Soldier Night Vision

New Army weapons technology wirelessly connects night vision to rifle sights

The Army is developing a new technology that allows soldiers to see their weapon reticle in the enhanced vision night goggle III (ENVG III) attached to their helmets, giving them an ability to hit targets without shouldering their rifles.  

The emerging system is a new member of the Army’s Family of Weapon Sights (FWS), called the FWS-Individual, to be fielded in 2019, according to Lt. Col. Anthony Douglas, Product Manager for Soldier Maneuver Sensors for Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier.

Using the FWS-Individual (FWS-I),  soldiers will be able to “interrogate one person and have the ability to rapidly acquire another target,” said Maj. Kevin Smith, Assistant Product Manager for FWS-I and Rapid Target Acquisition for PEO Soldier. “This technology will maintain a larger field of view looking through their [ENVG III] and will introduce the ability to project their weapon’s reticle on there as well.”

The FWS-I transmits the image seen in the weapon sights through a wireless connection to the ENVG III battery pack, according to information from PEO Soldier. The battery pack, attached to the back of the soldier’s helmet, then transmits the FWS-I image to the ENVG III eyepiece through fiber optic cables.

“If you have to put the weapon to your eye you would have limited field of view and miss an individual outside that view,” said Lt. Col. Douglas. Those individuals “might have engaged you before you even saw them.”

When looking through the ENVG III, the soldiers will see the broad thermal image of their surroundings, and a smaller thermal image on the screen showing the view through the weapon sight. If they point the weapon to the left while watching a potentially hostile figure to the right, soldiers will in a way be able to see in two directions at once.

The device also has multiple viewing modes, explained Maj. Smith. Soldiers will have the option of having the ENVG III picture be the majority of their view with the FWS-I image appearing as a circle on the screen, or having the FWS-I take up the majority of the view. There is also a mode where the entire view is the FWS-I image.

Soldiers will even be able to point the weapon around a corner and see what is there through the FWS-I image in their eyepiece, without risking their own cover, said Lt. Col. Douglas.

The FWS-I uses vanadium oxide (VOx) technology, which creates microbolometers that can be tightly compacted, according to DRS Technologies, one of the vendors involved in developing the FWS-I. Microbolometer infrared wavelength detectors inside the sensor heat up when struck by infrared waves. The temperature differences then inform the images of the objects that the soldier sees through the FWS-I. 

Thermal image capability enhances soldiers’ ability “to identify targets and acquire targets during the day and night. For example, if a sniper is hiding in a ghillie suite, you’ll be able to pick that out with a thermal sight,” said Maj. Smith. “Additionally, you can see through obscurities, like smoke and fog.”

The FWS-I was demonstrated on the M4 weapon, but it is also compatible with the M2, M110, M16, M240, M249, and MK19, according to DRS Technologies.

As the FWS-I capability represents a significant step forward, it is expected right now to require at least three days of classroom training, according to Maj. Smith.

Soldiers “aren’t just going to put this on and automatically feel comfortable. They will have to kind of get used to it,” added Lt. Col. Douglas. “We had some soldiers out a month ago testing it, and it takes a few nights to acclimate, because we’re not used to fighting that way.”

The ENVG III will already be in use when the FWS-I is fielded in 2019, however the two technologies are expected to integrate without difficulty.