropical environment with adverse conditions the operational range of Image Intensifier systems will be reduced, in some cases to zero, but generally not so with thermal imaging systems unless thick fog is also present. In Savannah vegetation and desert topography, system performance will be optimal.
• It cannot be assumed at any time that a hostile force will be less well equipped than own force as many of these devices have been copied and indiscriminately sold.
• The growth in capability of small hand and rail–launched UAVs, fitted with thermal imaging equipment, radar and real-time data streaming, is likely to provide more reliable and safer 24/7 surveillance than ground systems, particularly the ease with which the data products (video and location) can be widely shared using radio bearers within a larger force.
• There is a clear limit to the mass and size of vision aids and other equipment that soldiers are able to carry and use effectively. The US Army is pursuing the development of powered exo-skeletons that soldiers wear to improve their mobility in the environment.
Image Intensified (I2) Systems
Currently, a typical I2 device provides usable imagery under the following distances:
o Starlight: man-sized target at a range of 100m, vehicle at 500m
o Moonlight: man-sized target at a range of 300m
I2 systems are now widely used in hand-held, helmet-mounted and weapon-mounted configurations. Their small size, low mass, low energy passive operation, the integration of the produced imagery in the overall “system” and relatively low cost are attractive features.
Examples of current NV equipment using the latest GEN3/4 I2 tubes are:
• AN/AVS-6, Aviator Night Vision Imaging System (ANVIS). Although it is not a foot soldier device ANVIS is one of the most advanced and successful lightweight I2 NV devices produced to date. It was specifically developed for land surveillance by helicopter pilots flying at an altitude of 200 feet, at speeds of 150kts and in overcast starlight light levels. Acquired vision is provided by a binocular device fitted into to the pilot’s helmet. Produced by ITT and the then Litton Systems during the early ‘90s, the ANVIS has been progressively updated in all aspects of its design.
• Enhanced NV Goggle (ENVG ) AN/PSQ-20
This device, developed by ITT, combines image intensification and infrared illumination in a single soldier portable unit. The IR and I2 components have a common boresight so that the I2 device detects the thermal radiation from the area of interest. The program was sponsored by the US Army as a candidate for its Future Force Warrior program. Reportedly, ITT had reached the low volume fielding phase for an unstated quantity of this device in 2008.
Future development.
DARPA has a project called Cognitive Technology Threat Warning System (CT2WS) that proposes to access neural processes of a soldier involved in surveillance and target detection and to combine them in a suitable soldier portable E-O device.
A composite software/human in the loop algorithm is used to produce high fidelity detection data with an extremely low false alarm rate. If achievable, the new device would not add to a soldier’s existing workload or the mass of the carried equipment. The first stage of the program was scheduled to run between 2007 -2011 and under an NCW capability subject.
Suppliers of Image Intensifier Tubes.
The I 2 tube is the clever bit of technology in NV devices - the rest is proven optics and packaging. An I2 tube typically costs between US$ 2,000-4,000.
• Radar
There are a very large number of manufacturers of man-portable radars for battlefield operation, among them the U.S. MSTAR that is a reference system. The principal features of a battlefield man-portable radar include portability, remote control, solid state design, Low Probability of Intercept, 20km range (typical), high azimuth and range resolution, automatic target detection and classification, moving target detection and classification and threat detection in dense jungle vegetation. This last feature designates the radar to be in the Foliage Penetration (FOPEN) class.
• Cooled Thermal Imaging (TI) systems
Believed to have originated in Germany during WWII in an attempt to detect allied bombers, countless funds have been spent on maximising the yield of this technology.
TI systems are passive in operation and generally function in the 3-30 micron wavelengths of the light spectrum. They detect thermal energy emitted in the above band from radiating objects. The lower energy level detection limit is because the radiating object must radiate more energy than is radiated by the thermal background. The temperature difference between these two sources may be as low as 0.1deg.C. The upper limit is directly radiated sunlight from which a detector is protected by an automatic shutter. The effectiveness of TI systems is significantly affected by atmospheric conditions, such as dust, fog, low cloud and aerosols, but otherwise they operate continuously from daylight through complete darkness. TI systems are not easily jammed, except by laser light.
Detection of thermal energy relies on the fact that certain alloys of metal combinations produce an electrical output and today two widely used detector materials are Mercury Cadmium Telluride (MCT) and Indium Antimonide (InSb) alloys. MCT appears to be the favoured material and it is sensitive in the 3-5 micron band. Current detector architecture is based on producing a two-dimensional Focal Plane Staring Array that consists of a number of detector elements deposited as a matrix structure on a silicon substrate. Minute spaces between detector elements provide physical separation of them and carry wiring. FPAs are manufactured using the latest production methods for microprocessor chips. A typical FPA limit is considered to be 1000 x 1000 elements, or pixels.
Incoming thermal energy gathered by the object lens is optically focussed on the array and a quantum of it is detected by each detector in the array. The output of each detector is a discrete voltage that is clocked out serially into a register or store. The contents of the register are clocked out and further processed to provide a continuous viewable video image of the scene, without colour. Signal processing provides a wide range of imagery for display under operator or automatic control. Of critical importance to the operation of this group of detectors is that they must be continuously cooled by a cryogenic cooler in a sealed Dewar to temperatures between 60-100K.
The demand for advanced detector elements is driving the development of dual-band systems and detector operation at higher temperatures without degrading sensitivity. If successful, this latter development will significantly reduce the size of the cooling engine and its power needs with a concomitant improvement in a field portable device.
• Uncooled Thermal Imaging systems.
Systems using uncooled detectors are based on the use of pyroelectric and ferroelectric materials. The detectors are assembled in an array similar to cooled systems but they operate at room temperature. Incident thermal energy arriving on a detector causes a change in resistance, voltage or current, depending on the type of detector, which is then processed to form imagery. The resolution and image quality of uncooled arrays is lower than is achievable with cooled detectors, but they are cheaper to make and more reliable. Widely used commercially, development of the device to improve performance continues.
Interestingly in the 1970s DSTO developed an uncooled detector (bolometer) but lack of support to further develop and produce the device literally resulted in the technology being given away to the UK.
Remotely operated battlefield sensor systems.
There is a range of these systems to meet a wide range of applications. But the “system of choice” is probably the US Army’s Improved Remotely Monitored Battlefield Sensor System (IREMBASS) as it will provide reliable surveillance of any defined area. The system uses a number of mixed technology sensors, including magnetic, seismic/acoustic, IR and meteorological. Once laid and energised the sensors are automatic in operation and if breaches of a protected area are detected they are reported by radio to a remote control position. Typical detection range of the sensors is: Personnel 3-350m, Wheeled vehicle: 15-250m, Tracked vehicle 25-350m. Current sensors are designed to remain fully operational for 30 hours, but operational time is dependent on the sensor’s energy demand and type of storage battery used. System integrity is of paramount importance and extraneous sensor radiation and network operability to a reporting station are controlled to a high degree.
• The NINOX NFE Replacement Project has been delayed for some time due possibly to a changed timescale, but probably more likely to be due to the continuous development of the technologies employed that make a firm selection difficult.
• The NINOX NFE Replacement Project may also be suffering from the higher priority LAND 125, which evidently should be mandated to use NINOX products or vice versa. The Army should not be confronted with two types of systems with a generally common requirement.
• It is clear that UAV technology is relevant to the success of the subject and its omission disadvantages this project.
• Whilst Australian Industry does not have the capability to develop and manufacture the core devices used today it does have the capability to integrate the products into the ADF’s operational and NCW philosophies.












APDR at a glance