The Army just took a major step forward in reclaiming the night: Scientists recently developed a new process to engineer a material that could revolutionize the branch’s night vision capabilities at minimal cost, the Army announced on Jan. 11. This new material, if incorporated into an infrared camera system, could significantly enhance soldiers’ ability to assess (and lay waste to) the battlefield under the cover of darkness.
“The human eye is optimized by nature to observe reflected light from the sun in a very narrow band of colors (wavelengths of light), known as the visible spectrum,” Army Research Laboratory researcher Dr. Stefan Svensson said in a statement. “However, all objects in nature glow with a faint light even at low temperatures, which produces colors in the infrared (IR) range which are invisible to the naked eye. These wavelengths are about ten times longer than those of visible light.”
The hard science is fascinatingly complicated for laymen (and published in the Journal of Applied Physics, if you’re braver than I am), but here’s what it means for combat troops downrange: You’ll be able to see more detail at longer range even when you’re racing toward a target under pitch black conditions. As ARL’s Dr. Wendy Sarney explained in the Army statement, “The more sensitive such a camera is, or in other words, the smaller the color or temperature differences are that it can see, the more details that can be discerned on a battlefield and enemies can be detected at longer ranges."
Even better, the new material may appeal to military planners’ pursestrings: Given its prior use in commercially available opto-electronic systems, it represents a significantly cheaper alternative to the compound that the Army’s current IR camera light-sensors rely on — sensors that “are very expensive, mostly because there are only military customers for this material," as Svensson explained.
Dr. Wendy Sarney uses the molecular beam epitaxy machine at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to produce infrared detector materials with a new synthesis process.U.S. Army photo
While the Army planned to field 47,000 Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III kits this fall to give soldiers improved visibility in low-light settings and poor weather conditions, the branch is racing against the proliferation of advanced night vision gear among militants; indeed, the erosion of the Army’s night superiority came to a head in November, when a “Red Unit” of Taliban militants outfitted with sophisticated night vision equipment slaughtered scores of Afghan police officers.
Despite the Army’s slipping advantage, the next-generation IR light sensor envisioned by ARL scientists may give soldiers the edge they need to fulfill the branch’s post-Gulf War battle cry — “we own the night” — a reality once more.
Every once in a while, we run across a photo in The Times-Picayune archives that's so striking that it begs a simple question: "What in the name of Momus Alexander Morgus is going on in this New Orleans photograph?" When we do, we've decided, we're going to share it — and to attempt to answer that question.
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces control the monitor of their drone at their advanced position, during the fighting with Islamic State's fighters in Nazlat Shahada, a district of Raqqa. (Reuters/Zohra Bensemra)
MUSCAT (Reuters) - The United States should keep arming and aiding the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) following the planned U.S. withdrawal from Syria, provided the group keeps up the pressure on Islamic State, a senior U.S. general told Reuters on Friday.
Long before Tony Stark took a load of shrapnel to the chest in a distant war zone, science fiction legend Robert Heinlein gave America the most visceral description of powered armor for the warfighter of the future. Forget the spines of extra-lethal weaponry, the heads-up display, and even the augmented strength of an Iron Man suit — the real genius, Heinlein wrote in Starship Troopers, "is that you don't have to control the suit; you just wear it, like your clothes, like skin."
"Any sort of ship you have to learn to pilot; it takes a long time, a new full set of reflexes, a different and artificial way of thinking," explains Johnny Rico. "Spaceships are for acrobats who are also mathematicians. But a suit, you just wear."
First introduced in 2013, U.S. Special Operations Command's Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) purported to offer this capability as America's first stab at militarized powered armor. And while SOCOM initially promised a veritable Iron Man-style tactical armor by 2018, a Navy spokesman told Task & Purpose the much-hyped exoskeleton will likely never get off the launch pad.
"The prototype itself is not currently suitable for operation in a close combat environment," SOCOM spokesman Navy Lt. Phillip Chitty told Task & Purpose, adding that JATF-TALOS has no plans for an external demonstration this year. "There is still no intent to field the TALOS Mk 5 combat suit prototype."