Lighter, Bolder Night Vision Technology
Go to any trade show, talk to any operator, and one word stands out when it comes to the performance of night vision technology: weight. Mounting Night Vision Devices on helmets only became possible with the addition of a microchannel plate to the image intensifier tube that helped reduce tube weight. The first NVDs that could be helmet mounted were Generation 2 NVDs that were invented in the 1980s. While far lighter and better performing than previous generations of night vision technology, today’s NVDs still represent a significant challenge to modern warfighters. NVD’s weight and size result in torque on the user’s neck. This torque compromises a user’s agility, which can have severe consequences on the battlefield. Not only is limited agility a liability on the battlefield, but the weight of the NVD can put strain on the user’s neck and result in injury.
Night vision and thermal are making strides to create lighter systems that will reduce health consequences for warfighters. From adding buttons to the outside of a night vision device to shave off a few grams of weight to technological solutions that will remove image intensifier tubes entirely and make night vision technology as light as a pair of glasses, the defense industry keeps making strides to accomplish their goal.
There are a lot of programs that are investing in lighter night vision technology. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency has announced 10 defense and university research teams that will develop lightweight, state-of-the-art night vision devices for the modern warfighter. This award reflects DARPA and the United States Army’s continued commitment to create lighter NVD’s. The award is a part of the Enhanced Night Vision in Eyeglass Form (ENVision) program. Not only will the 10 teams selected attempt to find solutions for reducing the weight of night vision technologies, but they will also offer wider field of view and improved usage across more wavelengths.
While the promise of night vision technology that is as thin as eyeglasses presents an exciting future, other manufacturers are pursuing other avenues to find weight savings. Rochester Precision Optics manufactures hybrid glass and plastic eyepieces that reduce weight by up to 50%. Other companies are trying to produce image intensifier tubes that are shorter.
The avenues for creating lighter NVDs are out there, and they could not be coming at a more important time.
Reducing NVD’s weight is not just important for the performance and well-being of individual operators, but it is also a potentially important advantage for the United States of America. The defense industry’s push for lighter, bolder night vision technology coincides with a decline in the USA’s competitive advantage in the night vision industry. Foreign agents have greater access to night vision technology than ever before, putting today’s warfighters and US interests at risk.
It is on everyone in the defense industry to reclaim the competitive advantage in night vision technology.