Night Vision Sees New Day Dawning

December 9, 2009
By Beverly Schaeffer

Seeing in the dark isn't the only benefit emerging from two new versions of next-generation goggles. The U.S. Army is using vision devices that combine image intensifier (I2) and infrared technologies--a feat never before seen. News Editor Rita Boland has these goggles in her sights in Night Vision Is Only the Beginning, featured in this month's SIGNAL Magazine. The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (Optical), or ENVG(O), is about to enter its full production phase and will soon be ready for wider Army distribution. The ENVG Digital (D) is currently in the R&D phase. The I2 capability enhances ambient light, while the infrared function detects radiated energy from people, animals and other objects. In zero ambient light like the type found in caves or tunnels, the I2 capability function fails. Goggles sporting the thermal tool enable soldiers to obtain data from their surroundings, even in zero ambient light. Infrared can also be used during the day to detect movement or the presence of people in a building. ENVG(O)'s assistant product manager at PEO Soldier, Maj. Theo Kang, USA, addresses the capability gap, explaining that it prevents warfighters from seeing in all light and weather conditions:

Each one of those [capabilities] has its own advantage. Here, we've fused them both into one package so the strength of one makes up for the weaknesses of the other. They complement each other to get the best of both worlds.

ITT is developing and fielding the ENVG(O) and is using its own money to research the ENVG(D). ITT's night vision expert, Don Morello, shares that the Army is very proud of its ability to own the night:

It's a great leap forward for the warfighter and the Army in general to be able to eventually get to that stage where they can truly engage in a tactical Internet on the battlefield.

Like the ENVG(O) system, the ENVG(D) fuses I2 and infrared, but it combines them digitally. BAE Systems is under contract with the Army for early development work on these goggles. The ENVG(D) goggles have extra tools that help soldiers import and export information from other digital systems and allow them to plug into the network-centric battlefield to accomplish these tasks. The ENVG(D) enhances the capabilities of the ENVG(O) with its digital feature, which adjusts the goggles automatically between I2 and infrared vision--freeing up soldiers' hands so they can move seamlessly to the next duty. In contrast, warfighters using current night vision goggles and the ENVG(O) must make that adjustment manually. As a result, they lose the sight picture of their area of interest. The Army will face bandwidth decisions with the ENVG(D) as well as concerns about possible bandwidth requirements. The ENVG(O) is--and the ENVG(D) is planned to be--a monocular system that supports dismounted soldiers.

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