New Headset to Merge Night Vision, Thermal Imaging

The U.S. subsidiary of British defense giant BAE Systems Plc is developing a new headset that merges night vision and thermal imaging.

Soldiers typically wear night-vision goggles to see their surroundings in the dark, but use thermal sights mounted on their rifles to engage targets. Soon, they’ll be able to use one device for both tasks, the company announced in a release on Monday.

“On today’s battlefield, this slower approach, which is often further hampered by heavy smoke or bad weather, compromises soldiers’ safety and can reduce mission effectiveness,” it states. “By integrating night vision and thermal targeting capabilities into one sight displayed on the soldiers’ goggles, BAE Systems’ new solution allows troops to more easily acquire targets and engage faster.”

The company said it worked with the U.S Army Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate to develop the technology. It beat several unnamed competitors for the contract, which is valued at up to $434 million over five years.

BAE has received an initial award of $35 million for the program, known as the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III and Family of Weapon Sight-Individual. It plans to build the headsets at its new factory in Hudson, New Hampshire.

It wasn’t immediately clear how much the product will cost or when it will be available for troops in Afghanistan or other combat zones.

The technology relies on a wireless video interface to transfer imagery from the sight to the goggle, according to the release. This feature offers a number of advantages, such as eliminating the need for aiming lasers, a shorter engagement time, increased maneuverability and extended target acquisition range, it stated.

The product is the latest example of companies coming to market with optical systems designed to stream more data and information to shooters.

Earlier this year, smart rifle-maker TrackingPoint Inc. teamed with Recon Instruments to sync imagery from its high-tech scope system directly into protective glasses.

The Austin, Texas-based company showed off the product on in January at a range north of Las Vegas as part of SHOT Show, the biggest small arms show in the world. The glasses weren’t functional and only displayed static images. But officials said the technology will be ready for release this year, possibly in the spring.

The smart-rifle scope includes a Linux-powered computer with sensors that collect imagery and ballistic data such as atmospheric conditions, cant, inclination, even the slight shift of the Earth’s rotation known as the Coriolis effect. Because the computer is wireless-enabled, information can be streamed to a laptop, smart phone or tablet computer for spotting or to share intelligence.