SOCOM wants 'true color' night vision to make operators deadlier in the dark

Military Tech

VIDEO: Night vision eye injections, anyone?

"We own the night" has remained the battle cry of American night vision dominance for decades. Now, U.S. Special Operations Command wants to take the U.S. military's capabilities to the next level.

A special request for information published by SOCOM in late October details an upcoming technology experimentation event focused on enhancing the commands Night Vision Electro-Optics capabilities through new tech, including what the command calls "True Color Night Vision and Fused Imagery Sensors."

"True color" night vision is exactly what it sounds like: a night vision system that substitutes the green monochrome of standard night vision and white phosphor-based systems for a full-color, fully illuminated image.

According to the RFI, the ideal technology will maintain multiple night vision capabilities so far that it can achieve "[the] presentation and capture of images and full motion video of visible spectrum light (approximately 400nm to 750nm), short wavelength infrared (IR) (1.4-3mm), near IR spectrum (approximately 700nm to 1mm), and medium IR (approximately 3-5mm) displayed remotely at a resolution of -3840 x 2160 (commonly referred to as 4K UHD)."

"Target discrimination during obscured conditions (smoke, ash, snow, fog, rain, etc.) day or night is of interest," according to the RFI. "A capability that allows true color at higher illumination and switch or transition to black and white at the lowest illumination (.0001 lux) is of interest. A capability that permits target identification to a distance of 10 km with integrated lenses or provisions for add on, after-market lens is of interest."

As The War Zone noted in January 2019, the U.S. military has been pursuing such tech for the better part of three decades without much success, but commercial firms have finally achieves some practical applications of the tech in the last few years.

Consider SPI Corporation's X27 Osprey full motion video camera, which The War Zone cites as a great example of what this capability actually looks in the field:

VIDEO: Seven Magic Mountains Las Vegas filmed at midnight with SPI Corporation's X27 Osprey full motion color video camera

VIDEO: True color night vision Osprey demo SPI

The adoption and proliferation of true color night vision could prove a game-changer for U.S. special operations forces. Compared to existing night vision systems, true color could greatly aid operators in "target discrimination, target engagement, combat identification, identify[ing] friend or foe, or situational awareness via a natural appearing manner," per the RFI.

While the RFI marks the earliest possible stage of development for a new piece of gear — the technical experiment itself is only scheduled for early February 2020 at the Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida — the Pentagon has been gradually iterating its night vision capabilities for years to achieve better situational awareness among users.

In September, Marine Corps Systems Command awarded a major contract to Virginia's Harris Corporation to furnish infantry Marines with the Squad Binocular Night Vision Goggle (SBNVG) system that uses white phosphor image intensifier tubes to increase visibility and situational awareness over the ubiquitous yellowish-green of conventional night vision systems.

In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

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