THERMAL WEAPON SIGHTS ARE EVOLVING TO
ALLOW SOF AND THEIR REGULAR SERVICE
COUNTERPARTS TO SEE FARTHER, CARRY
FEWER BATTERIES AND USE LESS POWER.
Thermal weapons sights (TWSs) provide warfighters with a tremendous advantage on night and day missions. TWS-equipped weapons are allowing warfighters to detect, observe and engage hostile targets, independent of darkness and other common obscurants used for visual concealment, at increasing ranges and with more lethality. TWSs will continue their evolution toward reduced weight and other attributes for increased battlefield effectiveness.
There is a wide array of TWSs in service with U.S. and overseas defense forces. The U.S. Department of Defense is obtaining Thermal Weapon Sight II from several vendors. The TWS II is being fielded to the different services. The TWS II provides capabilities similar to its predecessor, AN/PAS-13B (TWS I), with technology improvements that reduce weight and provide longer battery life.
BAE Systems has delivered more than 42,000 TWSs to support Army fielding requirements for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The company’s legacy TWS (AN/PAS- 13C(V)) portfolio includes light (-13C(V)1), medium (-13C(V)2) and heavy (-13C(V)3) sights. attributes provide ofthe- art overview of contemporary TWS products.
Responding to the services’ call for lighter-weight equipment, BAE Systems’ sights weigh in at 1.95 pounds (0.8 kilograms) (AN/PAS-13C(V)1), 2.9 pounds (AN/ PAS-13C(V)2) and 3.7 pounds (AN/PAS-13- C(V)3).
BAE Systems uses its uncooled MicroIR infrared technology to provide a recognition range on a moving man of 680 meters (2,230 feet) for the -13C(V)1; 1,100 meters for the -13C(V)2; and 2,200 meters for the -13C(V)3, read a company statement.
The three siblings use AA batteries that are rated at 10 hours operating time with one charge. The use of commercial batteries is a common attribute of this and other families of TWSs.
BAE Systems will continue to provide second-generation TWSs to the U.S. Army under a $137 million order announced in May. The order is part of an existing fiveyear BAE Systems contract administered by the Army’s Research and Development Command Acquisition Center.
“These second-generation thermal sights are lighter, quieter and use less power than the first-generation sights, reducing are used on rifles, machine guns and mounted weapon systems to provide day and night surveillance and target acquisition, enabling soldiers to see deep into the battlefield to detect, identify and engage targets at longer ranges,” read a company statement provided by Karen Spiller, manager, media relations, BAE Systems Electronics, Intelligence and Support.
DRS Technologies, Melbourne, Fla., is also delivering its family of AN/PAS-13D(V) (TWS) II for the services’ individual and crew-served weapons.
“This state-of-the-art 25micron (1 mil) uncooled infrared technology provides the warfighter a crisp thermal image of target information, thereby increasing situational awareness and reducing mission-critical decision time,” read a company statement.
The DRS TWS family is composed of three variants: the AN/PAS-13D(V)1 light weapon thermal sight (LWTS) for the M16 and M4 series rifles and carbines, as well as the M136 light anti-armor weapon; the AN/PAS-13D(V)2 medium weapon thermal sight (MWTS) for the M249 and M240 series medium machine guns; and the AN/ PAS-13D(V)3 heavy weapon thermal sight (HWTS) for the squad leader’s weapon M16 and M4 series rifles and carbines, M24 and M107 sniper rifles, M2 HB, and MK19 machine guns.
The U.S. Marine Corps’s procurement strategy provides one insight into the popularity of the DRS model. A service statement indicated that 3,902 AN/PAS-13Ds would be procured in fiscal year 2008 and another 4,705 in FY09.
L-3 Communications Infrared Products has elevated TWSs to a new technology plateau with its multipurpose thermal-eye Renegade-320. The product combines the features of a handheld and the convenience of weapon mounting, with a MIL-STD- 1913 (Picatinny rail) mount, for handheld, weapon-mount or tripod operation. This versatility opens up the potential to use the Renegade-320 for force protection, urban reconnaissance, close-quarters use and other missions assigned to SOF and regular forces. A multipurpose device’s compatibility with a Picatinny rail mount is a trend that is increasingly common through competing product lines.
The Renegade-320 has been tested on the M4 and is suitable for M16. The product may be adapted to other weapons, according to a company statement.
Three field of view (horizontal x vertical) options deliver different ranges to detect human activity: 50 x 37.5 at about 750 feet, 25 x 19 at about 1,500 feet, and 12 x 9 at about 3,000 feet. The Renegade 320’s four CR 123 lithium batteries provide more than six hours seconds.
L-3 Communications Electro-Optical Systems (EOS) supplies the AN/PVS-24 (M2124) clip-on night vision device (CNVD). “The device is utilized on individual weapons in front of a day scope during night operations to provide a nighttime capability without having to reboresight the weapon,” said Roy Lewis, director, business development, L-3 EOS.
Two FLIR TWSs that support long range missions caught our attention. The long-range optics of the company’s Snipir allow the operator to engage targets at ranges up to 1,000 meters. Snipir’s image blending allows the blending of daylight and thermal imagery for maximum target contrast even in visually camouflaged environments.
The Snipir embodies physics-based principles used in other contemporary TWSs: thermal optics are not subject to background light “washout”—they are ideal for use in both day and night lighting conditions, including total darkness. The Snipir is lightweight (4.5 pounds) operates for four hours on standard commercial D-cell batteries. The device is range-qualified on the M24, AI308, AI338, M84A1 and A3 weapons systems,” noted a company statement.
HISS is a second long-range (up to 1,500 meter), thermal in-line weapon sight. The device is a high performance, detachable thermal sight that mounts inline with standard optical scopes (up to 15 times), which serve as the eyepiece. “HISS can be detached and reattached without affecting the boresight of the day scope, significantly improving operator performance and tactical flexibility,” read a company statement. The TWS weighs less than 4 pounds and will operate for over seven hours using standard CR-123A batteries.
“HISS has been successfully tested on weapons up to and including .50 caliber,” according to the company. The long-range TWS can also provide video output. This last capability is central to the evolving concept of having land-warriors as nodes in different C2 networks.
Elbit Systems Electro-optics’ (Elop) Lily family of lightweight TWSs is designed for use by the individual infantry soldiers. Similar to other TWSs, Lily was designed to provide significant advantages for operations in total darkness and in even the most difficult environmental conditions. The Lily TWSs contribute significantly to the ability to acquire targets and increase the first-hit capability, Haim Soffer, marketing and business development, thermal imaging systems, Elop, told SOTECH. “They enable the soldier to more easily discriminate between false and valid targets in conditions of dust, smoke, total darkness [such as in caves and/or underground facilities], camouflage and clutter. By enabling the infantryman to see without being seen, the Lily TWSs considerably increase survivability probability.”
Lily TWSs deliver high performance in a small, lightweight package, with very low power consumption, and has been provided to an unspecified country in Europe.
ITL Optronics, company, provides its Coyote very lightweight, high-performance, uncooled thermal weapon sight. The device is rated for five hours of continuous operation using four CR2-type batteries. The TWS fits Picatinny-type weapon adapter, with a high-resolution 320 x 240 array. The Coyote weighs 380 ounces (10.8 kg).
Vectronix included several innovations to its NiteSpot50—an image intensifier device that adds night vision capability to a variety of sighting and observation systems. “It is easily attached in front of the day sight, and quickly removed when not used. NiteSpot50 does not affect the optical alignment, which means no re-adjustment or fresh boresighting is needed when changing from daylight to nighttime operation,” read a company statement.
The device is ergonomically designed so that the eyepiece is lower than the objective—providing a lower profile for the shooter and a more favorable center of gravity. The NiteSpot50’s recognition range (1,200 meters under quarter-moon conditions) is competitive with other devices. The image intensifier device has a Picatinny rail adapter.
ENHANCEMENTS AND NEW PRODUCTS
Lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Capobianco, product manager, U.S. Army Soldier his service is on the bow wave of two significant TWS developments. The Army is developing a 17 micron focal plane array (FPA) for the TWS. “This next-generation FPA allows increased range performance, system weight reductions and reduced power enhancements, thereby allowing the soldier to see farther, carry fewer batteries and use less power.” This new target FPA compares with the current 25 micron FPA.
PM SSL is also teaming with the service’s Night Vision and Electronics Sensor Directorate to develop a fused weapon system that provides the warfighter a weapon-mounted, multispectral sight. “The multi-spectral allows the best of both worlds, benefits of image intensification and thermal/IR technologies,” pointed out Capobianco.
Within industry, L-3 EOS has provided significant enhancements to its weapons-mounted application. The company has developed a longer-range (55 percent increase) CNVD and higher-resolution (50 percent increase in cycles per milliard) device that is low-rate, initial production ready, reported Lewis. ♦