When Billy Fabian was serving as an infantry officer in Iraq a little more than a decade ago, the U.S. Army had a decided advantage when it came to pursuing the fight at night. It was not, however, without flaws. The goggles he and his fellow soldiers used were sophisticated, but simplistic. At times, they were ineffective.
Though they amplified ambient light, the goggles did not work in complete darkness. They were drowned out by bright light as well. Moreover, although the gear still provided a distinct advantage to troops who wore them, the tactical-advantage gap was closing. Insurgent forces were getting their hands on night-vision goggles. Additionally, soldiers who wore them would use infrared lasers to target adversaries bearing small arms--effectively providing these foes with an indicator of their enemies' locations.
Though much has changed since then, Pentagon leadership still views regaining the night-vision advantage as a critical goal. Defense Secretary James Mattis has prioritized improving the lethality of close-combat warfighters. Better night-vision goggle systems are a key element of the secretary's push. Though the armed forces and industry are making steady forward strides, challenges remain.
"A key question is, how do you balance performance with soldier load?" said Fabian, now a senior research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. "As our dismounted soldiers get more protection--body armor, etc.--as well as advanced optics such as night vision, it adds a lot of weight."
The next generation of night-vision technology will address these issues, Fabian believes. Such capabilities would amount to a "pretty huge step," he said. "All of the improvements would make the dismounted soldier and Marine more lethal and survivable."
The Army's soldier lethality cross-functional team, headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia, is conducting the main work in advancement of night vision.
"We're looking at improvements across the board," said Col. Travis Thompson, the team's chief of staff for soldier lethality.
"With an increase in situational awareness, you may not have to call in on the radio to identify where friendly units are," Thompson said. "You're more likely to detect the enemy and be able to engage them in that close fight faster."
The Army wants new equipment that would increase field of view and depth perception for soldiers in a close fight, and allow soldiers to...