The Cover of Night – Gone?

The continued development of technology generally sees it reduce in cost on a gradual incline as alternative markets and uses are found that lead to increased volume. Other times, disruptive technology appears that leapfrogs existing norms.

Raytheon have just announced a breakthrough in low cost thermal imaging and I wonder if this is one of those disruptive technologies, disruptive not because of its capability but in its cost.

[browser-shot width=”600″ url=”http://www.raytheon.com/newsroom/feature/rtn14_thermal.html”]

The end of the flashlight.

A new technology used by Raytheon, “wafer-level packaging,” dramatically reduces the cost of making these thermal sensors. The advances could – for the first time – put a thermal weapons sight in the hands of every soldier in a platoon. But the commercial and law-enforcement uses are endless, too, developers say.

Proliferation of this technology is guaranteed which means it will increasingly find its way into the kind of opposing forces that would not normally have access to effective ‘night vision’ devices.

A real challenge.

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DavidNiven
DavidNiven
May 21, 2014 6:57 am

Cheap drones, missiles in containers and now tech like this. In ten – twenty years time is nearly everyone we fight going to be classed as a near peer enemy?

Tom
Tom
May 21, 2014 8:14 am

DN – Yes it is likely that we will lose certain advantages, but those were always going to be fleeting. Our real advantage has always been the quality of people and training.

jedibeeftrix
jedibeeftrix
May 21, 2014 9:53 am

@ DN – Yes, the recent DCDC south asia report was pretty categoric on that:

“Science and technology risks and opportunities
The UK science and technology base may be eclipsed by 2015 in certain niche areas. The scale and pace of the innovative and industrial capacity of countries like China and India will outpace many Western countries in a matter of years. China is likely to attain and sustain global leadership in a number of technical areas (such as computer science, space science, genetic engineering and nanotechnology). It could possibly eclipse the UK’s science and technology base by as soon as 2015, and those of the US, in a number of areas, by 2020. 42 However, the UK will retain valuable niche capabilities. For example, the ‘small space’ industry is likely to endure. It will be able to trade with India and China, who may seek to exploit niche capabilities for military purposes. 43”

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/regional-survey-south-asia-out-to-2040

Makes one realise the truth of the statement that british military R&D has its effect almost a generation hence, and that significant breakages in R&D are not merely a short-term military problem.

Nick
Nick
May 21, 2014 10:41 am

Jedibeeftrix

Without wanting to sound like a left wing liberal… the problem starts much earlier than that with Education through Apprenticeships and University research programmes to salary levels in Industry. You have to invest in all these things if you’re going to produce the skilled work force for the 20th Century let alone for the future. None of these have been a high priority for the UK since the 1960s. You might also want to have a thought about an Industrial Strategy and putting more emphasis on who owns your key businesses.

I would argue that perhaps the only sectors where the UK can say its cutting edge across the entire field these days are in Finance (and its support infrastructure) and Life Sciences (in the widest sense). At second tier level I’d add Military equipment, Oil & gas, Materials, IT (especially in the gaming sector).

Its not at all bad base, but we’re eroding it slowly through inaction.

Nick

Chris
Chris
May 21, 2014 11:54 am

Nick, Jedi – nail, head, hit. Gloomy would be able to explain much better than I the historical steps that got us here, but I’ll have a go.

We fought and were on the winning side of two colossal World Wars that each came really close to bankrupting the country – the losing side generally gets aid to rebuild; the winning side gets none. If I remember right it wasn’t until the mid 80s that we finished paying back Marshal Aid to the USA. So by the middle of the 20th Century all the Victorian earned wealth had been used up. But for reasons of political need the post-war governments had to show the wars were not in vain; that the sacrifices had given future generations better lives; that as a nation we had ‘never had it so good’. Government was spending money we didn’t have to finance the feel-good factor.

Then came Mrs T. Using nothing more sophisticated than housewife economics she could see spending had to be controlled; found an ally in Friedman whose monetarist ideas answered the need. Buy the cheapest adequate product from whoever was willing to supply. Suddenly investment in UK versions of foreign products was pointless and thus curtailed. Better still, because Mrs T and Ronnie Rayguns got on so well, the UK/US Special Relationship was brought front and centre to validate and celebrate all the high tech imports the UK was now buying from America. British companies were eagerly sold to US owners to further cement the trans-Atlantic trade bridge. UK investment was now focused only on extreme high end research that the UK was famed for.

Subsequent governments have continued the monetarist approach. We buy arms from America (and it seems France). We buy trains from France Germany and Japan. The three biggest car producers in the land are all Japanese, followed by those owned by American and Indian and Arabian entities. Our fleet Auxiliaries were made in Korea and only finished here. Many of our utility companies are in foreign ownership and the rights to develop and build our next generation Nuclear power stations have been handed to a French group partially owned by the French Government. All this foreign investment! How good is that?!

Not all good, despite politicians’ claims.

Rights rest with the funders. If the state does not invest, it loses rights to the developed products. If the development is run by companies in other nations, they will have no need of skilled inventors here. If they set up a local UK office they can fill the senior and high skill posts with assignees brought over for the duration. Local labour can supply the admin, clerical, menial, low skill positions. Without investment in education *and* in industry, the nation slides further and further away from the image so beloved by politicians, that of an industrial powerhouse forging a path the rest of the world could only dream of.

The UK has got by on buying in hi-tech goodies from other nations for 35 years now. Its a short term strategy only. A bit like giving up work and being really impressed with how much time and money is saved by not commuting. A boost to the economy just until it becomes clear the earnings potential has gone away.

Sadly to rebuild the inertia of the technological powerhouse will take time and investment across a broad front – schools, universities, apprenticeships, industrial invention. Missing out any of these dramatically reduces the effect of the whole; there should be an investment strategy at least as well thought through and robust as for defence or agriculture or communication infrastructure or the health service or the transport network. Sadly the strategies MPs seem to have spent most time on have been for housebuilding, devolution, the high speed trainset and windfarms.

Nick
Nick
May 21, 2014 12:21 pm

Chris

Not just the UK, you can add (to varying degrees) France (very similar to the UK except that it has kept a higher proportion of Global players than we have bothered to do), the US and no doubt others. Actually I think only Germany and perhaps Sweden have managed to have a sensible industrial strategy (France has been over-protective, which has had pretty much the same effect as the UK being under-protective).

The real issue is that we know this, but do nothing.

Nick

jonesy
jonesy
May 21, 2014 12:32 pm

Well if, as it seems from the article, everyone’s going to be fully kitted out with night vision, gps and personal comms a suggestion might be to start issuing one of these as well:

http://www.nectarpower.com/

….either that or you will be able to determine the winning and losing side by simple expedient of seeing who runs out of batteries first!

wf
wf
May 21, 2014 12:50 pm

: I agree with a lot of that, but since manufacturing isn’t dead (just a lot of the jobs involved) to concentrate on the investment and people side of things, I’d say a couple of things.

Firstly, we do still have a “property and trade” cultural issue in this country. But it’s not an insurmountable problem, as a generation of city boys demonstrate. Filthy lucre is great at getting the toffee nosed and working classes to hustle on an equal opportunity basis, and it’s a sad fact that the City appreciates Engineering graduates far more than the engineering industry. I would break this down by disbanding every “engineering / STEM” taskforce in existence and charging the full costs for all university degrees. Yes, the cost of engineering degrees would double, but this in turn would push up entry level wages and smash the “engineers will work for peanuts because they love the job” attitude prevalent in organisations like BAE. It would also prick the interest of the pipeline, who are attracted to challenges. Making engineering a “special needs” career doesn’t help.

Secondly, the long term investment needed for the complex and large projects is available (see oil and gas), but long payoff periods bulk up risk because of capital gains. Fry that (and burn three million special excemptions which do nothing much but increase paperwork) and things look a lot better…

Observer
Observer
May 21, 2014 12:56 pm

jonsey, the items that those things are designed for are low power items. Stuff like TI, NVG/NVBs, radios, all suck power like you won’t believe. An example, how long does an AA sized battery last you for your devices? Days? Weeks? Maybe months? An NVG burns through it in 4-8 hours. For a 3 day mission, even before they added a lot of new stuff, my team deployed with 144 AA sized batteries for an NVG, an NVB and a hand held modem. These days, they added TI, UGS, cameras. Won’t be surprised if we had to lug out close to 300 AA sized batteries for 3 days.

As for TI, it’s been a hot button issue for me. Too little has been done either to research anti-TI measures or if it was done, to disseminate the results to the men. I don’t mean smoke and flares, I mean sneaking around. Infantry’s greatest strength has been their ability to hide “like lice in the folds of the earth”. With TI, that edge has been severely blunted. With the ability to even see through foliage, it’s going to be hard to even stage an infantry ambush when you stand out on a scope like a glow in the dark figure. We might need ponchos or camo capes that can block TI, and even that is iffy, your hands and face glow rather prominently in IR and if you do bundle up, you’re begging for heatstroke and are walking around with something covering your face… and eyes. Even the theoretically IR camo for the new uniforms is iffy, IIRC, with TI, I could still see the uniform very well. When the target was behind a bush. Foliage do nuts all as TI cover.

Nick
Nick
May 21, 2014 1:10 pm

Observer

There’s a whole bunch of research going on using what they call “meta-materials” to provide visible light invisibility (lets call it personal stealth), that has been shown to work in lab environments. I would guess that by the time this sort of technology is cheap enough and available wide enough, there will be (expensive) counter-measures for our troops to partially counter-act this, at least to get you near enough.

Nick

A Different Gareth
A Different Gareth
May 21, 2014 1:22 pm

Cheap as chips thermal chips ought to fit well into the Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance – Infrared (ARGUS-IR) program.

Nick
Nick
May 21, 2014 1:22 pm

wf

Not sure I’d agree with your prescription, but the problem is deeper. As its often mentioned here, once you loose your basic capability its very hard and expensive to replace. In the commercial world, that means you need to have a killer idea to redevelop your new industry on, combined with the risk financing to develop it. We’re not exactly that good on this part.

Take carbon nano-tube/graphene technology. The government is funding a research centre, but Samsung alone is spending as much. Apart from BAe do we have that many UK based companies who can develop the commercial applications ?

Nick

S O
S O
May 21, 2014 3:08 pm

I’m more impressed by the cut down of size and weight than by a reduction of costs. The price was probably never the smallest bottleneck in the pipeline.

A loss of the illusion of invincibility through technology can be helpful to us, as it may force us to emphasize the hidden strengths much more. Training, doctrine, logistics, robustness in face of adversity – that’s much more important than what accessories you attach to your helmet or rifle anyway.

@Observer: Simple WWI periscopes defeat TI in daylight and I suppose there’s also a near IR and far IR mirror material for employment of periscopes at night.

wf
wf
May 21, 2014 3:37 pm

@Nick: as I said earlier, when the government starts offering tax breaks and paying for a lot of research themselves, they tend to crowd out commercial research, either because it’s assumed the government will pay, or because the beancounters look at the tax breaks and wonder if they will be there in 5 years time…or not. Even compliance with said breaks has a significant cost, not least having to re-submit the paperwork whenever you make a change to your funding.

Observer
Observer
May 21, 2014 5:06 pm

nick, what has visible light got to do with thermal imagers?

SO, explain?

S O
S O
May 21, 2014 5:17 pm

A periscope has no body heat, so it’s not conspicuous on a TI. It doesn’t need to have any exposed optics (other than a mirror) that would allow detection by laser either. You can camouflage it with basically every imaginable cover. Its used can remain fully concealed.

Reflection of near and far infrared is a different story than reflection of visible light, but there are IR mirror materials / coatings
http://www.edmundoptics.com/optics/optical-mirrors/infrared-ir-mirrors/
so it’s possible to use the same concealment approach at night with infantry TI and starlight scope sensors (near IR) as well.

This doesn’t help when moving, but rarely any camouflage works when you’re moving quickly.

Phil
May 21, 2014 5:28 pm

each came really close to bankrupting the country

WWII didn’t come close to bankrupting us. It DID bankrupt us. In about 1941. No money left. All gone.

jonesy
jonesy
May 21, 2014 5:57 pm

Observer,

Sure…I work with comms kit predominantly now so I am aware how fast some of the chattier devices can chew up an energiser bunny. Having had to follow a wife around who is determined to image two youngest daughters on average every 4 minutes of their waking time and every 12 minutes of their sleeping time I have had the pleasure of scouring shops in several different countries for reserves of Duracells you’d think sufficient to keep the London Underground going for a few days.

My point was rather borne out by the 300 AA cells for a 3 day patrol comment you made though!. I’m assuming your 144 batteries broke down to 48 per day and a 4 man brick using 12 each on average?. The problem, as I see it, isnt so much the 12-24 batteries each man needs to use each day…its the fact that a fresh set must be provided every day. The original point of the thread being that every man gets new toys…its no longer a specalist 4 man team…its the whole platoon. Say, in the future, every man needs 18 AA cells per day… a platoon 5 days in the field means 2700 batteries…135 x 20 cell packs!. This was my point…the side who loses is the one who runs out of batteries first!.

The unit above (representative…there are a few…I like this one personally as it runs on a fairly common or garden butane cell) puts out 2.5w/h of power peak. Thats about the same as a high end NiMH rechargeable AA cell. So, in 2hrs, you’ve recharged 2 AA cells. If you get 3hrs out of a fresh pair in your NVG’s…under optimal conditions you’ll get away with just 4 AA cells, for your NVGs, for the whole 3 day patrol!. For your 4 man brick 16 batteries against 144!. In reality of course you double/triple up or more to account for drops/bad batteries etc… but you’re still looking at maybe 12-18 batteries per man for the patrol duration…be that 3, 5 or 10 days instead of the same number per day.

Chris
Chris
May 21, 2014 6:01 pm

Phil – weren’t we lucky fellows to have rich Uncle Sam… Hence the Marshall Aid/Lease=Lend/Line of Credit provision and the incredibly long repayment period that followed. See “War Debt” towards the bottom of this page of Hansard: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmhansrd/vo020228/text/20228w04.htm

Phil
May 21, 2014 6:03 pm

I don’t think it was luck – it was in US interests to keep us going.

Observer
Observer
May 21, 2014 7:14 pm

SO, love to see how you set up a patrol ambush using periscopes, unless you want to reinvent the periscope rifle. And it is on the move which camo is the most important. Hard to do a surprise assault or close in recce without moving into place, and it is this part where TI really messes up your plans. Ambushes too as you are lying flat on the ground behind a bush or shellscrape waiting for the enemy… while glowing on his scopes. Now, every vehicle can be assumed to have EO/TI systems. Makes it damn hard to hide, we’re being forced to stand off for recce more and more every year, simply too hard to get in close.

jonsey, my unit organization IS a 4 man team. That is 48 per day for 4 men, though “batteries per man” isn’t the right criteria to use as batteries are a team level resource, not an individual resource. You total up the amount of batteries you need for all your team equipment and bring that amount of batteries overall, not per person. There is also a limit in how low you can go with the number of batteries. In your example, it is probably the number of batteries that all the equipment uses x 2 (one in use, one charging). So in the example that I gave above (NVB, NVG, modem), that is 2+2+8 (the modem’s a power hog), which is 12 x 2 =24. Which sounds nice vs 144 batteries. Until you realize that to charge them simultaneously, you need to bring out 6 of your power units, which takes up a lot more space than 36 packs of AA. Long duration missions, I can see a gain, but not for 3-6 days.

The biggest flaw I see with your rechargeable batteries idea is that rechargeables lose their capacity after a while…and you can’t tell when it does. So you could bring out a “fully charged” battery that dies after only an hour. Used to have a wireless mouse that I keep powered with rechargeables, once the batteries got old though, the batteries I used could only hold their charge for 10 minutes or so. Not something you want to happen in enemy territory. I see the incident of Bravo-2-0 as unprofessional and something that could have been avoided (stranded behind enemy lines with no comms), so pardon me if I do not wish to emulate them. New batteries with a confirmed level of charge please.

S O
S O
May 21, 2014 8:57 pm

There’s no need for inventing a ‘periscope rifle’. Periscope operation of MMGs and universal MGs is commonly possible with many tripods. Several ATGM designs employ raised sensors to enable full concealment of the operator. Claymores can be RC based on observation by periscope.

Moreover; you don’t need to stay concealed during the hot phase of the ambush. The challenge is to let them enter the kill zone without detecting you first.

And you’re wrong on tactical movement. The method of choice for survival during movement is concealment/cover, not camouflage. Camouflage is near-irrelevant once you’re moving quickly (some animals move very slowly not to break their camo, but that’s usually only an option for snipers and other FOs).

Besides, if TI can see you at long distances long enough for effective fires, you’re rather not in light infantry country. That’s mech country if anyone’s.

Phil
May 21, 2014 9:06 pm

Wasnt that impressed with TI to be honest. You get a weird, disorientating sense of the world when you’ve got tunnel vision through something like a VIPR2. Wide-angled stuff looks fine because you can get a good sense of surroundings but I struggled with TI.

No shadows, no depth, no peripheral vision.

Observer
Observer
May 21, 2014 10:25 pm

SO, those are support weapons, not your assault rifles. Not everyone has them, unless you only want your support weapons in an ambush and no one else. As for cover and concealment, partially true, camouflage aids in concealment, but both points are moot when you are bloody glowing on the scope and it can see through cover. I’m not here to argue tactics with you, I’m stating an in service difficulty and need for counter measures in a technologically progressive battlefield.

Phil, true, but the danger of TI is not the perception or ranging, it is the fact that it makes concealment a lot less effective, and infantry live or die on their ability to hide. More so with more and more TI systems being shoved into UAVs and eye in the sky systems. We really need to do something about IR detection, both in material in-service and in training/teaching to avoid being spotted. These days, going prone behind a bush doesn’t cut it any more.

S O
S O
May 22, 2014 12:07 am

Camouflage against infrared isn’t going to happen, though.
The old approaches were all about reducing the contrast between object and background. The contrast of modern TI is so very good it’s just a matter of settings till the object is exposed. The technical means are available to do the scanning automatically, with automatic detection of outstanding shapes, recognition of familiar shapes and recognition of movements in a stabilised image.

Complete concealment works (unless you release too much warmth and the non-concealed surroundings warm up), jamming may work and distraction works until TI saturate the area – but camo isn’t going to work against 2010s or 2020s state of the art.

TI isn’t the only oppressive sensor:
Ground surveillance radars can detect crawling snipers a mile a way – and allegedly tell them from animals.
Foliage penetrating radar can – in principle – look through woodland concealment.

Observer
Observer
May 22, 2014 5:37 am

Ouch, yes, ground radar. Fortunately that one is not as prevalent as TI. Yet. And the readings need a specialist’s eye to translate, which will last until someone comes up with a simplified UI, but one problem at a time. If TI gets commonly countered, I suspect that the radar is going to be the counter-counter measure.

For total TI concealment, I won’t worry about the surroundings heating up too much. By the time anything like that happens, the soldier would have died of heatstroke. :)

Nick
Nick
May 22, 2014 6:14 am

Observer

Sorry for the confusion. It strikes me that if you can make a material which can effectively make stationary objects “disappear” in visible light, applying the same approach to slightly longer wave lengths to do the same with IR light should be equally possible. This research is in its infancy still…

On using ground Radar, it wouldn’t be very stealthy and presumably be quite bulky to carry around without a vehicle, which suggests to me that it would be of more use for a (semi-) fixed installation ? Presumably as airborne ground search Radar technology and signal processing hardware/software improves and gets fitted to more FJs, using a vehicle will itself become increasingly difficult given standoff precision weapons like SPEAR.

Presumably someone out there has already thought all these advances through ?

IXION
May 22, 2014 6:46 am

I posted about this a while ago.

It goes beyond TI as an issue.

Technological advances are now happening so fast that govt run defence programs can often not keep up. It is only going to get worse.

Cheap TI chips are just the tip of the iceberg.

Look at the way military apps are available for smartphones. The military potential for Google glasses. Digital cameras etc.

No of this driven by military secret programs but by commercial cash so they can flog it to teenagers

We are spending a lot of cash on drones. How about one of these strapped to a maplins toy copter?

ChrisM
ChrisM
May 24, 2014 1:37 pm

Surely in a third world intervention situation we are going looking for bad guys, and using TI is going to mark the bad guys out for us?

Observer
Observer
May 24, 2014 2:24 pm

ChrisM, the problem comes when you can get one FedEx-ed to you within a week anywhere in the world.