Apache helicopters, Army tanks, drones, surveillance planes and targeting systems need to find and destroy enemy targets otherwise hidden or obscured from view. Ideally, the military would find targets at very long ranges and with great image fidelity. This would allow Army units to expedite the kill chain and destroy enemies before they are themselves detected. For this kind of mission, infrared sensors and various applications of thermal imaging continue to prove indispensable to the majority of U.S. weapons systems, including small arms, anti-tank missiles, fighter jets and overhead drones, among much more.
During the Gulf War in the early 1990s, for example, advanced thermal imaging sensors built into Army Abrams tanks enabled U.S. forces to find and destroy Iraqi T-72s from undetectable stand-off ranges, before they themselves could be targeted. Naturally, this kind of phenomenon forms the basis of modern warfare as targeting systems are engineered to find and help destroy otherwise unreachable targets, all while maximizing survivability. For instance, new variants of the Abrams tank, such as the M1A2v3 and M1A2v4 are being engineered with a cutting edge third-generation Forward Looking Infrared camera, F/A-18s are getting new Infrared Search and Track aerial attack systems and the F-35s Electro-Optical Targeting System is designed to help destroy multiple targets at safe ranges. This was put to the test last year wherein, during the Air Force’s Red Flag training exercise, an F-35 succeeded in destroying multiple enemy targets without being detected.
It is with all of these warfare realities in mind that BAE Systems is unveiling a new Athena 1920 high-definition infrared imaging camera core for a wide range of military applications. The technological focus behind the engineering of the new camera is intended to massively increase sensing range, image fidelity and field of view.
BAE developers say the Athena 1920, now beginning full volume production, brings targeting systems a degree of full high-definition resolution with a field of view able to replace up to seven or eight individual cameras. The system uses 12 Micron Pixel technology, a technology which reduces the “space between pixels,” Robyn Decker, Director of the Lexington Business Center and Sensor Solutions product line, BAE Systems, told The National Interest.
“Smaller and smaller pixels allow us to improve resolution, making it suitable for high-value security surveillance systems and high-end targeting systems. The camera core can take a thermal image and turn it into something visible to the human eye through graphical processing,” Decker explained.
The Athena 1920 brings substantial attack technology relevance to a range of military systems, as efforts to improve targeting range, resolution and scope is of course fundamental to virtually all emerging weapons systems and is something expected to determine that crucial “margin of difference” in future warfare. The ultimate success of the Army’s Next Generation Combat Vehicles, Future Vertical Lift helicopters and other emerging future systems will likely rely in large measure on the relative superiority of targeting systems.
Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.