New Lightweight Infrared Systems Under Development for Army
The Army is moving closer to fielding a next-generation infrared sensor that will allow soldiers to detect an enemy’s heat signature at greater distances.
Raytheon officials said its third wave of forward-looking infrared devices, called FLIR, could be in soldiers’ hands within a few years.
“We’re working with the U.S. Army and other services to identify where in the cycle of programs it should feed in,” said Hector M. Reyes, chief engineer for Raytheon missile systems. “I think that clearly we’ll see it in the [Ground Combat Vehicle] when it is fielded, and my guess is probably before that.”
Like night-vision goggles, soldiers can use FLIR to see in the dark. However, night-vision devices still need a small amount of light in order to work because they amplify existing light, said Donald Reago, acting director of the Army’s night vision and electronic sensor directorate at the communications and electronics research, development and engineering center at Fort Belvoir, Va.
FLIR, which uses heat signatures to amplify an image, can be used in pitch-black conditions.
Raytheon demonstrated its newest infrared sensor system — the eLRAS3 — at a media day in May. It has also been demonstrated to the Army, Reyes said.
The new FLIR is about half the weight of the ones currently in use and can be carried by one person instead of two, Reyes said.
The eLRAS3 can also detect a wider range of the infrared spectrum than its predecessors, said Jerry Toby, a business development executive for Raytheon Missile Systems’ combat and sensing systems division.
“What does that do for us? It gives us the ability to see through many more different kinds of atmospheric conditions, both natural” and those artificially created by the enemy, he said. “It also lets us take advantage of the physics of the smaller frequencies that will allow us to shrink the optics and put more capability into the same size or smaller package than we have today.”
Earlier FLIR models required that the Army modify its vehicles to integrate the new sensors, but third-generation systems can easily be swapped with those currently mounted on combat vehicles, Reyes said.
Raytheon is currently looking into how it can affordably produce the technology for use on vehicles and for dismounted soldiers. It’s also looking at how it can further increase the system’s range, reduce power consumption and boost video quality to high definition.
“The Army needs to be able to buy these sensors in quantity, so reducing the price to acquire these is extremely important,” Reago said.