Army Developing New Sensors and Lasers for Infantry Troops
The soldier knows the enemy is approaching through the fields despite the dense and obscuring haze that makes it hard to see. He turns on his family of weapon sights. The reticle appears instantly in his enhanced night vision goggle. Without bringing the weapon to his shoulder, he sees the outline of enemy combatants appear through the mist and darkness. Thermal signatures reveal enemy personnel no more than 100 meters away. The soldier acquires, engages and destroys the targets.
The squad maneuvers down a dirt road through a hostile urban environment. Ap-proximately 1,500 meters ahead, soldiers see a church on the left and a mosque on the right. The “joint terminal attack controller,” or JTAC, takes the “joint effects targeting system,” or JETS, from his rucksack. He quickly identifies six enemy combatants placing improvised explosive devices. He sees the enemy carry weapons between the two buildings. He lazes the target and identifies the combatants’ exact coordinates. The JTAC wirelessly calls for a strike. Within moments, a flash and a deafening boom announce the delivery of a precision round. The attack eliminates the threat without damaging the houses of worship.
The family of weapon sights and JETS are two programs that will change the way soldiers fight.
The FWS program includes three variants that combine advanced thermal weapon-sight technology. The individual variant mounts to the M4, M16, M249 squad automatic weapon, and to the M136 AT4, and M141 bunker defeat munitions. The crew-served variant is for the M240, M2, and MK19 weapons. The sniper variant is compatible with the M24, M110, M107, and the precision sniper rifle.
FWS clips in front of the optic soldiers currently use. It provides visibility in low light, and obscured and adverse weather conditions without removal of the day optic. This gives soldiers aim-point accuracy without the need to re-zero. All three variants also operate in stand-alone mode without the day optic.
The FWS individual variant has a wireless rapid target acquisition capability to provide a zeroed weapon aim-point in the soldier’s enhanced night-vision goggle, or ENVG. Soldiers can fire quickly and accurately from almost any carry position and with significantly reduced exposure to enemy fire. This reduces a soldier’s engagement time relative to current shooting tactics. In the passive environment, it eliminates the need for active lasers for target engagement.
Rapid target acquisition uses an ultra-wideband personal area network with standardized data and image transfer protocols for additional sensor data expansion. Soldiers can wirelessly tailor information displays in their ENVG. Soldiers have the decisive advantage in the time it takes to engage the enemy.
The FWS crew-served variant uses ballistic equations that provide a dynamic reticle with input from an integrated laser range finding device. Soldiers get a more accurate aim-point that automatically adjusts for range, ammunition and vertical angle. The reticle wirelessly transmits to a semi-transparent helmet-mounted display. It also operates during mounted and dismounted operations.
The FWS sniper variant will have a large-format high-definition display with increased pixel density. It will be possible for snipers to engage targets accurately at distances equal to the weapon’s maximum effective range. This will be feasible at all light levels and in obscured environments. When fielded, it will be the first thermal weapon sight specifically developed for the sniper community.
JETS improves the ability of dismounted forward observers and JTAC controllers to locate targets accurately. Current hand-held magnetic direction-finding systems are less reliable. They cannot provide the consistent accuracy required to employ GPS-guided precision munitions. These munitions include the XM 1156 precision guidance kit, Excalibur and guided multiple launch rocket system. JETS addresses target location inaccuracies with non-magnetic azimuth-finding technology. It will provide better than 10-meter target location error — compared to 2.5 kilometers that is required before employing precision munitions without target measurement.
The JETS system includes technologies that will revolutionize handheld precision targeting. Improved night optics enable the system to provide almost double the night target acquisition range of existing targeting systems in a less than five-pound package.
JETS will incorporate a selective availability anti-spoofing module (SAASM) GPS for precise self-location. It will use newly developed celestial navigation technology for near-instantaneous precision azimuth solutions in favorable weather conditions. Modular, all-weather, 24-7, precision azimuth and vertical angle module supplement the celestial capability. This gives a precise target location in various operational environments uninhibited by magnetic disturbances. JETS also will provide a pulsed repetition frequency, coded laser marker/ designator for employment of laser guided munitions.
These programs are overseen by the Army’s program executive office soldier’s project manager for soldier sensors and lasers. The majority of all the program manager’s work is focused on two organizations: the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga., and the Fires Center of Excellence at Fort Sill, Okla.
Teamwork between combat developers at the centers of excellence and the material developers at PEO soldier is paramount. The Maneuver Center of Excellence says the infantry soldier’s mission is to “close with the enemy by means of fire and maneuver in order to destroy or capture him, or to repel his assault with fire, close combat, and counterattack.” The project manager for soldier sensors and lasers supports both centers of excellence with 18 major acquisition programs.
The ENVG is in full-rate production and is being provided to soldiers in accordance with the Army’s fielding plan.
The FWS individual variant is scheduled for a milestone-B procurement decision in the first quarter of fiscal year 2014. A successful milestone-B review would allow the Army to enter an engineering manufacturing development and then a low-rate initial production phase.
The Army decision that indicates program readiness for production, milestone C, is currently expected in fiscal year 2016.
JETS just completed a successful milestone-B. It must satisfy the same rigorous Army acquisition criteria as FWS and therefore is likewise expected to be ready for milestone C in fiscal year 2016.
Col. Michael Sloane is the Army’s project manager for soldier sensors and lasers. Lt. Col. Chris Schneider, product manager for soldier maneuver sensors and Lt. Col. Mike Traxler, product manager for soldier precision targeting devices, contributed to this article.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.