Instro, where Precision is XACT
Soldier Modernisation talks to Tom Kinnaird from Instro on their surveillance & target acquisition solutions for the modern war fighter
SupervisIR and LVSW being utilised together for passive, wide area surveillance (PWAS) and targeting in their man-packable, tripod mounted configuration
Q: Could you introduce Instro as an organisation?
A: Instro’s heritage dates from 1964 when it started operations for the UK MoD as a precision engineering contract manufacturer. Today, as a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems UK (ESUK), we continue to deliver Instro’s core expertise in militarised precision tripod mounts and positioners, whilst also acting as Elbit Systems UK’s Centre of Excellence for electro optics. We are perhaps best known, in the UK at least, for the provision of the latest version of night vision goggles (NVGs) to the British Army. We do so with a small team of highly skilled engineers, technicians and mechanical assembly operators, backed up by a dedicated support staff, all operating from a state of the art, purpose-built facility in Kent. This facility is equipped with the latest technology for manufacturing, production, environmental testing, repair and maintenance of both Instro’s “core” product line and a selection of Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) products from Elbit Systems.
Q: Could you expand on the night vision goggle contract, what system is being provided and what advantages does it bring to the soldier?
A: In June 2021, the UK MoD ran a competitive tendering exercise and selected Instro to provide the XACT nv33 helmet mounted (binocular) night vision goggles (HMNVGs) for their NVG-e competition. Manufactured here in the UK at our facility in Kent, the XACT nv33 boasts a highly ruggedised but, crucially, lightweight design which provides leading detection, recognition, and identification performance. To date, over 2,000 units have been delivered and are now in use with the British Army’s Special Operations Brigade (ASOB) and the RAF Regiment.
The XACT nv33 helmet mounted night vision (HMNV) goggles, as provided to the British Army and RAF Regiment.
Q: Beyond the night vision goggle contract, are there any other major UK programmes which Instro are involved in?
A: Beyond NVGs and the continuing provision of our other core products globally, as an active ESUK subsidiary, Instro is intimately involved in a few ESUK-primed programmes in the UK including both Dismounted Joint Fires Integrator (DJFI) and Ground Based Surveillance Radar (GBSR). Regarding the former, which is providing the next generation of precision targeting capability to British Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs), Instro was central in the design of the tripod mount and motorised goniometer which sits at the heart of the system and will be manufacturing those key elements, as well as the system’s electro-optical sensor, the “AION-C”, in our Kent facility.
Regarding the GBSR programme, Instro is providing the tripod mount for the radar head, utilising the operationally proven “Bulldog” design which is already in service with the British Army. Outside of these programmes, Instro continues to provide full maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services to the DCoMPASS EO payload (turret) carried by the Watchkeeper Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS), also in service with the British Army.
Q: Is Instro the Design Authority for its tripod range, some of which you have referenced above?
A: Instro is the Design Authority for all our core product lines, including tripods. We have a range of “off the shelf” designs, ranging from Meerkat Fine Adjust, a precision pointing mount typically associated with laser target designators globally, all the way through to Groundmaster which is capable of taking payloads in excess of 250kg. All of these designs share common principles which are highly valued by our predominantly military customers, those being ultra-lightweight to minimise burden on the soldier, easily deployable even on rough terrain and finally, highly robust – capable of withstanding the harshest of operational environments. That said, customers often come to Instro with challenging requirements, for which our “off the shelf” solutions require some engineering design expertise to create and produce a bespoke solution to meet customers’ specifications. We excel in adapting these solutions to ensure the product perfectly matches end user needs and delivers our customary level of precision. A great example of this is a mounting solution Instro designed for a simultaneous, multi-mission, tactical ground-based, surveillance radar. The customer in this case required an easily deployable, full 360° radar surveillance solution. To meet this, Instro adapted its proven “Groundmaster” tripod, augmenting it with quick release mechanical bracket interfaces for four radar panels and a centralised power and communications routing hub. Instro also designed and developed a single panel rotator for the same radar for both vehicle and ground mounted applications.
Q: Instro has a range of products for Soldier Systems and Special Forces, could we talk of a few highlights and best in class?
A: Instro offers a range of products in the Dismounted Soldier and Special Forces pillar, from thermal weapon sights to complete CAT-1 capable targeting solutions. Of these, two stand out as unique and particularly impressive in terms of the capability they bring to the users.
The first is LVSW, which stands for “Long View Short Wave”. LVSW is an ultra-long range, multi- channel, electro-optical, sensor system. Its day, medium-wave and Short-Wave Infrared (SWIR) channels provide an unparalleled level of detection, recognition, and identification performance in a man-packable configuration with an integral power source. For example, through the SWIR channel, vehicle targets can be detected at up to 40km and identified at beyond 20km. When it comes to soldier borne and operated EO systems, nothing comes close to meeting LVSW’s range capability and overall performance.
The second is SupervisIR, which is a highly innovative passive wide area surveillance system (PWAS). Through the stitching together of the equivalent of circa 150 thermal imagers, users are presented with a panoramic, 90°X12.5° picture. Within this picture, operators are able to pre-define Named Areas of Interest (NAIs) and Target Areas of Interest (TAIs), which are streamed as individual high- resolution windows within the end user device’s display. Furthermore, the system will automatically alert the operator to any movement detected within these areas for immediate or subsequent investigation. Providing similar functionality to radar, but passively, SupervisIR can be used to great effect in EW contested environments where the radar could be susceptible to detection, jamming, and position triangulation through Radar Electronic Support Measures (R-ESM) or kinetic effect by anti-radiation munitions.
Whilst both are highly capable standalone sensors, it is possible to combine these two systems to create a highly effective, yet entirely passive, surveillance and target acquisition (STA) capability. SupervisIR stares and persistently scans the battlefield, automatically highlighting and tracking targets throughout the allocated surveillance arc. Targets of interest are then automatically handed off to LVSW for positive long-range identification, with highly accurate target co-ordinates being simultaneously generated and updated for precision engagement by deep fires.
Precision - at the heart of what we do.