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Night-Vision Technology Seeks The ‘Conquest of Darkness’

Nighttime surveillance technology is to be used in the “Conquest of Darkness,” says the U.S. Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD), which conducts advanced sensor technology research and development.

Nighttime surveillance technology is to be used in the “Conquest of Darkness,” says the U.S. Army’s Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD), which conducts advanced sensor technology research and development.

To be considered effective enough to facilitate the Conquest of Darkness—which has been NVESD’s motto since 1954—nighttime video surveillance technology should cover as much area as possible, using as few cameras as possible, to produce the highest quality images as possible, all as inexpensively as possible, according to NVESD, which is located at Ft. Belvoir, Va.

Nighttime surveillance devices also have to be reliable so they achieve the U.S. military’s missions of reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition under adverse battlefield environments while denying the same capabilities to the enemy through electro-optic means, NVESD said.

Fixed night surveillance equipment has to provide U.S. forces with the ability to gain “situational understanding” when defending forward operating bases and command outposts. In Afghanistan, such outposts are often in or near villages in remote areas and not everyone is a threat. Therefore, U.S. forces need high resolution at tactical distances so they can understand the intent of individuals, and positively identify a situation before any action can take place. Sensor systems must have narrower fields of view in order to obtain high-quality images at range distances.

Usually, the area that must be covered by nighttime surveillance equipment is almost always 360 degrees, NVESDA said. Combined with the narrow field of view in each sensor, many cameras would be required, increasing costs, the agency said. So, large pixel formats are a must in order to reduce the number of cameras needed to do the job. Users need to have those systems operational 24 hours a day, seeing through all weather conditions and networking these cameras. It also is necessary to add an automation level that enables the cameras to automatically detect and track targets, minimizing the troops’ work load, the agency said.

To provide U.S. warfighters with a nighttime surveillance technological edge, NVESD works to reduce system size, weight and cost. However, reducing the load U.S. troops and combat platforms have to carry, as well as the operating power required by the system, is difficult in fiscally challenging times.

Joseph Estrera, senior vice president and chief technology officer at L-3 Electro-Optical Systems, says power remains the number-one priority for night-vision technologies. Batteries are such a burden to troops that U.S. Central Command has an approved list of batteries for manufacturers.

“Troops in the field do not have the luxury of power outlets, so they carry their power sources. Producers of night-vision products need to be mindful of that, because weight load impacts a soldier’s effectiveness, or lethality,” Estrera said during the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement’s Night Vision Systems Summit in July. With that information, Estrera asked, should producers “go optical, thermal, multispectral [or] infrared (IR)” in the camera systems produced?

All of those technologies are in use by either the military or law enforcement agencies, or as security systems. Some of the products available are:


HGH Infrared Systems’ IR Revolution 360The IR Revolution 360 produced by HGH Infrared Systems is a “high-thermal” camera designed to provide wide-area surveillance and perimeter security, said Vanessa Couturier, the company’s general manager for North America. The IR Revolution achieves this by rotating at “one revolution per second,” thereby obtaining a full panorama of the situation. “It acts as an optical radar,” she said.

The high-sensitivity, infrared revolving camera head can detect a human at distances of up to 3 kilometers, and can do that in total darkness, through fog, smoke or hazy conditions, according to Couturier. The IR Revolution is designed to replace multicamera perimeter security systems. Its features include a remote-control, point-and-click interface on a Windows operating system through an Ethernet connection, she said. The camera system has been deployed in airports and seaports, critical infrastructures and at military bases in Afghanistan, she adds.


The RCS Camera System by Qual-Tron Inc. is a wireless passive infrared (PIR) sensor system that measures IR light radiating from objects in its field of view. “They are deployed as motion detectors in rural environments and remote locations where there isn’t a lot of activity,” said Dan Chambers, vice president for sales and marketing for Qual-Tron.

What makes the RCS Camera System different from motion detectors is the PIR it designed to detect anomalies “because what users are trying to detect is the anomaly; and they do not want to pick up a lot of alarms, which would be nuisance alarms,” he said. The RCS system is a portable, battery-operated system that performs from four to 12 months on standard, 9-volt batteries, Chambers said. That system features

Qual-Tron Inc.’s RCS Camera Systemequipment relays, base-station receivers, power supplies, camera triggers. The RCS Camera System has been used by law enforcement, U.S. and foreign militaries for surveillance and border security, he said.


The Nocturn camera by Photonis is a low-light camera module that features high-definition resolution, high sensitivity and high-dynamic range. It provides monochrome real-time images 24 hours per day, said Loig Bouttee, vice president of night vision technology for Photonis. It will operate in the visible and near-IR spectrum, he said. “With 1280 x 1024 pixel resolution at a frame rate of 100 fps, it’s perfect for surveillance applications as well as for portable applications,” he said.

Photonis’ NocturnIn addition, the Nocturn can stream images, operating out of band at wavelengths above 990 millimeters, which is the standard cutoff for stream images, Bouttee said. The Nocturn enables users “to digitally zoom the image,” so they can use smaller optics and get great distance recognition, he said.

Photonis President and CEO Gregg Bell said the Nocturn is being used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as police departments, because “you can’t beat an analogue image intensifier” for its “resolution frame rate.” Such cameras are the “best performing in low light,” he said.


The VS WM 202-HD SDI by Marshall Electronics is an extra-heavy-duty, fixed position, or mobile, pan/ tilt/zoom camera with IR lighting that can be activated manually, or automatically. This enables users to see images up to 600 feet away with manual focus, said Jim Lucas, product manager for Marshall Electronics. The VS camera has full, “delegated path validation” functionality; true 180-degree up and down; and 360-degree circle rotation, he said.

Marshall Electronics’ VS WM 202-HD SDIIn addition, the VS camera can be programmed to provide surveillance at 224 preset location points. Users can set the camera’s rotation speed, along with how much time is spent on each target, Lucas said. “With a single camera you can monitor several gates, without having to have someone turn the controller,” he said.

The military also has placed it on armored vehicles. “We call it the tank cam,” he said. Within the United States, the VS has been deployed around reservoirs, in highcrime areas and on police vehicles where it is being used for license plate recognition.

The VS camera also has an “ingress protection” rating (used to define levels of sealing effectiveness of electrical enclosures against intrusion from foreign matter) of 66, making it almost impervious to dust and water, he said.


Hoffman Engineering Corp.’s LM-33-550 NVG Lighting Conformity Test KitIn addition to the night-vision cameras and systems, there are products designed to ensure that night-vision technology being used performs as desired. Such a product is the LM-33-550 NVG Lighting Conformity Test Kit. It is used to determine night-vision compatibility on military aircraft where night-vision goggles are used, said Ian Soutter, sales engineer for Hoffman Engineering Corp., which produces the test kit.

In the night-vision industry, people tend to check for conformity using various methods, Soutter said. The LM-33-550 standardizes the process, enabling a user to repeatedly measure nightvision conformity within a cockpit. To measure night-vision conformity, the kit contains a 1951 U.S. Air Force resolution target and illuminator, a light source to illuminate that target and a luminance meter, which helps the user to accurately illuminate the bar chart and conduct conformity tests using night-vision goggles.


HGH Infrared Systems:
Hoffman Engineering Corp.:
Marshall Electronics:
Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate:
Qual-Tron Inc.: