* Unlike the massive acquisition programs for fighter jets and combat vehicles, night vision technologies need to be refreshed every few years in order for troops to maintain their edge against adversaries. Scientists have focused on improving image quality while driving down the size, weight and power consumption of these devices.
For the first time, the Army is simultaneously procuring a new suite of night vision goggles and weapon sights that can combine imagery from both devices. The coming years may bring greater advancements. Officials from military research organizations believe that a shift from analog to digital night vision devices will soon be possible, yielding the prospect of capturing and sharing color video among soldiers.
For decades, the U.S. military relied on analog night vision goggles that use image intensification tubes to amplify existing light, allowing troops to see in practically pitch-black conditions.
"The image intensifier is almost a perfect technology. It consumes extremely little power, [and] it's very light," said Don Reago, acting director of the communications and electronics research, development and engineering center in the Army's Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate. The problem is that image intensifiers cannot operate without some source of light.
The Army's newest goggles incorporate thermal imaging so that soldiers can see even if there is no visible moon, stars or nearby cities to provide ambient light. The enhanced night vision goggles, manufactured by Exelis, overlay image intensified and infrared images.
Now the Army is looking for goggles that seamlessly operate with clip-on, infrared weapon sights. The service in February released a solicitation for the enhanced night vision goggle III and a corresponding family of weapon sights.
Like its predecessor, the new devices will combine thermal imaging and image intensification. However, the ENVG Ills will also include "rapid target acquisition" technology, which will wirelessly send imagery from the weapon sight to the goggles, allowing the soldier to see both images blended together.
Without rapid target acquisition, a soldier who sees an adversary in his night vision goggle would have to flip the goggle up in order to look through the weapon sight and view the target, said Jeff Miller, Raytheon's vice president of combat and sensing systems. "Rapid target acquisition actually puts that image from the sight on the rifle into the goggle...