See without being seen:
The new generation of thermal imagers
Soldier Modernisation talks to Ralph Wilhelm,
Sales and Marketing Specialist, VECTED GmbH
First, a brief look into the past: Thermal imaging technology became established in the 1980s. The first devices always had to be cooled; this meant larger and heavier devices that were often vehicle-bound and needed a permanent power supply for cooling. These were widely used in the military sector. At the time, there were no sensors that could image the infrared range uncooled. Uncooled, compact and handy thermal imagers did not appear on the market until the 1990s. Much earlier (as early as the 1970s), residual light amplifiers (colloquially known as night vision devices) were available in smaller, mission-ready, handheld devices at a reasonable price. Thus, initially only platform-based thermal imagers were used, while residual light amplifiers tended to be for infantry use. The advantage of early birth, then, for the residual light amplifier.
So where are we now and can this technology be used completely by modern warfighters in different scenarios? We talk to Ralph Wilhelm of Vected in Germany.
Q: Advancements of camouflage patterns, use of smoke as cover and difficulty in locating snipers, or forward recon units, are problematic for normal day sights searching the surroundings; how is thermal imaging helping to overcome these problems?
A: With all the measures mentioned above, you can very well hide from the naked eye, binoculars, cameras and the like. Just imagine a sniper in a Ghillie suit. Impossible to see, even if you almost step on him. However the human body constantly produces and emanates heat. And this heat signature cannot be hidden. Thermal cameras pick this heat signature up and make an optically invisible target visible for the user, no matter if it is day or night. Also rain and smoke are no obstacle in detecting enemy soldiers, vehicles, tanks, command post, etc.
While, even in twilight, the shooter is almost impossible to see, under the same conditions is easily visible in detail with a thermal camera.
Q: Overcoming this problem is one thing, having the varied products to suit differing weapon systems is another, how are Vected providing the correct sight to the correct system or individual person?
A: There is no such thing as the perfect sight off the shelf. However a good camera can be perfected quickly and easily to the desired use scenario. If we know how the customer wants to use the camera (e.g. observation only or observation and clip-on), we can recommend the optimum setup. Imagine a guard post on a tower of a field camp in hostile territory: with one of our thermal cameras a soldier can easily scan the surrounding area and detect insurgents or enemy forces secretly approaching the camp. Using zoom and the false colours option, he can detect and identify the threat much easier and quicker than with just binoculars. With one swift movement he can mount the thermal camera in front of the daylight optics on his weapon and immediately engage and neutralize the threat. The design and build of our thermal cameras, means you do not have to sight them in, as you normally do with most other thermal cameras. You can even pass the thermal camera to a comrade, without any need for sighting it in, when this one has a better shooting position.
Q: Where do you feel that the advancement of this technology will be on the future battlefield and are the products you have in someways future-proof?
A: As we design our thermal devices completely in-house, software as well as hardware, the challenges of the future are quite easy to implement. This could be a simple software update, which can be conducted by the user in less then a minute or a whole new use case. For example, our devices are ready for Artificial Intelligence. Applications to detect and rate possible threats are under development and can, when available, be implemented into the cameras.
Even in bright daylight some threads are hard to spot by the naked eye while they stick out in the display of the thermal camera.
Q: Could you give our readers a brief history of Vected and how you produced your own unique solutions to others in this field?
A: VECTED started out as an OEM manufacturer for thermal cameras for a very big player in the defense industry. Today we develop and produce our thermal cameras for very well know defense companies, who use them in tanks, rockets and many other areas of application. Besides that we focus on our own products, thermal cameras for handheld observation, clip-on in front of a daylight scope on a weapon or as a sole aiming device. Those are in service with well know armies and SWAT teams in Europe.
One of the reasons why our thermal cameras are so well suited for military use is the fact that we develop them completely in-house and do not buy in any semi-finished modules. When purchasing components, we pay attention to the highest quality, which means that we only source parts from Europe. Therefore, our devices are ITAR-free.
For easier observation the devices can be used handheld but mounted in less than 2 seconds when a shot needs to be fired.
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