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A New Generation of Night Vision Technology

It’s dusk somewhere in eastern Europe, and a U.S. Army sniper team provides overwatch to an assault force tasked with recapturing critical national infrastructure from a highly capable enemy force.

Operating in an extremely contested environment, the sniper team is kitted with interconnected next-generation technologies, providing them the critical tactical advantage over the well-trained and well-equipped opposing force.

As the assault force begins its final approach toward the enemy position, the sniper team employs the equipment to detect, recognize and observe enemy combatants in low- and zero-light conditions. All the while, they share surveillance feeds, targeting data and other points of interest in near-real-time with assault teams on the ground as well as a tactical operations center located Beyond-Line-Of-Sight.

The technology also allows the sniper team to accurately guide assault teams to the target, helping them avoid vulnerable areas and choke points.

Once the compound is cleared and secured by coalition forces, the ensemble enables the sniper team to regroup with the assault force in a GPS-denied environment using Augmented Reality (AR) digital compasses integrated into a heads-up display.

This operational vignette may be fictional, but it demonstrates the “art of the possible” for L3Harris Technologies’ new Hyper Enabled Warfighter (HEW) concept, which is now available to force components across the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Comprising a collection of proprietary solutions designed, developed and integrated together by the company, HEW is designed to enhance the Situation Awareness, survivability, lethality and connectivity of Army, Navy and Air Force warfighters operating at the “tactical edge” against peer and near-peer adversaries.

Answering the DOD's Call

The HEW concept has been made possible through L3 Technologies’ merger with Harris Corporation in June 2019, according to Lynn Bollengier, president of L3Harris Technologies Communication Systems’ Integrated Vision Solutions. This allowed the company to bring together an extensive range of specialist solutions already suited to supporting the warfighter against near-peer and high-capability threats. The development of HEW follows a call-to-action from the DOD to pivot the U.S. Armed Forces toward engagements associated with the “Great Power Competition” in addition to ongoing counter-violent extremist organization operations around the world.

“The HEW will have actionable information at their fingertips, supported through a cycle of interpretation, machine learning, Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence, all of which come together to provide actual information to the warfighter in a seamless way,” she said, noting the modular concept can be scaled to support a variety of end-user applications. “Coupled with great hardware, the HEW benefits from increased field of view and surveillance, better image intensification and thermal imagery at night, and laser performance to allow them to complete their job and return home safely.”

Connecting the Dots

The modern warfighter has never been so well-equipped, although many sub-systems remain unable to communicate and cooperate with one another, according to Leith Ames, L3Harris’ Business Development director for Army programs.

“Warfighters use a laser rangefinder to confirm range and a weapon to observe and engage,” he said. “They use night vision devices to see at night. Most of the time, these pieces will work together, but they will not ‘talk’ to each other or utilize data from each other, which can be fed into a central system to allow the warfighter to become more effective. That’s the gap out there: how do we tie all of these systems together reliably in a way that the warfighter can trust the information coming to them?”

Essentially, HEW has been designed to “empower and unburden” users during engagements where they must remain focused on the objective in front of them instead of being distracted by heads-down displays.

HEW ties together head-, weapon- and body-mounted sensors into a single, secure and wireless network, allowing operators to aggregate, exploit and share data with other end users across the larger battlespace.

“The HEW takes all available data and provides actionable information at the right time to enable the warfighter to shoot, move and communicate more effectively,” Ames said.

HEW is enabled by either L3Harris’ ground-breaking Enhanced Night Vision Goggles-Binocular (ENVG-B) or Fused Ground Panoramic Night Vision Goggle (F-Pano) helmet-mounted systems, and the AN/PRC-163 Software Defined Radio (SDR) – all of which are in the process of being fielded by elements within the U.S. Army and Special Operations Command.

“The ENVG-B will truly be the greatest goggle that we’ve ever fielded,” Brig. Gen Anthony W. Potts, PEO Soldier, said in an Army statement last year. “The thermal channel has a day-night capability and we’ve added in things like Augmented Reality.”

Beyond this core capability of a head-mounted display and SDR, a series of additional sub-systems can also be integrated into HEW to extend capability further. Options include L3Harris Technologies’ STORM 2 laser rangefinder, ROVER 6 transceiver and the upcoming Next Generation Squad Weapon Fire Control System.

Further, HEW has been designed as a plug-and-play solution capable of accommodating non-proprietary sub-systems including the U.S. Army’s Family of Weapon Sights-Individual.

Networked through the U.S. Army’s Adaptive Squad Architecture, all relevant battlefield information is projected into the heads-up display of the ENGV-B/ F-PANO, which immediately negates any requirement for the warfighter Input Window Phosphor Screen Microchannel Objective Lens Plate (MCP) Object Virtual Image Input Image Multiplied Electrons from MCP Output Window Eyepiece Lens to be distracted by a chest-mounted tablet or smartphone. This allows the warfighter to observe an objective over or around cover without presenting themselves as targets to the enemy.

The ‘Sky is the Limit’

As Ames suggests, the “sky is the limit” in terms of future capabilities of the HEW. “Once we get it out there, warfighters will see its benefits and will build upon it with things we didn’t even consider before,” Ames said.

HEW is already positioned to benefit from a string of near-term upgrades, including the integration of edge computing, on-body processing and tactical Cloud support, as well as artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms.

Additional upgrades on L3Harris’ HEW roadmap include cooperation with autonomous platforms, including unmanned aerial vehicles and autonomous underwater vehicles in particular.

“We are interested in anything that allows the warfighter to receive the right information very quickly and are working with other elements within the company to enable this moving forward,” Ames said, noting L3Harris intends to continue its internal research and development into HEW as the company strives to provide best-in-class capabilities for warfighters today and in the future. “We continue to receive tremendous support from corporate leadership, which illustrates our commitment to get behind synergistic concepts like HEW. It is exciting to see this happen and see the HEW come to life.”

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