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Ancient Optics Pave Way for Novel Sensors

September 2000
By Clarence A. Robinson, Jr.

Decades of expertise in missiles and avionics gives Italy an eye on the future.

A state-owned company’s heavy investment in research and development is paying off for Italy’s military and in the international export market. This research powerhouse is providing advances in radar, electro-optic, infrared and cryogenic technologies harnessed in a variety of weapons fire control systems.

Among the systems being developed by Florence-based Officine Galileo are laser fire control systems for tanks and armored vehicles. The systems include stabilized, day-night, panoramic sights for the tank commander and gunner. A digital ballistic computer, hand controls and peripherals also are part of the system. Known as Turms, this fire control system is for use on Italy’s second-generation main battle tank, the C1 Ariete. Likewise, Turms is being used on the B1 Centauro, an Italian army tank killer, which Spain is also buying.

A version of Turms, called Turms-T, is in series production and is being used to modernize 350 Russian-built T-72 main battle tanks in the Czech Republic, Keyvan Sangelaji explains. Galileo’s area manager, surface systems department, Sangelaji adds that this fire control system, which allows tanks to conduct night operations and to fire on the move against armored targets, provides a market niche for the company. “There are 25,000 T-72 tanks worldwide. Even the United States, which also has some T-72s for training purposes, is buying Turms-T to upgrade its armor,” he shares.

One of the company’s most successful product lines, Turms is a modular, reconfigurable, twin-axis fire control system for hunter-killer, on-the-move operations, regardless of lighting or weather conditions, Sangelaji stresses. This system won an international competition against a large number of European companies to obtain the Czech Republic T-72 improvement program contract. He adds that there are also contracts with other countries, which he cannot reveal, for tank upgrade programs.

“In addition, the company builds the Attila stabilized panoramic periscope, which China is using in trials for possible upgrades to its inventory of TY-85/90 main battle tanks. The Attila periscope system integrates daylight, thermal infrared and laser rangefinder,” Sangelaji notes. He believes this system provides one of the top-performance panoramic sights available, using a second-generation thermal camera—an infrared charge-coupled device.

A family of artillery management systems developed by the company fully automates the functions of a forward observer. This system employs an infrared camera and a laser rangefinder and transmits digital target data from the forward observer’s position to a computer at the battery and battalion level to calculate firing solutions and expedite target engagement, Sangelaji confirms.

Six years ago, Galileo acquired the former Segnalamento Marittimo ed Aereo, or SMA, a company specializing in microwave and millimeter-wave radar as well as in signal and data processing technologies. This acquisition greatly added to the company’s signal processing capability.

Sangelaji says that Galileo invests between 20 and 30 percent of its annual revenues in research and development on radar, optical, infrared and avionics systems. Revenues in 1999 amounted to $90 million, with orders of $302 million. There is an order backlog of more than $703 million for military systems products. “Formed as a company in 1870, to develop microscopes and cameras, Galileo remains true to its extensive history in precision optics and fine mechanics,” he relates, pointing out that over the years, distinguished scientists, such as Guglielmo Marconi, have been members of Galileo’s board of directors. The company traces its history back to Leonardo da Vinci, he adds.

Part of Alenia Difesa, a member of the Finmeccanica holding company, Galileo is located predominately in Florence, where 1,300 employees work in a plant area of 42,000 square meters. Space systems branch activities are conducted at another facility in Milan. The 9,520 billion lira ($4.4 billion) Finmeccanica controls 70 percent of Italy’s defense industry. Various divisions and companies under Alenia’s umbrella call upon Galileo’s expertise in optics, radar, infrared and avionics, and use its product lines in both military and civil programs, according to Sangelaji.

He says that Galileo, which is organized in surface and space systems business units, moved away from general manufacturing about a decade ago to concentrate on research and development. “However, the company continues to provide the critical technologies and components for optical and infrared systems, with production emphasis concentrated in these areas.” Sangelaji declares that all of Galileo’s products, which include robotics and space-based sensors, adhere to International Standards Organization and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) criteria.

The focus is on instrumentation, equipment and personnel dedicated to modern optical and mechanical technologies, using computer-aided design and manufacturing, Sangelaji discloses. He maintains that anti-aircraft artillery aiming systems produced by the company are modular in concept and allow continuous optical aiming at the target, while the weapon is automatically directed to the predicted engagement point, using the independent line-of-sight principle.

The company’s modular designs allow systems to be upgraded from a basic configuration by integrating laser rangefinder, night-sight and automatic-tracking technologies to meet specific customer requirements. An example of this concept is Galileo’s Vanth fire control system for application to fixed anti-aircraft artillery weapons. This system has been selected by Germany’s Rheinmetall, Switzerland’s Oerlikon and France’s GIAT. It is being adopted to retrofit several types of weapons already in service, Sangelaji assures. More than 3,000 Vanth units have been sold worldwide.

In the area of anti-aircraft turret-mounted weapons, the Madis fire control system is used with the Oto Melara 4-millimeter x 25-millimeter turret and with the Otomatic Spaag. Use of the Attila fire control system for anti-aircraft applications integrates the daylight channel, thermal-vision device and a laser rangefinder. The company also provides simulators to train operators and improve their performance when using Galileo fire control systems.

Among fire control systems for armored and tracked vehicles, “with increasing levels of sophistication, is Janus for light-caliber turrets, typically 30 millimeter, firing against both ground and airborne targets. Thetis, another company fire control system, is designed to provide tanks and compact vehicles with target observation and accurate firing at night and in adverse weather conditions,” Sangelaji recounts. “This system can be configured for autonomous fire control, or as a sighting unit to upgrade existing fire control systems.”

Thermal infrared observation systems is another rapidly developing product line from Galileo. Several different kinds of systems are available for the domestic and international market. One system is the VTG 120, a family of manportable sights that features “direct presentation of the image on a cathode ray tube with 120 infrared lines. The family consists of three different VTG 120 sights for the TOW wire-guided missile and the MAF anti-tank weapon systems. A naval application of the VTG 120 integrates a laser rangefinder,” Sangelaji comments.

Another family of Galileo sights also involves common modules arranged in various configurations to improve maintenance and logistics support, Sangelaji claims. Among these systems is the pedestal-mounted NTG 500, based on serial-parallel scanning technology, with indirect presentation of the image on a standard television monitor. These sights are intended mainly for remote observation and integration on naval or ground platforms to obtain electro-optic lines of sight along with a rangefinder for target tracking.

These second-generation thermal cameras provide updated technology for remote observation and aiming such as the VTG 120 sight used on the Milan missile launcher. Designed for use with ground or naval platforms, the technology involves a 288 x 4 infrared charge-coupled device (IRCCD) detector, “which represents state of the art in this technology,” Sangelaji asserts.

Company field artillery computers include two principal systems: the handheld CMB8 and the Sagat for artillery automation. The CMB8 is intended for use with mortars or small-caliber howitzers such as the 105/14. The topographic computations of targets, observers, obstacles and weapons positions are for ballistic calculations so that each weapon in a battery can quickly and accurately engage. The family of computers includes the Turbo for forward observers and the Sagat video-keyboard system.

Infrared airborne equipment, according to Sangelaji, encompasses the GaliFLIR family of multisensor payloads and systems. These sensors are installed on helicopters, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and fixed-wing aircraft for navigation, surveillance, target identification and tracking. While intended for the military market, the products also are employed for paramilitary and police missions. Maritime and border patrol, search and rescue, and law enforcement are typical applications.

Sangelaji cites the company’s strategy for forward looking infrared (FLIR) technology designed for avionics applications. The FLIR sensor can be delivered as a stand-alone infrared payload or integrated with a different electro-optical sensor such as a color daylight television camera. Low-light-level television or laser rangefinder systems in stabilized or servodriven turrets can be used to build up sensor payloads that are tailored to meet specific requirements.

One version of FLIR is equipped with a dual field-of-view telescope, generally employed on a UAV platform. The second version features a single wide-area field-of-view system for helicopter navigation and piloting purposes. Both versions are in use with the Italian army. Multisensor systems, which use GaliFLIR payloads, include Galileo’s Astro and Pacis. In Astro, the FLIR is housed, together with an optical sensor, in a high-performance gyrostabilized platform that assures steady images of targets despite vibrations and aircraft maneuvers.

Astro is in use with Italian navy and coast guard helicopters such as Agusta-Bell AB 212, Sikorsky SH-3D, EH Industries EH.101 and Agusta-Bell AB 412. In this configuration, a search radar is integrated to optimize maritime operations. Galileo is upgrading Astro, Sangelaji remarks, by using an avionics version of the 288 x 4 IRCCD focal plane array.

Pacis is designed for nap-of-the-earth helicopter night navigation operating in a servocontrolled housing. The FLIR in this system is characterized by very high angular acceleration and speed to follow the pilot’s head movements. Using a helmet-mounted display enables the pilot to see the infrared image superimposed over the visible “natural” scene. Pacis is in operation with a German program to finalize the night-piloting system for a new attack helicopter, Sangelaji imparts.

Galileo’s radar systems for naval and coastal applications operate in X band for surface surveillance, very-low-altitude target detection and over-the-horizon (OTH) surveillance. Modern signal and data processing combined with sensor and antenna advances provide several configurations to meet various requirements. The SPS-702 (V) radar and a new surface-search radar system are designed for use on several classes of ships. A coastal radar for long-range surface and OTH applications is the company’s TPS-755. Other radar sensors are used as gap fillers for medium-range detection. Stabilized antenna platforms and pulse blanking also are featured company products.

Galileo designs and produces active homing heads for surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles. The Otomat missile is an example of a weapon supplied to the Italian armed forces and to other foreign nations. More than 700 of these radars have been produced for the Otomat system. The company is involved in a new development program for an innovative anti-ship seeker capable of high performance in target selection, electronic counter countermeasures and target tracking features. Electronic retrofit, upgrading and reverse engineering for anti-ship missiles are among the company’s capabilities, Sangelaji points out. Galileo also is involved in the development of Aster, a new-generation air-to-air missile, and is developing millimeter-wave-homing missile seeker heads.

The company provides airborne radars for fixed- and rotary-wing applications as avionics products. The radars are for anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare surveillance. The company’s radar products provide frequency-diverse, medium-power, pulse-compression and frequency-agile systems for use in avionics or as stand-alone sensors. Sangelaji maintains that Galileo’s radars can be integrated in various weapons configurations. In the multimode area for combat aircraft, the company is involved in a joint venture with a Brazilian company to develop the sensor system for the Brazilian air force’s AMX fighter/trainer aircraft.

Galileo also develops and produces ground-based radar systems for use in dual-mode anti-aircraft surveillance and tracking missions. Mobile radar sensors are for aircraft surveillance, landing guidance and battlefield surveillance. Galileo specializes in packaging radar and electro-optic sensors for use in short-range and very-short-range air- defense systems to counter low-altitude aircraft and hovering helicopters. One such system is called Rascal, an autonomous air surveillance system capable of designating targets and managing anti-aircraft gun batteries. This system features a solid-state, low-probability-of-detection, S-band, pulse-Doppler sensor with Doppler filtering.

Rascal has undergone field tests by Italy’s military with NATO representatives observing. A related system is Rasa, a lightweight aerial surveillance radar derived from Rascal. This sensor is for use on light vehicles or on a tripod. Galileo also produces the surveillance and tracking radars for the self-propelled anti-aircraft Otomatic tank-mounted system. The surveillance radar is essentially the S-band sensor employed on Rascal, while the tracking radar is a pulse-Doppler Ka-band sensor with a high angular accuracy and enhanced electronic counter countermeasures features.

A tradition that started with Galileo Galilei’s pioneering efforts in physics, optics and use of the telescope continues today through the company bearing his name. The magnitude of research and development programs in electro-optics, radar systems and computing places this company at the forefront of sensor programs and on solid footing with a growing capability in fire control technical advances, Sangelaji concludes.